Regional history was made more than a century ago when pioneer aviator Charles Walsh of San Diego became the first person to fly in Northeast Oregon during a July 9, 1911, exhibition in which he piloted his biplane from La Grande to Island City and back.
No biplanes were on display Saturday during a Young Eagles open house fundraiser at La Grande Union County Airport, but 11 of those attending had opportunities to see the Grande Ronde Valley as Walsh did 108 years ago.
Eleven people who won raffles at the open house were each given a 20-minute ride in a small plane around the Grande Ronde Valley on Saturday by members of U.S. Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 1575. For many, this was their first ride in a small airplane.
Those who received plane rides included four children flown by Jim Holloway of La Grande, a member of EAA Chapter 1575. All four saw the Grande Ronde Valley from the air for the first time.
“They loved it,” Holloway said. “Every kid had a huge smile on their face. They had ‘perma grin.’”
The planes that the raffle winners rode in were private aircraft displayed during the open house conducted by EAA Chapter 1575. The aim of the event was to boost interest in aviation and raise money for the Young Eagles national program. Young Eagles strives to give people age 8 to 17 the opportunity to ride in small airplanes for the first time.
Holloway said flight conditions were good Saturday, considering it was mid-August.
“There was no smoke from forest fires,” the pilot noted.
One of the most popular stations at the open house was one for the Life Flight Network medical transportation ambulance service. Life Flight had one of its helicopters on display. The helicopter is one of about four at the Life Flight Network’s base at the La Grande Union County Airport. All are single-engine AgustaWestland AW119Kx aircraft manufactured by the Leonardo company of Italy.
The helicopters are used to transport patients in need of
emegency care to hospitals throughout the Northwest. Communities that also have Life Flight bases include Pendleton, Ontario, The Dalles and Redmond in Oregon, and Lewiston and Boise in Idaho.
Each Life Flight emergency transport flight is made with a paramedic and a registered nurse onboard. The helicopters are equipped with an array of medical equipment including a ventilator, an IV pump, a cardiac monitor and a cardiac balloon pump.
“It is a mobile intensive care unit,” said Robert Feik, a Life Flight paramedic.
Life Flight helicopters can pick up patients in places that are difficult to reach. Feik noted that earlier this year a Life Flight helicopter landed in an area in the Wallowas that had to be cleared by forest firefighters.
Another plus for helicopters is that they can often get a patient to a hospital faster than a plane. Feik explained helicopters can fly directly to a hospital, while planes must land at airports after which patients are driven through traffic to a medical center.
Feik said a Life Flight helicopter can fly a patient from La Grande to Providence St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla, Washington, a distance of about
50 air miles, in 20 minutes.
The La Grande Life Flight Network base also has a plane it uses for emergency medical transports, but it was not available for the public to see Saturday.
Feik said that patients are flown from La Grande by Life Flight helicopters as far away as Seattle. Refueling stops are sometimes made at Life Flight bases. He said that variables like the weight of patients and the flight crew and wind conditions all play a role in determining how much fuel is needed for a flight.
Working as a paramedic for Life Flight, Feik said, is rewarding.