A Homecoming of Sorts

Maker:S,Date:2017-10-11,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-YIt was 25 years ago on a rainy April 1st in Seattle that Devon and I took ownership of N33395, a 1946 Commonwealth Skyranger. We were just dating at the time, but two days later, sitting in the plane together on the ramp at Boeing Field, that we came to the logical conclusion that, as long as we owned a plane together, we might as well be married.


Boy, we were young. And had a lot of hair.

We’ve raised a couple of kids in the intervening quarter century, but Devon still refers to the Skyranger as “our first child.” It’s crossed the country four times with us, coming out to Boston for my postdoc, out to California for my first startup, back to Pittsburgh, and etc. We’re had a surprising fraction of the lower 48 states under our wings, but it’s never been back to its “home” – the Pacific Northwest, where Tom Scott and his father found her bones rusting in a garage in the 80’s and brought her back to life.


Miranda on Devon’s knee, circa 1997


Miranda hasn’t fit on Devon’s knee for a long while

The Skyranger was practically built for the northwest. She’s not particularly fast, but there are dozens of islands up here that you’d spend a day or more getting to by ferry that you can simply drop into after a 30 minute flight. And she’s ideal for lolling lazily along a coastline, up a lush valley, or over a mountain lake. All things which the Pacific northwest has in spades. The Skyranger belongs here.

I’d hoped to bring her up last summer, but one thing after another got in the way of finding the right time and the right weather to make the 750 mile trek over the fickle Siskiyous, along the Willamette Valley and up the peninsula.

To make a long story short(er): we had a couple of days of good weather open up as Devon and I were planning our next spell of time up on the farm, and I leapt on the opportunity. I’d been planning to make a two day trip of it. The Skyranger was designed in the late 1930’s for folks considerably more compact than my lanky 6’1″ frame, and folding my body into the cockpit for the eight-plus hours it was going to take was a little too much to contemplate.

But there was a brisk tailwind over the Siskiyous (as well as some snow in the air), and once I passed Corvallis, I could practically smell the hay up at the farm. Had to endure some rock-tumbler turbulence up the Willamette Valley and dodge some glorious downpours over Kelso, but as soon as I started seeing Salish water ahead, it was all worth it. In some odd way, it felt right – the Skyranger belongs up here, and she was going home.

She’ll be up here all summer – I’ve rented a hangar at the JeffCo airport. When winter comes…well, we’ll see. After being gone for so long, she may be reluctant to fly south again so soon.

See photos below for a glimpse of the trip…


13 responses to “A Homecoming of Sorts

  1. Wow, she’s a beauty! I forgot you were a tailwheel pilot.

    I am getting a checkout in a friend’s J-3 Cub this summer. My children are both getting old enough to take flying lessons and they sincerely desire to learn. I feel there’s no better instructor than a tailwheel airplane. I want them to learn to fly by the seat of their pants instead of looking at a Glass Cockpit.

    Hope we can get to fly together some day!

    Matt Odenbrett


    • Yup! I do tease my kids that their one great failing is that neither of them has any real interest in learning to fly. But we’ll keep ’em anyway.

      Remind me again where your home field is?


  2. Pablo, I am still waiting for an invitation to come up for a visit. I am here all summer although I am getting married on June 16th at the Beacon Hill Winery in Gaston, OR. I did invite Steve and Karen but I have not received reply yet. My best man is Dr. Mitch Bloom, fellow Pitt./CMU alumni and friend of Steve and Karen. By the way I have over 750 hours of tail dragger time, 3000 total to date. I loved your blog and love to see your Skyranger in person and even go up sometime, weather and time permitting. It started flying when I was 12 and even have a Philippines pilots license. When I worked for Howard Hughes I bought his last corporate jet, a Hawker Sidley 125. Anyway, man I would love to meet your Skyranger in person.


  3. Hey David,
    That sure brings back memories! She looks fantastic, much better than when I finished with her. I’ll have to get up to the farm this summer and pay my respects.


  4. I had the privilege of spending a few hours in that airplane back around 1990. Must have been some kind of fly-in with Tom.

    Also kinda fun to see you stopped at my last employer there in Hillsboro.


  5. Wonderful to see the Skyranger back at its home. I remember flying her with you out of Boeing Field when she still lived in Seattle. I think she should be assured a warm home at JeffCo, plenty of work to do during the summer and an occasional visit during the winter so that she won’t be lonely.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wonderful story! Glad I signed back on to FB to catch it. Now I wish I would have had the courage for this plane — now knowing all the beautiful history! Next time and happy days to you all –


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