A Whale of a View

Best way to "catch" a whale is from an airplane

Larry Stoffel says, "Between boats and planes is how I have generated my living." Stoffel, a native of Tillamook, Oregon, has lived in Alaska and on the sea prior to returning to his home port six years ago. He started flying airplanes 29 years ago and has flown as a bush pilot, carrying supplies to fishing camps; a cargo pilot, flying lobsters in from Mexico; and a fish spotter pilot, tracking schools of swordfish for a commercial fishery. On the ground he has served as a tour guide for a hunting lodge in Alaska, been a sea captain for a commercial cruise line and he has owned a commercial fishing company.

He moved back to the area to be close to his parents, who have retired to Bay City. When he returned, he started his company, called Tillamook Air Tours.

Tillamook Air Tours, based out of the Port of Tillamook Bay airport, next to the Tillamook Air Museum, provides scenic tour flights of the area starting at $25.00 per person, with a two person minimum. There are not scheduled tour times, "I just take people in the order they show," said Larry, and he takes them on one of three basic routes, starting with a 20 minute flight to more than an hour. He will give discounts for large groups or those with children. The tour routes center around the Three Capes area of the coast, encompassing Cape Mears, Cape Lookout and Cape Kiwanda. Sometimes he will fly as far as Neah-Kah-Nie or Tillamook Head if customers want to see coastal lighthouses.One season he even extended his Tillamook area tour route to Oceanside to follow the migration of the whales offshore.

"Since I have worked as a fish spotter, I can locate schools of fish, pods of whales or sealions from a pretty far distance. I take my customers over to where I see the activity and then talk them through what they are seeing," said Larry. "I've seen whales from in a boat or in an airplane. From a boat you can smell the whales: From a plane you can really see them."

For the last three winters he has migrated to Arizona, still calling his operation Tillamook Air Tours, and given flights over the Grand Canyon.

He takes his customers up in a 1942 Stinson Reliant aircraft that seats four adults plus the pilot. He narrates the entire flight for his passengers, illustrating sites they see along the route.

This summer he is expanding his operation, however, as he is currently refurbishing an open-cockpit 1928 antique biplane that he will add to his inventory. Flights in the biplane will be more experiential, than narrative, an he is even planning to attach a video camera to the wing of the plane so that customers may purchase a custom video tape of their experience after the flight.

Adding a new plane to the business may also mean adding a new pilot. Currently, Larry does 90% of the flying for Tillamook Air Tours, though he does use some local pilots to help out on occasion. If you are interested in a commercial pilot position with Tillamook Air Tours, you might just give Larry a "buzz." LCB


Tillamook Air Tours

Principals: Larry Stoffel, Owner

Address: P. O. Box 605

Tillamook, Oregon 97141

Next to the Tillamook Air Museum

Telephone: 503/842-1942

Fax: 503/842-9683

Hours: Seasonal & weather dependent


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