Friends mourn a pilot

INDEPENDENCE -- To his friends within the tight-knit community at the Independence Airpark, the late Alan M. Upright was a man of many talents and qualities.

Ed Hannevig said he remembers him as the classic good neighbor, a person that would never hesitate to lend a tool or a helping hand if needed.

Andy Andersen said Upright was a great pilot, mechanic and craftsman, and that if he wasn't out flying airplanes, he was busy building them.

An avid dancer, a meticulous gardener and a trombone player, Upright was most importantly a "good guy," said Dennis Jackson.

"He'll really be missed" he said. "Him being gone leaves a big hole here in the community."

Upright, 80, a devoted husband and father, was killed last week when the plane he was flying, his home-built RV-7A, crashed near McMinnville.

He and Jackson, a fellow pilot, had taken off in separate planes from Independence the afternoon of Dec. 11. They were bound for the Flying M Ranch, northwest of Yamhill, for lunch, when they ran into dense cloudcover, Jackson said.

With low visibility, the two decided to reverse course back toward Independence.

Jackson said Upright was flying on his wing when he turned west and Upright, east. He returned home safely. Upright didn't.

"It was the kind of thing we've done dozens of times," he said. "You take a look at what [the weather] is like, if it's not good, you turn back."

Hannevig, who left the Independence Airport 15 minutes after Jackson and Upright in his own plane, had planned to meet up with them. He said the forecast that day had predicted stormy weather.

"When I was flying, the weather wasn't bad," he said. "I don't know what happened. Apparently, he might have got into the lower cloud cover."

Yamhill County Sheriff's Office Lt. Michael Runyon said a mounted search posse discovered the downed plane Dec. 12 in a forested area near Camp Smith. The exact cause of the crash is still under investigation.

Upright was born in Highland, Calif. and grew up there on the family farm. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Army AirCorp in 1942, and flew P-51 Mustang fighter planes during World War II.

Upright never did see combat, but was a skillful pilot and became a flight and gunnery instructor. He retired from the military with the rank of major.

In 1944, he wed his high school sweetheart, Phyllis Upright, to whom he's been married for almost 60 years. After the war, he attended college and had a 30 year career with the Southern California Gas Company.

Then a civilian, Upright's love for flying never wavered. He built and flew helicopters and planes as a hobby. For 20 years he was a part of the Civil Air Patrol in California. And when he finally sold the family home, Upright moved to the airpark in Independence about 12 years ago to be around planes.

A member of the Experimental Aircraft Association and Oregon Pilots Association, aviation was Upright's primary love, but certainly not his only one.

Jackson said Upright enjoyed dancing, and that on Friday nights, he and his wife could be found "doing the jitterbug" at the local Elks Lodge.

"He would be out at night and then up early to go flying with us," Jackson said. "The guy had a lot of energy...I hope I have just half that energy when I'm that age."

Andersen said if Upright wasn't at the controls of a plane, he would settle for his riding mower, intent on making his yard the envy of any golf green.

"That was one thing with him, devotion to his lawn," Andersen said, laughing. "Weeds were forbidden."

Jackson echoed those sentiments.

"You'd see him out mowing his lawn," Jackson said, "and it always looked like a military post, it was so clean and manicured."

Hannevig said the airpark won't be the same without Upright.

"Every time you'd leave his hangar, he would always call out, 'Thanks for coming over,'" he said. "He was a great guy."

In addition to his wife, Upright is survived by his two daughters, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Donations in his name may be made to the local chapter of the Oregon Pilots Association.


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