Friday, July 15, 2005

Day 6 Summary

We decided to get an early start on the day, expecting to return to U.S. soil on the Sixth Day of the Great Alaska Airplane Adventure (tm). An unexpected surprise was the ability simply to walk inside a Canadian Flight Service station to get the necessary weather briefing and file the required flight plan. You used to be able to do this in the U.S., but everything has changed since 9/11. As if terrorists are likely to attack the folks that provide weather briefings to general aviation pilots....

Our route was up the highway from Whitehorse to Haines Junction, Silver City, Burwash, and Beaver Creek into Northway, Alaska to clear U.S. customs. The prediction was for VFR, but a bit skittish nearing Northway I was concerned, but it sounded like it was only going to get worse as the day went on, so let’s get going while the goings good.

We took off around 7:00 a.m. local time, shortly after a Piper Tri-Pacer departed. We had run into this pilot in Watson Lake, and his plane was on the tarmac when we did our preflight. I figured we had a good chance of overtaking him at some point, but at least there was once again safety in numbers.

The weather was perfect until just about Burwash, when we started encountering some very light rain showers. The scenery was, again, magnificient.

Near Haines Junction:

Near Kluane Lake/Silver City:

Here’s proof that the weather near Burwash wasn’t quite as pretty:

It wasn’t too long before the GPS showed another white line. This time, it was the U.S.-Canadian border. There’s no fence. See for yourself:

What, you can’t see. Well, that’s why I’m the IFR Pilot and you’re not. For the record, this was still clearly legal VFR flight.

Roughly 2.2 hours later, the IFR Pilot made another magnificent landing on the gravel runway 22 at Northway. Can you say that you’ve landed on a gravel runway? Well, I can.

78S on the ground in Northway:

Upon arrival, we paid the requisite $25 to the U.S. Government and were allowed to return to the land of our birth. Soon thereafter, the IFR Pilot picked up another rating for his license, “Certified Bush Pilot.” See:

Dad had some pie, I had a Diet Pepsi, 78S had fuel, and we launched for Fairbanks. Instead of picking up the Highway out of Northway, I took a shortcut over some rising terrain. We hit a couple of small showers again, and it made me nervous not being over the Highway. However, we emerged unscathed and picked up the Highway near Tok Junction airport.

More fantastic scenery awaited the Dadster:

The IFR Pilot, however, was busily dealing with complicated airspace. Alaska is a huge training ground for the Army and Air Force, and so there are Restricted and Military Operating Areas all over the place. Thoughtfully, the airspace over the Highway has been carved out of the MOAs – but only up to 3000 MSL. That’s pretty low over the highway, but you certain to be safe there. So down we went, at least until we could reach Eilson Range Control and advise that we wanted to climbed. Cleared to do so, I was much more happy with a little extra altitude. Most of the flying at this point is in a huge river valley.

Following the Highway to Fairbanks results in your being only a couple of miles west of Eilson Air Force Base. Talking to Fairbanks Approach, we got a birds eye view of a C-130 descending for landing, then a traffic callout for two A-10’s. I made sure that I had all of the aircraft lights on, so as to be conspicuous to them. Eventually, they were reported as no factor, but we never saw them.

I had Fairbanks from at least 15 miles out. Can you pick it out?

Told to expect the downwind for Runway 19R, approach handed me off to tower. The controller was juggling perhaps 8 or 10 aircraft when I reported in. Or at least, tried to report in. I must have announced “78S with you for Runway 19R” six times. I was already past midfield downwind before I even got an acknowledgment. I suspect that this controller was pretty green, because I heard her supervisor jump in at least once or twice when she hesitated on various instructions to inbound aircraft.

I made a tight turn in a steep descent, and ended up bouncing it on the landing. Oh well, not every landing can be a greaser, right?

And that’s the story of our 29.1 hour flight from Wadsworth, Ohio to Fairbanks, Alaska. Stay turned for further adventures, as we contemplate trying to bring 78S in to some of the most complicated airspace I have ever seen: That surrounding Anchorage...

1 comment:

mark said...

Congratulations!! You made it (at least 1/2 way!). Been following along Darrell and I am more than a bit jealous. The pictures have been stunning. Makes our trip to New Orleans look like a run to the grocery store and back. Keep having fun. Best to you and your dad.