Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Alaska Epilogue

Having now been back for a comfortable period of time, a bit of reflection is in order.

There's no question that flying yourself to Alaska via light airplane is the adventure of a lifetime. This is particularly true if most of your flying has been in the Great Plains, such being the case with the IFR Pilot. A few flights over "mountains" in central PA and on the way to DC constituted the only rugged terrain that I had ever crossed in my trusty 172. Needless to say, the sights that you see between the Midwest and Alaska are truly awesome.

Flying the Alaska Highway proved to be a very safe choice, both up and back. Other than one leg where I flew direct so as to avoid weather that was building over the highway in the mountains, we basically had an emergency landing strip below us.

There was the occasional lake crossing, and mostly what I did was look for the shortest point to cut across or, if possibly, just skirt the edge.

You certainly learn a lot about flying in other than ideal conditions. I'm not talking about IFR flying here, that's just not really an option in a 172 in the moutainous terrain of nothern Alberta and the Yukon. I'm talking about cloud decks about 5000 MSL that require you to assess whether you can keep enough altitude between you and the terrain and still stay below the clouds. I'm talking about flying through rain showers where you can clearly see through them. I'm talking about learning to skirt an isolated thunderstorm, which at least in the Midwest is not always easy to do given the size of storms that we get here. I'm talking about making sure that you are constantly ready to divert to unfamiliar airports to wait out unexpected weather.

Highlights: Oshkosh. Sea plane ride. Mountain scenery.

Lowlights: Rough engine. Rough engine. Rough engine.

For those that care, here's a rough plot of the route that we flew. I say "rough" because you can't really plot the Alaska Highway on the AOPA Flight Planner. Nevertheless, this is certainly sufficient to give you an idea of the amount of ground that we covered during our 2.5 week escapade:

According to the Flight Planner, this totals over 6000 nautical miles. That's a loooooooooong way, kids.

Total flight time was 58.2 hours. Fuel burned was 630 gallons. That's 10.8 gallons per hour, pretty close to the 10 hours I generally use when flight planning. I think we would have kept pretty true to that had I leaned as aggressively after Lethbridge than I did before it. Engine roughness tends to make one a bit gun-shy. Also, the EGT and CHT readings were off a bit, so I didn't want to take too many chances.

A final thought, with apologies to Mastercard:

Charts for the Alaska trip: $360.

Fuel for the airplane: $2300.

Maintenance during and after the trip: $250.

Flying your Dad to Alaska to fulfill a life's dream: Priceless.


Jason said...

$360 in charts! Now that IS a real trip. Thanks for keeping us all up to date on it, and letting us live vicariously through you. :)

also-known-as said...

You have no idea how envious I am of that trip. I've planned it like that on the AOPA real-time planner. I've mused about it. I missed a chance to fly up there in a Pilatus. Someday.......