Accelerated Flight Instruction


This blog hopefully will document an Air Venture to Alaska.  I will be traveling with my friend Joe Schumacher
 from Florence Wisconsin. 

Joe is an accomplished pilot and builder of aircraft, a great friend and the retired Director of Air Operations
at the world’s biggest airshow in Oshkosh Wisconsin, EAA’s annual AirVenture Oshkosh.

    Joe ready to go in Dave's RV-10

Day One June 24, 

Joe flew to CID from IMT in his recently completed RV10.  The weather in Cedar Rapids was awful that morning with heavy thunderstorms.  Thankfully, Joe was able to find a clear spot.  We departed behind that line of storms and ahead of the next for our first leg to a fuel stop in Bismark, ND.  We had to deviate a few times because of storms, but all in all a very enjoyable first leg.  The poor farmers along this route are suffering from very wet land.  The ground was very wet along that entire route, but lush and green as is so typical in the Midwest in June.  Our second leg today was to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.     Of course that involved our first boarder crossing.  This is a  pain in the you know what since 9-11.  Homeland Security has devised an extremely user-unfriendly manifest notification system called eApis.  Even the local pilots who regularly use the system didn’t have kind words for it.  It is easier to walk across the Mexican boarder than it is for a couple of retired guys to vacation across the Canadian boarder.  After about 45 minutes of fighting that system we finally departed for what was an absolutely picture perfect flight to Saskatoon, clearing Canadian customs an hour early because of time zone confusion (our flight data had the wrong time zone in it--so much for government approved flight data).  Joe “left-seated” this leg as we are alternating who gets to work and who gets to nap.  We continued to see a lot of wet weather.  Some areas had a “bizzillion and a half” 5 acre ponds 1000 feet apart as far as the eye could see.   Over Regina we observed a lot of oil storage.  The locals in Saskatoon reported that their economy is booming.  Potash, Uranium and construction is the reason.  Their local airport has had a fourfold increase in passenger counts in the last several years.  From the air Joe pointed out how Saskatoon was clearly laid out with residential area in one place and industry in another.  This was very unlike what is typically seen with more melding and integration of the two.  My disappointment on the ground is that Canada, like Mayor Bloomberg in NYC seems to know what is right for me.  I could not get my hamburger cooked medium rare.  It had to be well done.  A Canadian law.  So a rare steak sandwich had to suffice.  We saw what would be commonplace as we traveled, plug-ins for your engine heater in most parking lots.

Day Two June 25

We planned a trip from Saskatoon to Peace River, Alberta, but enroute our fuel burn, tailwind and good weather led us to extend the flight to Ft. St. John, BC.  The first half was very nice weather, but as we approached Ft. St. John, we could see the forecast poorer weather due to a low pressure area west of the Canadian Rockies.   We saw more very wet ground along the way.  Joe thought much of the ground initially looked just like the flat farm land of Western Iowa, where he was raised on a farm.  The analogy held as we traveled West as it looked like approaching the Omaha-Council Bluffs area as we crossed wooded river areas.  Some of these areas had deep canyon-like gorges which appeared like they could have been rivers thousands of years ago.  We weren’t on the ground long in Ft. St. John, but long enough to learn from the locals that their industry is lumber, oil and gas.  They appeared to be prospering also.  We checked the weather for further flight, and here is where we began to realize that we are getting far North and away from the services we are accustomed to.  We planned to go to Ft. Nelson, a simple hour plus flight, but low pressure area was forecast to bring CB activity along that route.  To our surprise their is no weather radar along this route--none--nada--zip. The only weather data was the current METAR’s at each end, nothing in the middle.   So we planned this trip, with an alternate of back to Ft. St. John, if we encountered something we didn’t like.  We were in and out of developing Cu, shot the ILS into Ft. St. Nelson and decided we didn’t want to deal with more weather on the way to Watson Creek, so decided to overnight early in Ft. Nelson.  We flew out of ATC radar coverage soon out of Ft. St. John, so we were, though on an IFR flight plan, pretty much on our own.  No issues though.  The airplane is running great!  The locals in Ft. Nelson appear to be rugged hard working individuals.  The airport had three helicopter operations with about a half dozen to a dozen helicopters each.  They use these to transport workers and equipment out to remote logging and oil and gas sites.  There are no roads to these locations.  We saw many of them operating that evening with large sling loads underneath.  The local paramedic vehicle was a pick-up truck with a camper topper and a big sign on the side that said paramedic.  I suppose that is all you need.  The key is what is inside.  These are really practical folks who honor the dignity of hard work.  At the airport there were no paved surfaces on the ground side of the airport.  Everything is mud and rock.  The only paving was on the air side.  The “terminal building”  looked like a no frills bus station, only a place to sit, chairs on a bare concrete floor, no other amenities.  It is where you waited as a construction or oil worker for a helicopter to take you and your tools to your work that day.  I have the highest respect for these folks. 

Day 3 June 26

This was quite a full day which started with seeing an Elk siting on the way to the airport followed by siting a mamma Moose taking her two cubs for a stroll.  The first flight leg was to Whitehorse in the Yukon.  Because of weather forecast along the route and the lack of actual weather reporting we filed IFR and flew the route at 10,000.  The weather turned out to be exactly as forecast.  I found that the Canadian briefers who work these remote locations seem to be better trained meteorologists that those in the lower 48 who simply read the data.  This briefer for our flight was able to look analyze the data and predict what we would encounter, and he was spot on!  Numerous layers up to 20000 with occasional light to moderate rain. When we could see down through the layers, we saw no sign of human existence and very rugged but pretty terrain.  We had an occasional glimpse of the ALCAN highway, but saw no vehicles.  Over Watson Lake, we did see signs of civilization and three highways coming together in this area.  Approaching Whitehorse we opted for the RNAV approach although we probably could have done the visual, but there were so many mountains around that I was concerned that some of the occasional clouds could have been stuffed with granite.  The RNAV approach seemed more prudent.  The terrain here was absolutely beautiful.  The city was down in a valley and the airport atop what could have been the large hill.  From the ramp area one has to climb a stairway to get from the air side to the ground side.  We had a nice lunch here and encountered a group of pilots flying one of the group air tours of Alaska.  Two RV10’s were in the group, so we exchanged tales about our airplanes then proceeded with the dreaded eApis filing for arrival back into the USA via our next leg to Northway, AK.  Joe flew this leg and it was memorable.  We flew what is called “the trench” which is following the ALCAN highway in the valley between mountains.  What spectacular views!!  We saw our first glacier, many lakes and streams, snow capped mountains and south facing mountains in lush green.  We were beginning to get a taste for the beauty of the area.  The lakes were still and reflective as a mirror.  In fact, we encountered one and thought we were looking down into a canyon when we realized that what looked like water falling into a canyon was really the reflection of the clouds on  the perfectly still surface of the lake.  The reflection of the adjacent mountains onto this water was likewise very pretty.  At Northway we had a an easy clearing of US customs but with no fuel available we proceeded to Gulkana, AK for fuel.  This was an interesting stop.  The town is one of only 500 people but the airport was home to dozens of airplanes.  None of them were beauty queens.  We were starting to see how important aviation is to these folks.  Airplanes are to these folks as a second car or pick-up truck is to us.  We were ready to call it a day, but when we found that a B & B was our only choice for lodging we opted for an hour flight to Merrill field in Anchorage.  It was an easy flight and within 50 miles of Anchorage we were back in radar flight coverage for the first time since Monday.  It was warm and fuzzy.  The route was between some very high mountains on both sides.  They were snow covered an beautiful.  We saw more very large glaciers in the valleys.  Merrill field had hundreds and hundreds of airplanes on what by our standards was a very small airport. Both of us were tired from a long day, so after a couple of Alaskan beers, we turned in early.

Day 4 July 27

Our goal for the day was to get to Kodiak Island by the end of the day which gave us some time to be tourists in downtown Anchorage.  We took a trolley tour and learned a lot about the history of Anchorage particularly the 1964 earthquake and the importance of aviation to Anchorage and Alaska.  The earthquake was the strongest one ever in the USA but the area has fully recovered but respects the memory of those who went through this tragedy.  Alaska asked little from the US taxpayer and came back stronger.

The tour went through Lake Hood which is principally a seaplane base for (now get this) 2000 aircraft.  There is a 25 year waiting list for a seaplane slip.  The tour guide recently retired as a high school teacher.  In her latest class, 2 students held driver’s licenses and 11 were licensed pilots.  The family of one of her students has a home on an island 150 miles away.  This female student is assigned the task of flying from this island home to Lake Hood to get provisions for the family from the local Cosco store.  When she arrives, she can’t drive to Cosco as she doesn’t have a drivers license, so she calls her teacher who takes her to Cosco and back to the airplane where this young lady fllies back home with her purchases.  One in under 100 Alaskans are pilots.  Airplanes here are like pickup trucks are in Iowa.  After the tour and lunch we proceeded to Kodiak to see a friend of Joe who has cabins on a small airport on the West side of the island.  When we arrived over the airport, it was totally fogged in and has no instrument approaches so we diverted to the main Kodiak airport.  Because of the fog, we couldn’t see the airport so went out over the water to execute the GPS RWY 25 approach.  Studying the approach, we noticed an early MAP with an immediate left turn for the missed approach procedure.  Well, when turning inbound to the airport, the runway was clearly in sight along with the obvious reason for the early MAP as a many thousand feet high mountain sat at the very end of the runway, an awesome sight flaring for the landing.  At this airport, ATC does not assign runways, but requires the pilot to request the runway as only the pilot can sort out the wind, mountain obstructions and aircraft performance capability.  It is too complicated a compromise for ATC to calculate from the comfort of the tower cab.  The surroundings in this area were the prettiest of anything we had seen yet, and that was a high bar.  The town is on the hillside of these mountains overlooking the bay with an eclectic mix of water craft.  It reminded me of New Zealand.  

Day 5 June 28

Flew from Kodiak to Fairbanks.  The departure was spectacular.  Perfect weather out over the bay with a good view of the town, the hillside mountain and marina-unbelievably pretty.  We flew up Cook inlet toward land and as forecast, the weather deteriorated and we were IMC operating between 9000 and 120000 feet.  We encountered a small amount of mixed icing but ATC cooperated and we easily found a warmer altitude and it was quickly gone.  Some of the folks from the group we met two days ago in Canada were going southbound from Fairbanks. and were the reason for our altitude changes as ATC kept us from trading paint.  However, we saw little of the ground until approaching the Fairbanks airport, an interesting airport indeed.  Runway 20R is the main runway.  Runway 20L first half, sod, is for airplanes on skies.  And the center runway, which in the lower 48 would be labeled 20C for center, is 20W.  Yes you guessed it, it is 20-Water, a long pond for seaplanes.  If you like aviation, you’ll love Alaska!!  Once on the ground, I contacted the sister of a man I met in Cedar Rapids.  Sherrie Clark was born and raised in the “City of Five Seasons”, but moved here with her new husband 48 years ago, settled-in, raised a family here and has kids and grandkids in the area.  She was a great hostess for the evening and took us on a tour of  Fairbanks.  She actually lives on her family farm 75 miles Southwest of Fairbanks, but was here and couldn’t get home because of the forest fire in the direction of her home.  The only road was closed due to smoke.  There are 177 forest fires in the State at this time.  The surface visibility varied between 3 and 5 miles simply due to smoke.

Day, 6 June 29

We rented a car to drive the countryside and see some Alaskan animals.  We saw only one Moose, but he/she was gone before I could get the camera set.  A relaxing day, the first day not in the airplane.  We went to the airplane to repair the locks as it appeared someone tried to break in-overnight in Kodiak and had the door latch mechanism “screwed-up”.  Thankfully, I brought a tool kit and between the two of us had it quickly repaired--with no scratches--whew!!  The smoke was worse today, occasionally down to two miles visibility.  The airport was IFR due to smoke when we were there.  Not much to report.    Our nicest stop along the way was to see the Alaskan pipeline.  Wow!  To listen to all the environmentalists these pipelines are dangerous and risky,  but to see one, they are engineering marvels  This one has been operating for 25 years without leaking a single drop of oil while moving up to 2,000,000 barrels a day and surviving a serious earthquake.  Think of the quality of life improvements that that much oil has brought to the human race.  I believe strongly that there is no problem, environmental or otherwise, that the human mind can not solve for the betterment of the earth and its people, if only the politicians will get out of the way.  Let the engineers , scientists, technicians, construction workers architect and implement solutions.  For example, to give the pipeline (which by the way is a 4 foot diameter pipe) flexibility to move to survive an earthquake, it is brought up above ground occasionally and zig-zagged with supports on slip surfaces to allow the pipe to move (maybe) 12 feet laterally.  Natural cooling tubes are employed at the support structures that go down up to 70 feet into the permafrost to re-cool the permafrost from the heat of the oil (which enters the pipe at 100 + degrees F).  The reason is to keep the permafrost stable.  Long plugs called “pigs” are occasionally sent down the pipe.  Their primary purpose is to scrape and clean the inside walls, but secondarily they have sensors to detect any corrosion of the tube.  When the plug is removed at a pumping station, the data is then analyzed.  This pipeline pays 90% of the Alaskan State operating budget and returns a dividend of $800  to $2500 per person per year to every resident.  We also saw the town of North Pole, AK.  It was mainly a touristy place for families.  We saw lots of discarded cargo planes with weeds and trees growing through them.  One of the pictures is an abandoned  attempt by one person to convert one into a "home",  Tomorrow up to Deadhorse, AK and Prudoe Bay.


Day 7, June 30

Our goal today was to get to the North Slope town of Prudhoe Bay also called Deadhorse.  The permanent population of Prudhoe Bay is 4!  That’s right, 1-2-3-4.  Several thousand itinerant workers (can you say Todd Palin) work the slope and operate out of Prudhoe Bay.  This leg has to be carefully executed because alternate airports (with fuel) are so few and far between.  When we left Fairbanks, the weather forecast for Deadhorse was 500’ scattered.  I discussed with the briefer the probability of that layer deteriorating to broken or overcast.  The forecast didn’t suggest that that would occur.  Well so much for forecasts.  We launched North and crossed the Arctic Circle and the Brooks Range while monitoring the weather at Deadhorse.  The weather at Deadhorse when we were about an hour out dropped to 300 foot overcast.  The lowest approach allows for 200 foot.  We decided that this was not enough margin.  Weather was coming in from the West and Barrow was down to 200 foot and low visibilities.  We decided that if  the weather further deteriorated (and experience has shown me that when it deteriorates worse than forecast, it continues to get worse) and we missed the approach, that we wouldn’t have enough fuel to get to an alternate with fuel.  There were other alternates available, but they had no fuel.  So the big 180 was the prudent thing to do and back South we go.  We landed at Neenana.  They had fuel, but no food.  So further South we go to Talkeetna.  They were listed as having 6 operators and restaurants within walking distance.  Their forecast for the rest of the day was for 2900 foot ceilings with very low IFR enroute.  Since it was only an hour away, we launched for lunch.  Well, so much for forecasts.  We flew on top of the lower layers of clouds and had a view of the middle of Mt. McKinley.  The base and top of the mountain was in cloud.  When we arrived at Talkeetna, we set up for the GPS approach.  On decent through the 2900 foot layer, it was clear that there were two more layers below, well how low?  Minimums here because of terrain are 600 feet.  So down to minimums we go in rain and poor visibility.  Right at minimums (and no sooner) we could see the end of the runway.  I love these autopilot coupled GPS approaches.  So here we are in this town of many air tour operators (charters to see McKinley) operating dozens of airplanes, and not many more permanent residents than that.  Bottom line:  A very disappointing day, but we gained a deep appreciation of the vastness of this great State, and the vagaries of its weather--and we did see a sliver of McKinley (I always have to find the positive).  Off to Homer tomorrow where we plan to stay a while.


Day 8, July 1

A wonderful day started with a breakfast with a gentleman we met last night in the restaurant.  Stephan was relaxing in Talkeetna after climbing McKinley.  I wish that my grandchildren were there to hear him speak.  He lost his wife to breast cancer and with his children grown he felt that the purpose in his life was gone.  He needed a purpose, so he came up with his 7 in 7 program to climb the world’s seven highest mountains in the same number of years.  His completion of McKinley last week was his sixth.  This venture has led him to motivational speaking to raise money for these ventures which can be $100,000 each.  His commitment to having a purpose in life was outstanding and a great lesson for everyone.  After breakfast we departed in light rain and 500 foot scattered clouds and mist across mountains and then across the Cook Inlet to Kenai.  We rented a car and drove down the Kenai peninsula to Homer.  The visuals were beautiful.  We saw one more ugly Moose (well, they are all ugly), but haven’t seen a bear yet.  We are told that there are a lot of them on the Russian river where the Salmon are running at peak now.  We will go there tomorrow.  Our weather has been comfortably cool with very light rain, but even at that the terrain is incredibly beautiful.

We stopped at a small hamlet (maybe a dozen homes) where a local gives halibut fishing tours.  He had just brought a group in and they were filleting their morning catch.  All were from Iowa.  Tomorrow on to site a bear.

Day 9, July 2

We drove down to the Russian river to see bears and salmon.  We struck out on both counts!  Our half mile walk on a boardwalk was spectacularly beautiful however.  The fauna and floral were rich and lush in full color.  We walked to the confluence of the Kenai and the Russian river.  The difference in color of the two rivers was remarkable.  The Kenai, which empties into the Russian, was clear and flowing rapidly, the Russian was an opaque aquamarine color.  It drains from nearby glaciers which accounts for the brilliant color contrast.  Dozens of folks were fly fishing with not much luck.  Apparently the current group of salmon quit running a couple of days ago.  The next group starts in a few weeks.  The bears must get this schedule off the internet as they were no where to be found.  However, we did speak with one lady from Germany who was so excited to have seen one just a few minutes before we encountered her.  She had to show us the pictures.  We reversed our course back to Kenai and will stay the night here.  The weather at our next planned stop of Valdez was 2500 foot ceilings in light rain.  Normally that would make for an easy instrument arrival, but the only approach into this box canyon airport has minimums of 4400 feet above the ground!!  We will wait for better weather, and maybe avoid Valdez altogether, who knows what tomorrow will bring?

We have taken lots of pictures but are having trouble with the new MacBook Air accepting the pictures from the Galaxy phone.  We should have brought a teenage kid to be our technologist.  Our apologies to those who wanted more visuals.

Day 10, July 3

We spent the majority of the day flying down the West coast of this great State.  There was not much to see because of the weather along the coast.  We were in or above the clouds most of the day.  Our first stop was in Yakutat for fuel.  We had enough fuel to go all the way to Juneau, but not enough fuel to go there, miss the approach due to weather, and continue to a reasonable alternate airport.  So, a fuel stop in Yakutat was prudent.  Nothing remarkable in this little burg, but it was clearly another fishing community.  Folks were flying in and out with their fishing gear.  The sign over the shack which served as the FBO said “Food, Shelter, Booze”.  Inside the rustic restaurant/bar folks put one dollar bills on the wall with their name and date.  If you come back more than one year later, and can find your one dollar bill, you get a free drink.  Joe counted these bills and concluded that the walls and ceiling had over $5000 dollars tacked to them.  We had a burger and topped off with fuel and continued on to the Alaska State capital.  The approach into Juneau was incredibly beautiful.  The minimums are 1800 feet so the MAP point is displaced away from the runway, and at the MAP there is a dogleg turn toward the runway that has to be executed visually because of a hill.  A person has to really study the approach procedures up here as we don’t see this sort of stuff in the lower 48 with a few exceptions.  There are 4 large cruise ships in the harbor.  No rooms were available downtown due to the fourth of July fireworks.  The town was packed with tourists from the ships buying trinkets from the cute shops downtown.  On the approach into the airport, the visuals were spectacular.  Low hanging clouds over the hills, with light rain and numerous boats.  This is another airport with a -W runway for seaplanes paralleling the main runway.  We are planning to be be tourists tomorrow, Skagway or elsewhere.

Day 11, July 4

While in Juneau we visited a nearby glacier.  A few pictures follow but would have been better if the weather were clear.  It was hazy and cold around the glacier area.  Note the distinctive blue color due due the compacted ice refracting the light wavelengths differently.  The glacier is constantly flowing from the mountains and recessing at its base.  The area we were looking has moved 14 miles in 200 years.  We also saw the effect of the moving glaciers on rock formations.  They become relatively smooth due to the movement of the glaciers over thousands of years.  Following that we flew the inlets up to the small hamlet of Skagway.  This town of 500 permanent residents is a tourist magnet.  Ten Thousand folks visited today, most of them from four cruise ships in the harbor when we arrived.  It is an original gold rush town from the 1880’s and is nestled between two mountain ranges, yet the airport is at 44 foot above seal level.  The arrival by air is interesting to say the least because of the location at the base of the mountains.  The wind is generally out of the southwest and accelerates  to flow through the mountain pass, so the approach is to fly over the airport, with plenty of altitude, into the valley turn toward one mountain and make a sharp teardrop turn and descend quickly into the runway.  From the air approaching the runway, you can see that the town is only 3 blocks wide and 8 blocks long, and today there was a bustle of activity due to a fourth of July celebration.  Egg throwing contests, rail driving contests and other typical small town activities were well underway.  We had a burger from a street vendor and bought tickets for a steam driven train ride up into the mountains.  The train ride was a visual extravaganza.  It runs 20.4 miles and rises nearly 3000 feet through lush mountainside with views of 6000 foot waterfalls, glaciers, rivers and streams.  The trail was pioneered by promise of gold.  Tens of thousands of miners went up and down this trail.  Since it enters Canada, the miners had to follow Canadian regulations which required 2000 pounds of provisions for each person.  If you didn’t have it, you were sent back down the mountain.  Rugged individuals for sure!!  There were so many people going up the hill, that it is said that if you stopped to tie your shoe or answer mother nature, you might have to wait all day to get back into the narrow line.  This was a spectacular train ride.  The ride went over several trestles and through two tunnels along sheer rock cliffs.  It would appear that this line takes some very serious maintenance to have it ready for the next summer season.  It is interesting to note that in the late 1800‘s, the entire line of 100 plus miles between Skagway and Whitehorse was build in a little over two years by over 30,000 workers.  Only 35 lost their lives in this very treacherous work.  A painted black cross on a boulder down the cliff marked the final resting spot where two workers lost their lives when the bolder rolled down the hill and crushed them.  The construction of this rail line is ranked as one of the worlds engineering marvels.  We noted remnants of tools of the era, still visible and rusting away, in fact, we saw one old locomotive on its side down the cliff.   We finished off the day with Halibut cakes and Halibut pasta.

Day 12, July 5

We started our day by continuing our tour of Skagway which included a walk around town and a walking tour by a park ranger of various historical points of interest.  We confirmed that 100,000 folks (20% woman) started the long trek from Skagway to Dawson City in Canada in search of gold in 1897.  Thirty thousand made it all the way.  Of those, 4000 found gold of some variety, but only 400 found enough gold to become wealthy.  A very low percentage indeed for all the sacrifice.  The town has become a very large tourist attraction with shops to appeal to the traveler.  Some of this should be evident in the photos.  Joe noted that about every 50 feet was yet another jewelry shop. In one of the photos is a centrifugal snow blower which moves ahead of the trains in the winter to clear the tracks.  This was designed by two local rail workers many decades ago and was brought out of retirement as late as 2011 to clear tracks again.  Mid day we flew down to Sitka.  We wanted to go down VFR low over the water again, but the weather cameras in the two passes showed that visibility was very poor.  So we opted for IFR above the weather at 9000 feet.  On climb out we saw a glacier.  Notice it in the two pictures off the right wing and note how it is flowing into the lake below.   Breaking out on approach we were greeted by a spectacular harbor dotted with numerous islands, some with homes.  The airport is on an island connected to the mainland with a bridge.  Sitka was the Russian Capital of the Russian American territory, and at the time of the U.S. purchase, remained the American Alaskan Capital.  It has moved to Juneau.  We drove the entire length of road along the coast.  It only extends about 7 miles each way from the heart of downtown.  There is a lot of history here as it was both a Russian and American fortress and trading center with the native Indians.  We visited some museums, went to a whale siting park (no luck) and picked wild raspberries (more tart and with bigger seeds than ours).  It was another great day for us in Alaska.  The photos don’t really capture the ambiance.

Day 13, July 6

We toured Sitka in the morning by foot.  Visiting several museums and on a walking tour  to the grounds of the Russian battle with the indians we sure became acquainted with the Russian heritage of the area.  Sitka was the site of the signing of the transfer of the Russian America territory to the United States for 7.2 million dollars, or about 2 cents an acre, in 1867.  How Secretary of State Seward traveled from Washington DC to Sitka to sign the transfer documents then must have been some trip.  One of the museums had a copy of the original transfer documents, which were in a large thick book which had a lot of interesting ledgers including the daily pay and rations of the military escorts--interesting.  The picture below is where the transfer took place.  Midday we flew down to Ketchikan.  We went down IFR at 7000 feet in relatively nice weather.  We had considered going VFR over the coastal waters, but that would have been longer with a bit of uncertainty about the weather, we opted to go higher.  One more time, when breaking out, we were greeted with a spectacular visual drama.  These coastal Alaskan towns are spectacular.  The airport is on an island and the only way to town is by ferry.  The friendly gal at the FBO arranged ferry tickets for us, reserved a hotel room at a chalet like setting, and had the hotel van greet us at the ferry terminal.  Slick as a whistle!  The hotel is on a hill and has a cable car tram service from the lobby down the hill to down down.  The town is a quaint fishing village which in contrast to Sitka had little Russian heritage but vibrant indian heritage from at least 3 tribes which settled in different surrounding hillside fishing villages.  Most people we dealt with had Indian heritage.  We saw more totem poles, numerous seaplanes in the channel, and rode a free shuttle from one end of town, to the other, and back, in all of 20 minutes.  We both enjoyed crab for dinner.  The gal who served us had an interesting family story.  Her mom, a native indian, and dad, a white, raised 6 children, two adopted.  She was one of the adopted ones.  But get this, they also helped raise 92, yes that is ninety-two, foster children,  while working full time, him a postal maintenance worker, and she a worker at a domestic abuse shelter, for 32 years, where she encountered many of the children needing foster assistance.   All were raised with a strong work ethic and not television in a large home where there “was always someone coming and going”.  

Day 14, July 7

America to America, the USA to the USA via over Canada.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day in Ketchikan, AK with light cool breezes and bright blue skies.  While waiting for the 8:15 ferry, we saw seven Beaver floatplanes all departing the channel while the ferry was crossing to pick us up and a tugboat pulling a cargo barge.  A spectacular site.  These seven aircraft were all painted the same and operated by the same company giving rides to folks from the three cruise ships in port.  Our flight to “the lower 48” was conducted IFR in very good VFR weather at 9000 to 11000 feet occasionally.  The favorable weather and winds allowed us to easily jump over Canada eliminating the dreaded dual customs and eApis paperwork.  We stopped in Bellingham, WA for airplane and people fuel, and continued on in good weather to Aurora, OR where the parts for my airplane originated.  We brought them back to the factory now fully assembled.  We will visit this company tomorrow.  

Day 14, July 8

We started the tour with a tour of Van’s Aircraft Company.  This company has made a large impact on the homebuilt aircraft movement in the past 25 years.  More than one and a half of these airplanes take to the air for the first time each and every day.  There designs are extraordinary following the founder’s design principle to “keep it simple”.  The proof of this is exemplified by our trip.  We flew over 45 flight hours on this trip without a single maintenance issue.  We met the founder of the company as he arrived by his daily commute in his personal RV-12.  He was cordial, humble and friendly.  It was a treat to spend some personal time with him.  After the tour we departed East for home spending the night in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

Day 16, July 9

We departed Rock Springs early in the morning to beat the heat in the desert.  The density altitude was 12,000 feet on our arrival last evening (the airport elevation is 6900 feet, about 1000 feet higher than Denver).  We had an uneventful flight to Alliance NB for breakfast, and chased the storms out of Cedar Rapids for our arrival back home in the early afternoon.  Joe continued on to his home in Iron Mountain, MI.

For those of you who have followed the site, we are not through yet.  Go back through the days and you will see that I have loaded many more pictures.  In coming days we will add some closing remarks.

Reflections on the trip--by Dave

This was simply a spectacular trip, made even better by the opportunity to share it with the good company of Joe Schumacher, a great friend.  A tongue-in-cheek note to Joe:  Frankly I would have preferred the company of my wife, but when she read the requirement to pack an axe, knife, rations for a week, two ways to start a fire, etc, etc, she said she was not a boy scout and refused to go--so you became second choice--and a good one at that.

I have now traveled to all 50 States which make up the diverse tapestry of the USA.  I have flown small aircraft in all but one of them.  Fascinated  with the natural beauty of Alaska from an early age, that interest was piqued a few years back when a certain political figure spoke eloquently about her home State.  The media demeaned her for her squeaky voice, unusual presentation style, and yes, gender.  But cutting through all of that bias, her message about Alaska was compelling.  Where women shoot and field-dress moose, high school girls routinely commute to school in light airplanes, men work the North Slope in 24 hour darkness and where Native American Indians work side by side with blond haired Scandinavians from Minnesota without bias or bigotry, this was a State I had to experience first hand! 

And experience it we did--by air--

not the only way--but really--the only way!  

It is obvious that I have a passion for small aircraft, for the freedom and independence provided.  Although we had to deal with onerous customs and manifest paperwork, it was insignificant compared to taking off shoes and belt and dealing with stoic folks in blue shirts to board our airplane for each flight.  We had none of that.  We came and went when we wanted.  By the way, all of us just coughed up $50 million for new blue shirts for those folks at the same time we shut down the peoples’ house to tours by school kids, the same kids who will lead us and define our culture in just a few years.  We often have priorities backwards.  But much as I complain about how things should be better, I am a huge fan of our great country and the very freedom to voice concerns for the better.  

I often reflect on the wisdom of our system which allows the freedom to build and operate one’s own airplane.  Where in the world can someone like me build an airplane in my basement/garage workshop, have it inspected once by a government appointed inspector, fly it with restrictions to prove it is airworthy, and then, upon my personal signature and responsibility, approve it for essentially unlimited restrictions in the world’s airspace (provided it has the proper equipment for each operation)?  It is a brilliant system which strikes the proper balance of individual freedom and responsibility, with public protection.

The use of a personal airplane in Alaska is almost a necessity; even the current State Capital of Juneau can only be reached by airplane or boat.  The State has a a land mass of more than 20% of the entire “lower 48”, and a population of less than 3/4 of a million people (fewer than the city of Columbus, OH), half of whom live around Anchorage,  so, to get to the hamlets, traveling by air is the most practical.  Their ATC system is different than in the lower 48, and in particular is their FSS system.  While in the lower 48, FSS is consolidated, in Alaska they remain regionalized with specialists in the micro climates of the regions.  They rely a lot on an ever expanding weather camera system of flight briefing.  It works great and uniquely applies to their wide variety of local climates.

And experience it we did--on the ground

--by visiting with these hard working pleasant people! 

One of the more enlightening aspects of the trip was the numerous in-depth discussions we had with local people and hearing their stories of how they came to be an Alaskan.  Each had an interesting, intriguing and compelling story.  We always inquired about how they coped with the long dark winters.  Most told of working to have a reason to get out of bed.  A few admitted to fatigue with the winters and a longing to go back South.  Those born and raised in Alaska, however, did not.

Although we sampled the culture for only a week and a half, we saw no signs of racial tension.  Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Indians all worked in harmony.  Many intermarried and all seemed rugged, self-reliant and devoid of a culture of dependency.  None were arrogant and all were ready to help.  This was reminiscent of our midwest familiarity.  Our only issues of cultural arrogance on the entire trip were several in Oregon.  It is nice to be back in the midwest.

We met some wonderful people.  From the retired Coast Guard Captain, the mountain climber with a purpose, and the restaurant owner, an adopted daughter of parents who helped foster 92 children, our human interactions will be pleasantly and long remembered.

And experience we did--visually

--nature’s abundant splendor is everywhere

The pictures, many spectacular, do not do justice to the ambiance.  The grandeur surrounds you.  Sherrie Clark, the lady born and raised in Cedar Rapids now making her home in Nenana, promised by phone that we would be “blown away” by the beauty.    Well, Sherrie, yours was an understatement, Alaska is a visual treat that has to be experienced.  

So in conclusion, if you can, place a tour of Alaska on your “bucket list”.  You will not be disappointed.  If I can help you plan it, contact me at:  dave@flywithdave.com.


Come back in the next few days or so.
I hope to add titles and text to some of the pictures.
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