Good aviation readings for non-flying days ;
Cautionary Tales of Ski Flying by David Lamberton Storey, Ski Flying Lessons from a Yukon Trapper
The HARD Way to Export a SuperCub by J G Balmer Ferrying aircraft to Alaska pre-9-11
Christmas in the Glenlyon Range by John Witham Christmas memories by one Yukon helicopter Pilot
Kluhinni Fishing Misadventure by by JG Balmer Not all fishing trips are equal!
Cessna Arctic Adventure by Claire Festel Flying a 170 from Dawson City to Shingle Point and back
Belize Flight 666 by JG Balmer Just how much can you pack into a Cessna 172
Flying the Yukon bush by Kit Cain Excellent stories of flying helicopters in 1962 North of Dawson City
Ice Fishing Adventure in the Klondike by Marrielle Veilleux Fishing by Ultra-Light Aircraft
A few years back I was spending a sunny weekend afternoon at the Whitehorse airport, tinkering on my home-built airplane, when a young fellow I didn?t recognize walked up to me and asked; “Are you George Balmer?”. He was holding an open cell phone out to me in his hand.
“Well, Yes” I admitted.
“Torrie would like to talk to you.” he added, and handed me the cell phone.
It was my friend from Dawson City who said; “George I am selling my Super Cub, would you take a deposit for me from this guy?” Well Torrie is a pretty good guy who I have known for years, so I had no reservation about saying yes. I handed the phone back to the young guy and waited for the conversation between him and Torrie to end.
When the young guy hung up he turned to me and explained he was buying Torrie s Cub and was to give me the down payment. He handed me $1000.00 in US cash. I took it from him, but as I stood there and looked at it, I felt compelled to give him something in return, so, I pulled my note-book from my pocket and wrote on a new page;
Received from Scott _ _ _ _ _, One Thousand Dollars ($1000.00) deposit on Super Cub Registration CF -
ABC, on behalf of Torrie _ _ _ _ _ _, Received this Day, Dated it, and I signed it. I tore this from my notebook and handed it to the guy.
He turned out to be a heck of a nice young fellow from Anchorage who was buying the Super Cub to continue his flying lessons there. As we chatted I offered to deliver the Super Cub, since he had no licence yet. He said that was a good idea. I explained he would have to talk with US Customs and the FAA about the process, but if he did the paperwork I would fly it to Anchorage for $100 bucks and my expenses. I gave him my phone number.
It was later that same night the phone rang at home. It was Scott who told me the deal was done, and he asked if I would deliver the Cub. I agreed and asked him if he had contacted Customs and the FAA about the transaction. He answered “Yes I have, its all arranged.” Well OK! I told Scott to send me the paperwork and I would leave CYXY
Friday morning early and would meet him at Merrill Field Friday night. A quick phone call to Torrie confirmed the deal and my role in the delivery. I was looking forward to a quiet little adventure.
The next morning another phone call arrived from Scott in Anchorage who asked; “Is it OK if I come over and fly home with you?” I figured this was even better for me....he could handle all the paperwork this way, I only needed to drive. (Remember this was pre 911). I told Scott it was OK and to meet me at the airplane at 0700 Friday morning, and I reminded him to have everything the FAA and Customs told him he needed. He said; “ Yes this is all arranged.”
Thursday night at 10 pm I drove to the airport where I carefully pre-flight inspected the SuperCub again. I fueled it, topped off the oil, checked all the log books were present, and cleaned out the cabin. Then I checked the tie-downs and went home to sleep.
At 0630 the next morning I returned to find Scott already standing there, small bag in hand, ready for the adventure. We stowed his bag and mine, strapped in and cranked the Super CUB up. I air-filed for Northway (This was before 9-11 remember) as we flew out of a rising sun heading towards Northway Alaska enjoying a perfect CAVU day.
By Beaver Creek I knew I could use a pee-break and we landed for a brief pause. As I walked around I was distressed to see a lot of oil down the side from the cowl and extending as far as the rudder. On checking I found we had less than 4 quarts showing on the dip-stick. We drained one reservoir, filed another with both quarts we carried, and departed again for Northway. An hour or so later, about an hour before lunch, we landed and taxied into the “Customs Circle” at Northway.
An imposing official looking woman in perfect Customs uniform walked from her office to the SUPER CUB and greeted us;
Her; “Good morning Gentlemen, where are you from this morning?”
Me; “From Whitehorse.”
Her; “Can I see your paperwork please?”
Me; “Sure can”......and I leaned in to the Cabin to remove the documents from behind
the seat where I had placed them the night before.
THEY WERE NOT THERE! Thinking Scott had maybe removed them to review them during the flight I asked him where they were. His blank look and confused answer seeded some worries. I explained to the Customs Officer that I couldn?t find the requested documents.
She; “Who owns this aircraft?”
Me, thankfully, a question I could answer; “Scott here.” and I directed her gaze to him.
She; “Do you have paperwork to confirm that?”
Scott, shrugged, still looking confused, then brightened;” Yes here!” he said, and he proceeded to pull a torn slip of paper I recognized from his pocket.
She; “Who is this?”, as she points to the signature on the tattered, now significantly tiny piece of paper.
Me; “Uhhh.... thats me.” I answered as my shoulders dropped, I envisioned a cold US cell in the back of her office. She; “Come along”, she turned her back and walked back along the pavement towards her office.
The next half hour was a series of question and answers where THE Customs Officer and I both learned that Scott had talked to Customs about importing the SUPERCUB, while he was being cleared on re-entry to his home country a week earlier! He had talked to the FAA, or at least it seemed an ex-FAA employee who was his next-door neighbor in Anchorage! He was in possession of no paperwork allowing the import of the aircraft. On my part, the journey log, C of R, C of A, Insurance, W&B forms, and Tech Logs that I had placed carefully into the aircraft at 10pm Thursday, had pulled a disappearing act before 0630 am Friday.
It was about Lunch time when the Customs Officer informed us that “Aircraft Imported into the US required pre approval and a Commercial procedure”. She produced a one page brochure from the rack beside me titled “Importing an Aircraft Into the United States” which she handed me at the same time. For some reason I then showed her my Commercial Pilots Licence which she reviewed carefully, and handed back. “You are free to leave or stay as you wish.” she stated. I breathed again. Scott couldn?t.
I picked up my bag, the thoughts of a jail cell being replaced by the image of me spending the next couple of days hitch-hiking back to Yukon along the Alaska Highway. The one person I knew in the area who might get me started the right way was a State Trooper named Lonnie _ _ _ _ _ _ _ whom I had worked with in past. I asked her if she knew how I could contact him, hoping he would help me to catch a ride to the Alaska Highway where I could begin hitch-hiking.
“How would you know Lonnie?, she asked.
“He is a friend I work with.” I answered.
“Did you work with Bob _ _ _ _ too?” she asked.
Me....“Well, no, I know he is a Trooper too, but I don?t know him.”
She; “Well Bob?s my husband, I am surprised you don?t know him too.”
Out on the asphalt the sun came out.
On an impulse I asked if I could use her phone to find out what had happened to the missing aircraft documents and she agreed. I phoned the FBO in Whitehorse where the aircraft had been parked to see if they knew anything. They did. “That guy owed me $100 for the pre-purchase inspection”, I was told, “... wanted to make sure I got it”. I promised to make good for the $100 if he would fax up copies of the documents to US Customs, wondering to myself when (and how) he had time to remove them in the middle of the night. The documents arrived shortly, later it turned out the pre-purchase fee had indeed been paid in full!
It was now afternoon, but Scott was breathing again. The Customs officer phoned her superior at the Anchorage International Airport where the US Customs Officer who answered the phone there, upon hearing her story told her; “Yes I remember that young fellow coming in from Whitehorse, I recall he asked about importing a CUB he bought, but I didn?t understand it was a done deal.” Karma smiled, the coincidence seemed to substantiate our claim and improve Scotts reputation with the Customs Officer.
“How can we confirm your ownership of this airplane?”, she asked Scott (I was free to go remember).“
Torrie has driven down to Valdez and is fishing there.” Scott answered.
“Well lets see if we can find him?” she replied, and she proceeded to call the State Troopers in Valdez. She convinced them to drive through all the campgrounds in Valdez until they found a maroon Chev Suburban with Yukon plates (I had described Torries vehicle).
When they eventually found one, no one was around it, but they left a note on the windshield asking the owner to contact US Customs in Northway as soon as possible. It was late afternoon when the phone rang on the Customs Officers desk in Northway. Torrie confirmed our story with the Customs Officer and complied with her need for sale documents. It was early evening when she released the airplane to Scott. I was still ready to cut my loses and thumb out of Alaska , but I had come to like Scott a lot, and he did look pathetic standing there on the pavement, in the setting sun, no licence, an airplane he couldn?t fly, and with no way home. He didn?t beg, I would have. I agreed to spend the night , if he was still paying costs, and fly to Anchorage in the morning.
The motel nearly made me reconsider. It was a row of trailers that had been dragged up behind the lead Army dozer during Alaska Highway construction in 1942. In our shared room there was no room for both of us to stand at the same time. A TV was chained to a shelf on the wall in the space between the beds at a height just low enough to ensure the angle iron cage caught your temple every time you tried to get past. By the light of one round port-hole window we discovered sheets that were placed over plastic tarps protecting historic original kapock-filled matresses hiding sagging steel springs. Thin pillow cases covered garbage bags covering in turn, age-hardened pillows. The bathroom was a dark wood-panelled booth found behind a sliding door, where a shower dribbled brown water that smelled of a mix of fuel and sewage. Once flushed, the toilet tank was obviously meant to be refilled by cold sweat.
We ate supper in the local bar where obvious stares and comments hidden behind nicotine stained hands and misty beer glasses confirmed that our presence there seemed both unusual and just tolerable to the colorful locals.
In the morning we discovered a rather unique technique for garbage disposal in Northway; the green bags are filed to bursting, tied, and then thrown up on the roof. The Ravens are then contracted to remove them at their leisure.
It was another CAVU morning when we pre-flighted and flew on to Glenallen where we fueled, filled the oil again (that had come to rest comfortably at 3 1/2 quarts mark otherwise), and filed for Anchorage. Merrill field was just a few hours away. I stayed with Scott and his wonderful family for a day or so then caught my return flight via Juneau.
It was late evening on Christmas Eve of 1986, I believe, and we were busy attending to the last minute Holiday details; thawing turkeys, calling relatives, and wrapping the last few gifts. Earlier in the day I had flown Santa Claus by helicopter in to the community center parking lot to hand out toys and candy to all of the children in Ross River and I was still enjoying the visions of tiny awestruck faces and the memory of the endless laughter emanating from the hundred or so kids at the party.
The office phone rang and I picked it up assuming that it was the Children’s Party Committee calling to thank me and to inform me that my “toys and candy” were waiting for me at the Welcome Inn Bar, where the Jolly Old Elf had been thoughtfully delivering my gifts from the Community Association every year for as long as I could remember.
It was a bit chilling to hear a Master Sergeant from Search and Rescue Center Victoria inform me that a small aircraft had crashed near Glenlyon Lake, about 80 miles to the northwest of my home. He asked if it would be possible for me to head out there and pick up at least one survivor that the Hercules crew could see at the site. Apparently the terrain was too steep to attempt a nighttime parachute jump. I knew the area well and completely agreed that jumpers were not an option.
That year there was only one RCMP officer tending to the town over the Christmas holiday and I didn’t think it was a good idea to toss him into a helicopter for a trip that could possibly turn into an extra day or so depending on the weather. The officer concurred and thankfully my father in law volunteered to go along as my ground crew. (He knew that the eggnog would not be served until I got home so anything he could do to speed up the rescue process was probably in his best interests!).
We need not have been concerned about the weather as it was crystal clear, very cold, and God had hung the biggest, brightest moon in decades directly overhead. The northern lights were competing with the full moon to light our way along the forty minute trip. It was easily the most spectacular night that I had ever had the pleasure of enjoying from the front seat of a Jet Ranger.
When we arrived on station the Herc had already started dropping parachute Sun Fire flares so it was a simple task to find a toe-in spot near the inverted Super Cub. My father in law waded down through the snow and helped the unfortunate Yuletide aviator into the back seat. We thanked the Herc crew and made our way back to Ross River.
The pilot had only minor injuries that could be attended to at the nursing station and probably the most painful experience of his day was learning how to stomach the lutefisk, lefse, aquavit, and cinnamon sweet meatballs that comprised our family’s traditional Christmas Eve smorgasbord.
On approach into the airport at Ross about midnight, we flew directly over Bryan the local fixed-wing operator’s house, turned right base, and landed at the hangar. The Super Cub pilot spent the night at our place and shared Christmas morning with our kids and in-laws.
About noontime Christmas Day, Bryan showed up at our door to give the pilot a Navaho ride back to Whitehorse. Bryan looked very strange and when I finally asked him what was bothering him he took me aside to chat.
He nervously asked if I had been flying the night before and I told him that indeed I had been out and had landed around twelve o’clock midnight. “Thank Christ!” he said, “I thought I was having hallucinations!”
Apparently Becky, his beautiful four year old daughter, was refusing to go to sleep on Christmas Eve until she knew that Santa Claus had safely made it to our tiny town. Bryan was sitting on her bed reading Christmas stories to her in a vain attempt to lull her into nodding off.
At the stroke of midnight they heard a helicopter overhead and Becky announced, “It’s okay Daddy, Santa’s here now!”, and promptly fell fast asleep!
John Witham, Grizzly Valley, Yukon
One evening, while flying my Citabria over Kluhinni Lakes in the South-West Yukon, I glanced down to see the largest lake trout ever, basking off the mouth of a feeder stream in the highest of the cirque lakes. I thought about this fish the rest of the flight and that evening, after supper, announced to my wife, Grace, that we were on expedition status for the long weekend. Friday arrived with a high overcast and warm. Fishing rods, the tent and grocery pack were loaded and by four in the afternoon BMQ was south bound out of Haines Junction for mega-trout.
The highest of Kluhinni lakes is a cirque lake, one way in, at about four thousand feet. One pass along the ridge top to check for down drafts, then power off, and a wide turn into the valley and around for final. Touch down was perfect of course, water rudders down, flaps up and we find ourselves taxiing into shore in one of the most beautiful and pristine settings imaginable. It may have been many years since a float plane touched down here, if ever.
My joy is short lived however, for as we approach the rocky shore the unmistakable sign of beaver chewing is evident everywhere in the few sparse clumps of three foot high dwarf birch that dot the shore. Could that have been a beaver I had witnessed and not a fish? I had been rather high because of the terrain. But surely this would have to be one tough critter, there was only sustenance for the hardiest beaver. So fish we would.
I tailed the Citabria up on some reasonably fine gravel and tied the tail directly to the strongest looking bush. We unloaded and wasted no time putting the gear together and began casting into dark ice cold water. Graces’ fishing enthusiasm is usually much stronger than mine. I moved several times but gave up after about three hours. Grace would have fished until dark (about September here). I put up the tent and scrounged enough wood for a small fire. Grace was still fishing. I made supper, Grace was fishing. Only direct threats to throw her macaroni to the bears brought her in to the fire. We prepared for the night. A light wind sprang up.
I woke before midnight to the sound of the wind. (Every float plane pilot sleeps with one ear open.) I got out of the tent and obtained my two tie down ropes. With some creative stretching, and the use of a stick, I got the ropes through the wing tie down eyelet’s and tied each side securely to some more brush, then went back to bed.
We woke at about six in the morning to the sound of the tent material snapping in the wind and witnessed the aluminum tent poles flexing with the force. I crawled out of the tent and went to check the plane again. I keep two 50’ coils of nylon “ski” rope, one in each nose compartment, in the floats. I lifted the plane back as high out of the water as possible, and then used these and the same stick to secure the plane to more brush, further away. It was difficult to stand up straight in the wind. The lake was a mass of foam, but because of the short fetch there was little wave action. I went back to bed.
That day Grace tried once to cast lures against the wind, but even she gave up and returned to the tent. I read my novel, she read hers. We ventured forth at noon to make lunch and check the plane, but retreated to the tent and reading afterwards. We repeated the process at supper. The wind was a constant penetrating screech. The temperature dropped. We slept fitfully all Saturday night. Every sound weighed on my mind until I would crawl out and again check the ropes. If the wind built any more I would have to bucket water into the floats to keep it from flying.
Sunday morning came slowly. We crawled out and made breakfast, talked about the wind, checked the plane and retreated to the tent. I read Graces’ novel, she read mine. Lunch came at the same time as our endurance gave out. We prepared something to eat, checked the plane, and put on all the clothes we had brought. We were going to hike up the mountain ridge to find a small lake we had seen on the back of the mountain. This occupied us for several hours, and the wind was actually less in the valley we climbed up through. But it was still cold. Supper time found us back at Kluhinni Lakes. The plane still seemed solid, but the lake looked like it was covered in ice it was so white. There was no way to fly in this, and neither one of us wanted to be the first to suggest we retreat. In the tent I finished Graces’ book and began reading my log books, and licenses. Grace read the food labels. Talking was out of the question, as much because of the noise as for the fact that eight years together left little to discuss in this circumstance. Every noise that night could be attributed to a bush pulling out by the roots, or a rope breaking and the floats pulling away from the shore. Each possibility was checked. (A tip to readers; the need to check the plane frequently is also a good excuse for aging bladders.)
Monday morning, I checked the plane and made breakfast, Grace was reading the map legends. We have food for another day or so, but how long can this weather hold? The fishing gear has been misplaced and the beaver that left so much sign must have blown away down the valley. I spend the morning reading clothing labels. At noon Grace is busy telling me about the need to rub her sore feet.
I can hear her! The realization hit us both at the same time and we crawl out of the tent. The wind has dropped, it is still very strong, but it has dropped. We look at each other for only a moment and launch into action without a word. Every item is packed and loaded. I untie the plane while Grace double checks that we have left no sign of our camp. I don’t dare slide the floats further into the water until I have power, or the plane will leave the beach. We are aboard, started and the plane moves, aided by power and lots of down elevator, off the beach. I explain to Grace that I want her to hold the survival kit in her lap, and leave the door open until I say different. We weathercock immediately. With the plane running and the flaps down we back slowly downwind until we are at the edge of the lake. Then, when I dare let the water get no shallower, doors closed, flaps to 1/3, and full power.
The Citabria lifted out of the water in a few lengths and climbed like we were on an elevator. I’m worried about down drafts from the ridges surrounding us, and so hold full power and nose down to get the speed up quick, and keep it. We are still climbing, almost even with the ridge line already, and showing 90 MPH. A breath, a check, and a quick steep turn downwind. We are out of the cirque instantly and moving down the valley towards home, moving fast. Faster than I can recall going in the Citabria in a long time.
On August 9, 2007, I flew from Whitehorse via Air North to Dawson City on business. The next day my husband, Ed, flew up in our Cessna 170. Our time was limited, but nonetheless, we decided to take advantage of a stable weather window and do one of the trips we have been talking about for years: to fly straight north to the Arctic Ocean, fly over Herschel Island and the Mackenzie Delta to Inuvik before returning south to our home base in Whitehorse. Estimated distance: 1500 miles. Estimated flying time: 15 hours.
We stayed at the Downtown Hotel and had a great dinner with our friends Dick
and Joanne Van Nostrand. My dinner companions are all fixed wing pilots, so naturally, talk around the table always turns to discussions on routes, equipment and previous or future flights. We tell them that on this trip, we have ample capability for our day packs and emergency gear, plus 70 L of extra fuel behind the seat, which we’d use to refuel at the remote gravel airstrips already programmed in to Ed’s GPS.
At 8:40 on August 11, Dick drove us to Dawson Airport. The temperature at 7 am had been 0.8 degrees above zero; it was cool and we were concerned about fog further north. The weather report predicted clear skies to Old Crow and to the coast but with a low ceiling along the delta and into Inuvik. After one last conversation about how quickly and fiercely the weather can change in the north, we agreed, “This is it – let’s go for it!”
Dawson City – Ogilvie 139 miles
We lifted off at 0950 and headed northeast up the Chandindu River on a route Dick had shown us that would take us directly into the face of the highest peak in the Tombstone range. The sheer gray rock walls and crumbled peaks are imposing. Beyond the Tombstones, we flew along the Dempster Highway, the only road in Canada that crosses the Arctic Circle. We touched down at the Ogilvie strip and refueled, then went for a short walk to the river. It sparkled in the sunshine; it was a beautiful clear sky with virtually no wind to fill the windsock.
Ogilvie – Old Crow 148 miles
What a pleasure to hear the radio operator in Old Crow. Every word was clearly annunciated “Golf, Yankee, Foxtrot, Delta, there is no traffic in the area.” Weather report: a high-pressure system over the ocean is pushing cold air to the coast causing low cloud and fog.
We fueled up the wing tanks and jerry cans -- $3.50 per liter!! Our total for 96.2 liters plus the call-out was $378.10. Old Crow is the only fly-in community north of the 60th parallel in the Yukon Territory. We strolled to the centre of town and sat on one of the benches to have our lunch. An elder came to talk with us and we had a very slow but delightful conversation: “River’s high this year...lots of tourists coming canoes.” Too soon, we had to push on.
Old Crow – Shingle Point 225 miles
We rose out of the Gwitchen community at 2:18. We flew over the Old Crow flats, renowned for its bountiful muskrat population, which along with the caribou has sustained Old Crow residents for eons. The landscape to the coast was a mixture of tundra with the Englishman Mountains to the west.
We reached the coast and flew to Herschel Island. A cloudbank was sitting just offshore obscuring the settlement from sight. We decided to circle it anyway. On our second pass, the fog lifted enough to give us a mystical view of the old whaling station, now a designated heritage site.
We could not linger – the unpredictability of fog banks on this coast is not to be taken lightly. Off we flew to Shingle Point, over low sand walls piled high with driftwood. An A-Star helicopter was on the same heading and we heard the pilot of a float plane give a traffic advisory at Shingle Point, 20 miles SE of Herschel.
Any evidence of human life is localized around research camps, an oilrig, and the old DEW line stations. We saw no wildlife. The fog bank remained off shore and we left it behind. We touched down at Shingle Point, chatted with the A-Star pilot, and refueled. We went for a short hike to the Arctic Ocean. The 20-ft high gravel banks were topped with green; the low sedges and plants positively pulsed with life and sparkled in the warm sunshine. I did not want to leave but Ed persuaded me that the cloudbank and our limited gear just meant we’d have to come back when time and weather would not be factors.
Shingle Point – Inuvik 110 miles
Flying over the Mackenzie Delta is nothing short of spectacular. Lakes of every shape and size, channels that run straight as roads or squiggle and turn back on themselves, islands that dot the lakes….it is truly mind boggling in its vastness. We spotted motorboats once in awhile and wondered how they keep their bearings. We touched down in Inuvik at 1912 local time.
Inuvik – Eagle Plains/Wiley Strip 157 miles
August 12. The fuel company in Inuvik does not fill jerry cans – we’d need a length of hose to siphon fuel from the wing tanks to our jerry cans because, as a safety precaution, we always carry extra fuel. On Sunday, no stores are open in Inuvik and we faced the prospect of staying another night. Luckily we managed to get a piece of hose that would work. As we drove in a cab to Inuvik Airport fog patches billowed overhead – not a good sign but when we arrived, the sky was clear. Forty minutes later, 10 minutes per jerry can – we had our safety margin of 40 L of fuel – we were ready. We lifted off at 1212 with winds from 180° at 5 knots. We’ve added one more item to our emergency gear: a 6ft length of clear ½” plastic hose.
After flying over the Mackenzie Delta and the Richardson Mountains, we touched down at my favorite airstrip – Wiley on the Dempster Highway. Yes, I do mean ON the Dempster Highway. A grader operator was working right up to the strip and about 40 seconds after we pulled the Cessna back from the strip and onto a road-side pull-out, a semi-truck bowled by with its dust wake rising high in the sky. We poured the fuel from the jerry cans into the wing tanks and sat by the road to eat our sandwiches. It was another beautiful day with a slight warm breeze and clear blue sky. What luck with the weather!
Wiley – Mayo 256 miles
After a short walk, we climbed back into our trusty little plane. We flew cross-country to the confluence of the Peel and Wind Rivers and up-river to McClusky Lake – our starting point when we paddled the Wind five years ago. Breathtaking country! We touched down in Mayo to refuel under clear skies and 22 degrees.
Mayo – Whitehorse 210 miles
We have flown this last section many times and we monitored the familiar landmarks – tail winds made the fight shorter than normal. As we flew over Lake Laberge on our approach to Whitehorse, traffic picked up and we knew we were back in civilization. But our thoughts were still back out there --- somewhere above the Arctic coastline and its endless landscape.
Legs Statute Miles Air Time
Whitehorse – Dawson City 327 2.7 hours
Dawson City – Ogilvie 139 1.1
Ogilvie – Old Crow 148 1.2
Old Crow-Shingle Point 225 1.9
Shingle Point – Inuvik 110 .9
Inuvik- Wylie 157 1.2
Wylie-Mayo 256 2
Mayo-Whitehorse 210 1.6
Total 1572 SM 12.6 Hrs.
A few years ago my wife and I were on vacation in Belize CA. It was a wonderful time but the following flying story is an extract from our many adventures;
We decided to fly to Caye Caulker, about 20 miles off the mainland, and arrived at the municipal airport in Belize City where our taxi dropped us off at a garden shed. There we were met by a 15 year old kid, hidden inside a much too large starched white shirt with shiny new gold shoulder decorations. He struggled to take our dive gear out and loaded it aboard a Cessna 207. Then after a quick discussion with a young girl seated behind a crate/desk he unloaded the same, and hauled all our gear back into the shed. Another discussion, and he reloaded our gear again into the same airplane. Then, with his best “THIS IS YOUR CAPTAIN SPEAKING” voice he invited my wife and I to join him at the airplane.
We climb aboard a paint-dipped 207 and take off. Things looked good, the aircraft was not overloaded, sounded good too, perhaps too good for Belize. Five minutes later only I seem surprised to find that instead of Caye Caulker we are landing at the Belize International airport where we taxi into the middle of the tarmac and park right next to a 727. (The Municipal airport and the International airport are only a few miles apart...the former was likely inheirited from the British Army who left there in the 1980's, judging from the Harrier revitments and machine gun towers that sit, now unoccupied, along the asphalt,)
We got out only to overhear our pilot begin explaining the difficulties of ”flying the heavy stuff” to an even younger copy of himself who I took to be the ramp rat; I overhear “…..yes it is almost impossible to keep that nose wheel on the centerline…” and who could question, after all we are at sea level, with 6000 feet of pavement, with barely 60 feet of pavement left over on each side of our 207, and no other trafic. We had been in Belize some time now, I should have known, but once again only I seemed surprised to discover that this new kid was now our pilot. The senior officer oversaw the struggle to load our 200 pounds of gear (this was a diving holiday), into an old Cessna 172 I had eroneouslly assumed to be an insurance loss abandoned at the edge of the pavement. Before the pre-flight can be finished a third passenger arrives who I think I recognize from Saturday afternoon WWF, he’s the bad guy who routinely pounds Hulk Hogan. The good news is he only has one bag. The bad news is that when I try to lift it, I find he has a body in it.
Our new pilot puts the Hulk Hogan clone in the front seat, me, and Grace, and the body bag in the back seat, and the rest into the baggage. As a commercial pilot with hundreds hours in the trusty 172 some time ago, I still have a healthy respect for what this old bird can do. (Even though this one looks like it may have already done it.) I estimate we are 500 pounds overloaded, but this calculation is interupted by the arrival of the fuel truck. In the interest of safety our pilot accepts no less than full fuel tanks. Perhaps he has been shorted by this fuel dealer in past because great care is put into checking twice that each side is absolutely full. Something in the back of my mind tells me we now have about 1500 pounds in an airplane licensed to carry about 900. A situation reinforced by the fact that the tail rests solidly on the pavement.
But this unorthodox "tailwheel" configuration is a minor inconvenience, easily overcome by our obviously experienced pilot. He solicits the fuel man to stand at the back the aircraft to lift the tail and hold it up while he starts up. Then, by idling above 2000 RPM there is just enough prop wash to keep the tail from dragging, if the fuel man runs a short distance. We taxi onto the main (albeit only) runway, leaving the fuel man to search for his cap.
Our capable captain coaxed a few more RPM from a tired old engine. The oil streaming back from the engine cowls is probably designed to reduce wind resistance. We lift off after a 6000 foot roll and climb briskly, in ground effect, to about 30 feet. We are already over the ocean. Caye Caulker is a mere fifteen minutes away, and I am fixated by the water, slightly reassured by the fact that the water is shallow enough to wade in most places, and warm. Of course Grace starts sighting sharks.
Our arrival at Caye Caulker is announced by a radio call to the field. I hear our pilot announce our position (no elevation) and that he “NEEDS TO BE CAUGHT”. Unless I am still mistaken the voice on that radio replied “I TOLD YOU I DIDN"T WANT TO DO THIS ANYMORE!” Our touch down is smooth, but, then after all, the approach and flare has been going on since departure. We are met on the roll by an athletic baggage handler, judging this by the way he runs up alongside the airplane while we are still taxying in, and takes hold of the tail so we can shut down. He recovers the fuel mans hat.
Today, years later, I still can’t tell you why I even got into this airplane.
(Introspective moment; I know now I decided to make this trip when it was only two of us, in a 207, and then, at each subsequent change of circumstances, it became easier to accept the new situation and increasingly harder for me to decide to stop the process......statistically this is the path to most aviation accidents.)
This excellent story about flying helicopter in Northern Yukon in 1962 for Pat Callison, complete with pictures and maps, can be downloaded for free ( 4.8 MB .pdf) by clicking HERE.
Kit Cain also has written a lot of interesting and diverse stuff on a variety of topics that are worth looking at at www.kitcain.com .
PLEASE, Don't let George have the last word. Send in your northern stories and we wil do our best to have them included.