Tag Archives: aircraft

Flying Solo

Mack Rutherford

Mack Rutherford, a 17 year old pilot, is attempting to become the youngest person to fly around the globe solo. Rutherford left Sophia, Bulgaria on March 23.

He recently flew his Shark ultralight plane down the Aleutian Chain, landing at Attu, Shemya Island, and Adak. Rutherford arrived at Unalaska on August 1. When I last checked his online tracker, Rutherford was in Ketchikan, following the coast down to Mexico. Although, by now, Mack has no doubt moved further on down the coast.

The young, Belgian-Brit Adventurer is expecting to complete his circumnavigation by the end of August.

Mack Rutherford arrives in Unalaska

To follow along with Mack’s global flight, his website is: http://www.macksolo.com


Round Island wildfire

A smoke jumper spotter watches the Round Island fire from the air; Photo credit: BLM Alaska Fire Service

A wildfire started up on Round Island out in the Aleutians. The fire was started by staff from a Fish & Game campsite, when they used a burn barrel. The dry grass caught quickly, and spread from there. The Alaska Division of Forestry sent an air tanker and six smoke jumpers from Fairbanks to contain the blaze. By the time the fire was contained, approximately 40 acres of the 720 acre island had burned.

Walrus beachcombers of Round Island

Round Island is one of four major pull out locations for Pacific walrus in Alaska, and the island is a part of the Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary. As many as 14,000 male walruses haul out on Round Island in a given day.

Like Brooks Falls, the folks at explore.org have a Walrus Cam on Round Island. The soothing sound of waves can be experienced, with the constant baritone grunts of the male walruses jockeying for the most comfortable spot on the beach.

A link to the Walrus Cam:

https://explore.org/livecams/oceans/walrus-cam-round-island


Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve

National Parks Week: Day 6

A lone caribou in Gates of the Arctic

As much as I love Denali and Wrangell-St Elias National Parks, I think Gates of the Arctic is Alaska’s crown jewel within the national park system. It is the second largest of our national parks, and its entirety is located north of the Arctic Circle.

Mapping Alaska’s National Parks, with Gates of the Arctic highlighted

Due to the lack of any roads, and its remote location, Gates of the Arctic is the least visited of our national parks. All of that only adds to the appeal for me. In 2016, Gates of the Arctic received 10,047 visitors. In the same year, the Grand Canyon saw over 6 million.

The Park has six Wild and Scenic rivers: the Kobuk, John, Alatna, north fork of the Koyukuk, Tinayguk, and part of the famed Noatak. The Noatak is at the top of my list of rivers to float.

Caribou passing through the Gates

I have only been to the Gates of the Arctic once. A fly in camping trip. One evening, we watched a herd of caribou that probably numbered over 10,000. The entire valley below us was filled with these tundra travelers. It was one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen. The next morning, when we peaked over the ridge line, we were surprised to see that there was not one animal left in the valley. The entire herd had moved off, on their endless migration.


Cold Weather Concorde

The Concorde in Fairbanks, Alaska; February 1974

In the winter of 1974, the Concorde went through cold weather testing in Fairbanks.

Since WWII, Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, Cessna, Eurocopter, General Electric, Gulfstream, Honeywell, Sikorsky and many other aircraft companies have tested in Fairbanks. With an 11.800 foot runway, which can handle any aircraft, an airport that rarely features a delay, and plenty of wide open air space, Fairbanks is ideal when the temp drops to -40.

It wouldn’t be a photo op in Fairbanks without a team of dogs


Will Rogers & Wiley Post

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Will Rogers & Wiley Post in Alaska

In August of 1935, Will Rogers and his pilot, Wiley Post, flew throughout the then Territory of Alaska.  Post, a well known aviator, would fly the Lockheed Orion-Explorer, while Rogers pounded out newspaper columns on his typewriter.

They left Fairbanks on August 15 for Barrow.  Encountering terrible weather, they managed to find a break in the fog, and landed their floatplane on the waters of Walakpa Bay, and asked some Inupiat hunters where they were.

“15 miles from Barrow.”

Post & Rogers returned to the plane, and took off.  At an altitude of approximately 50 feet, the engine died, and the plane nosed-dived into the lagoon.  The engine was driven back into the cabin, and crushed Post.  Rogers was thrown from the plane.  Both men appeared to die instantly.

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The wrecked Lockheed after the crash

Will Rogers was easily the most recognized and beloved celebrity at the time of his death.  His columns were read by an estimated 40 million people, and syndicated in over 600 newspapers.

Post was a famed aviator, and the two men had planned on flying across the Bering Sea to Siberia after their stops in Alaska.  A Trans-Siberian flight on to Moscow was also part of the agenda.

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Memorial to Rogers & Post at the Pioneer Air Museum

Two metal crosses were constructed to honor both Post and Rogers.

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The crosses were deemed too heavy to transport by air from Fairbanks to the crash site near the Walakpa River, and approximately 11 miles from the community of Barrow.

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The crosses are displayed at the Pioneer Air Museum in Fairbanks.

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A marker and monument that stand near the crash site

 

 


Water Scooper

Film Friday:

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Incoming

 

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Liftoff

 

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Heading back to the fire

Last summer, back in the days when I was volunteering to self-isolate, I was out at a lake cabin and happened to see a wildfire gets its start from lightning.

The following day, a pair of water scoopers showed up at the lake.  They would fly overhead, bank around the lake, skim across the top of the lake, picking up their load of water, then take off again to fly back to the fire.  The two aircraft made the roundtrip from fire to lake to fire, all day long.

Camera: Leica M3; Lens: Leitz 135mm; Film: Fujichrome, 35mm, Velvia100 

 


Flying out

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The charter from Mertarvik to Anchorage.

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Mertarvik Airstrip

 


Flight to Newtok

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The flight to Newtok took us across a vast expanse of seemingly endless white.  As far as one could see, from one horizon to the other, nothing but white.  Out here, the wind is an artist, leaving mesmerizing patterns in the snow.   Even in the air with two other people, I could feel the grip of isolation.

Earlier in the month, four children became lost in blizzard conditions out here, when they went out on a snow machine.  It was not hard to imagine losing your bearing, especially when the wind picked up.  The kids were found, huddled around the youngest to keep him warm.  They were flown to Bethel with severe hypothermia, but they were alive, against long odds.

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Newtok through the windshield

That’s the village of Newtok, with the airstrip dead ahead.  It’s located on a bend in the Ningaluk River.  River erosion and the melting of the permafrost is taking a huge toll on the village, forcing a move to a new location.

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Newtok, Alaska


Bethel, Alaska

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Grant Aviation in Bethel, AK

I had the opportunity to travel out to Newtok, Alaska this month.  Newtok is a Yup’ik village on the Ningaluk River, on Alaska’s southwestern coast.

I flew to Anchorage, only to have the Ravn Air flight cancelled due to mechanical issues.  The next day, the flight did leave Anchorage for Bethel, but the flight to Newtok was called off due to heavy winds, and drifting snow across the Newtok airstrip.  Day three proved to be the charm, as the Grant Aviation flight left Bethel for Newtok.

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One of Grant Aviation’s aircraft waiting for the winds to die down.

Of the five of us, three went in the aircraft pictured above.  I flew out in a much smaller Cessna with the pilot and one other passenger.  I can’t say enough good things about the people with Grant Aviation.  A class organization all the way through.  Even though Bethel is not an inexpensive place to find oneself stranded, I had a good time there.  Taxi rides are $5-8 per person, per ride, depending on distance, and take out food seems to dominate the options.

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Our pilot getting ready to leave Bethel

The Cessna took a little less than an hour to get from Bethel to Newtok, flying 120 knots, at 2000 feet above the ground.

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The community of Bethel, Alaska from the air

 

 


Pioneer Air Museum

Fairbanks, Alaska

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Pioneer Air Museum

It had been several years since I ventured into the Air Museum at Pioneer Park.  Since they were experimenting with winter hours, I decided it was time to head back over there and see what was new.

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Under The Dome: Inside the Air Museum

The Pioneer Air Museum houses a fairly extensive collection of aircraft and other artifacts mainly pertaining to Interior Alaska and Arctic aviation.

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Ben Eielson Display

The first major display is on Ben Eielson, the famed aviator and Alaskan bush pilot.  Eielson learned to fly in WWI, with the U.S Army Signal Corps.  After the war, a chance run-in with Alaska’s territorial delegate to Congress, led to Eielson heading to Alaska to teach.  By 1923, Eielson had started the Farthest North Aviation Company.  Eielson was the first to fly air mail in Alaska, and the first to fly from North America over the North Pole to Europe.

In 1929, Eielson and his mechanic died in a plane crash in Siberia.  The cargo ship Nanuk was frozen in sea ice off North Cape, and Eielson was contracted by expedition leader Olaf Swenson to fly out personnel and furs.  The plane crashed in a storm, cruising at full throttle into the terrain.  A faulty altimeter is the suspected cause of the crash.  Parts of Eielson’s recovered aircraft is on display at the museum.

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1935 Stinson SR-JR

This bright red Stinson SR-JR, the Spirit of Barter Island, came to Alaska in 1940, and was flying the Interior out of Fairbanks in 1953 for Interior Airways.

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The Stinson in artwork

This SR-JR carries four passengers, has a  cruising speed of 110mph, and a range of 450 miles.  It was an Interior workhorse, and well known in the Fairbanks area.  The image, “I Follow Rivers”, can be found on t-shirts around Fairbanks to this day.

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Stinson V77: Peter Pan

The Stinson V77 is the Navy version of the SR-10 Reliant.  “Peter Pan” flew the Kuskokwim and Yukon River mail runs.  The Stinson Reliant was a favorite of bush pilots, as the aircraft was equally at ease landing on wheels, skis or floats.  In 1949, “Peter Pan” made the flight from Bethel, Alaska to Boston, Mass.  It is back in Alaska, on loan to the museum, from the bush pilot’s family.

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1943 P-39 Wreckage

The P-39 Airacobra was a common sight in Alaska’s Interior during WWII, as it was a mainstay of lend-lease aircraft to the Soviets.  This P-39 only made it to Fairbanks in pieces, as it was involved in a mid-air collision with another aircraft 60 miles east of Fairbanks.  Both pilots survived the crash.

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1942 ST Type Ryan PT-22

The PT-22 was used for flight training all over the globe.  Over 14,000 Air Corps pilots trained in the PT-22.  This particular PT-22 came to Fairbanks in 1956 after it was retired out of the military.

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The “Huey”

Manufactured by Bell Helicopter in 1966, this UH-1H “Huey”, saw combat in South Vietnam.  During a mission in 1969, this UH-1H was hit by a rocket propelled grenade while landing.  After the war, it came to Alaska, and was transferred around the Alaska Army bases, finally landing at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks.  It was retired in 1993, and is on loan to the museum from the U.S. Army.  The “Huey” is still maintained by Army personnel.

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Thomas Ackerman photo

A visitor to the museum several years ago, recognized the Huey’s ID number as the one he flew during the Vietnam War.  Sgt Thomas Ackerman was a crew-chief and gunman on this UH-1H.  He supplied several photos of the Huey, during its time in Vietnam, to the museum, including the one above.  Thomas Ackerman died of Agent Orange related cancer in 2004.