Tag Archives: flying

Newtok Power

The village of Newtok, Alaska

Some regular readers may remember that I was out in the village of Newtok in February. I truly enjoyed my time there, and have great memories of the area, but especially the people.

Newtok is currently in the middle of a move. The village is under siege from the very water that gives it life. Due to the warming of the Arctic, ground is giving way, and Newtok is getting it from every direction. On one hand, the river is laying claim to huge chunks of land, taking homes with the shoreline. On the other hand, the ground is giving way to the melting permafrost, and water is filling in the gaps. In February, approximately one third of the population had moved across the river to the new location of Mertarvik, but it is going to be a long and complicated process.

Newtok made the news again this past week, when word made it around Alaska, that the generator that powers the village broke down, leaving the residents without power for an entire month. A month. In an age when most of us think about power very briefly, when we flip a switch or pay the electric bill, it’s good to remember that not everyone lives in such a situation.


Looking at the village from the air in the summer, it’s an entirely different world than when I was there in February. The contrast is stunning, so I thought I’d share a few more “winter” pictures of my time in Newtok.

Newtok on my flight in.

Walking the village of Newtok; Camera: Widelux

Newtok arrival

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 PenAir

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PenAir’s Saab2000

I flew out to King Salmon on PenAir, also known as Peninsula Airways.  I’ve always liked PenAir and their Saab 2000’s, although the airline is now under the Ravn banner.  The twin engine turboprop usually offers a smooth ride out to some of Alaska’s more remote locations.

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The Alaska Airlines & PenAir terminal at King Salmon, Alaska

We landed in King Salmon, and drove over to Naknek.  This is fishing country, both commercial & sport.  Salmon is king here.  Anti Pebble Mine signs were everywhere.  No surprise that the fishing communities did not want to see the world’s largest open pit mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

We located our accommodations for our stay, only to find out that there was no heat in the building.  Only in Alaska would the proprietor think that heat was an option.  After scouring Naknek, we ended up back in King Salmon for our room & board.

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Inside the Saab2000

Sitting in the emergency row on the Saab2000 does not really offer much of an advantage.  It definitely cuts down on the view.

 

 


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

 

 


ALSIB Air Route

Fim Friday:

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Alaska – Siberia Monument

Camera: Rolleiflex 3.5MX; Film: Kodak 120, T-Max 100

 


But, you’ll have to check the antlers…

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The moose is a better mascot

A rather cheeky response to Western Airlines.  This was probably a local advert; I spotted it at the Pioneer Air Museum.  It certainly would have been a hit in Alaska in the 1970’s.


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.


Lend-Lease Monument

 

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Camera: Rolleiflex 3.5MX; Film: Kodak 120, TMax100

The Lend-Lease Monument is located in Griffin Park, downtown Fairbanks, near Golden Heart Plaza, alongside the Chena River.

The Lend-Lease Act was originally passed in March 1941, with the Soviet Union being added to the program in October of the same year.  The Northwest Staging Route, from the mainland of the U.S. through Canada and into Alaska, was extended into the Soviet Union with the Alaska-Siberian Airway (ALSIB).

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Map of ALSIB; cell phone photo

Planes were ferried from locations like Buffalo, NY; Minneapolis, MN; St Louis, MO; and Oklahoma City, OK to Great Falls, MT.  Airfields were carved out of the wilderness from Montana through Canada and on to Ladd Field in Fairbanks.  Most airfields were built 100 miles apart, with the longest being between Fort Nelson, BC and Liard River, which was 140 miles.  The Alaska Highway would soon be completed linking the airfields together by road.

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Camera: Rolleiflex 3.5MX; Film: Kodak 120, TMax100

The first Soviet pilots landed in Nome on 14 August 1942.  The Soviets took over the aircraft at either Ladd Field in Fairbanks or at Nome, then flew across the Bering Strait to Krasnoyarsk in Siberia.

Over 8000 aircraft flew through Ladd Field in Fairbanks on their way to the Soviet Union.  Between October 1941 and the end of May 1945 the U.S. provided the USSR with nearly a half-million vehicles other than aircraft, 2 million tons of gasoline and oil, and close to 4.5 million tons of food.  Of the 8000 aircraft, 133 were lost.  The average time to ferry an aircraft to the Soviet Union was 33 days.

Some of the aircraft ferried:

The Bell P-39 Airacobra, followed by the P-63 Kingcobra its successor, the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, and Rebublic P-47 Thunderbolt.  Bombers ferried included the Douglas A-20 Havoc and North American’s B-25 Mitchell.  Most of the transports ferried were the Douglas C-47 Skytrain.

“The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man, or one party, or one nation… it must be a peace which rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world.”  

Franklin Delano Roosevelt