Mustang II to Alaska - Trip II
Experimental Airplane N727RH - Summer, 2005
(Click on links for pop-up images)
"Alaska was calling", and I took my Mustang II to "The Great Land" for the second time this summer.
Packing was easier this time, with the survival gear already assembled and the arrangement of camping gear and weight and balance previously worked out three years ago.
The first day, May 30th, was a record-setter for me in the Mustang II, flying 1,478 NM (1,700 SM): Olive Branch, MS -
Omaha, NE -
Minot, ND - Regina, SK - Edmonton AB, all in one day. Flight time was 9+54, block time 10+52, Hobbs 10.9.
I'd planned to stay overnight in
Regina, but when I arrived before 4 PM, the sky was clear, the sun was still way up in the sky and I still felt fine, so decided to go another 2 1/2 hours to
Edmonton. On the flight to Edmonton, the tinted sunshade was positioned in the same spot above the roll bar in front of me for a long time - I almost felt suspended in space with the sun hardly moving and Canada revolving below me. When I arrived at 7:30 PM Mountain Time the sun was still way up in the sky - (flying northwest that time of year results in long days of daylight). Should I press on to
Dawson Creek or
Ft. St. John? - No, I figured that 11 hours was enough for one day.
May 31st was a pleasant 3+15 flight from Edmonton into the "Sparsely Settled Area" to
Ft. Nelson, then 1+33 to Watson Lake, Yukon Territory. There were
towering cumulus in the mountains along the Alaska Highway west of Ft. Nelson, but not along the shorter, but deeper-into-the-wilderness airway. There was no radio contact with Edmonton Center for 40 minutes. Weather was fine and I could have pressed onward, but I wanted to camp at
Watson Lake, having heard that it is the nicest airport along the Alaska Highway to do so. In 2002, I'd camped with the Mustang II at Ft. St. John, Ft. Nelson and Whitehorse. The forecast was for "a chance of some light rain showers" - no problem. It was a
very nice, quiet setting, being alone with my Mustang II, plus a few million other small flying objects (mosquitoes!!)
About midnight "the light rain shower" started and continued to become a steady and increasing rain all night. By morning the moderate rain made making breakfast, and later, breaking camp a wet experience - but there were no more bugs.
Departed Watson Lake late morning, taking off into a 700' overcast in moderate rain. IFR in the Yukon is about like it was in the US in the 1940's. No radar of course, and old fashioned position reporting, sometimes through Flight Service - in this case "Whitehorse Radio" relaying to Edmonton Center. Flew into clearer weather over Teslin, over flew
Whitehorse at 10,000', the beautiful
Kluane Lake and landed in
Northway, Alaska, where I cleared US Customs.
There were several other pilots and
interesting airplanes there inbound to Alaska - all of us were equally excited to finally arrive. We crowded into the FSS after lunch, creating a "traffic jam". Towering cumulus was the issue for all of us continuing. I flew the
route to Anchorage IFR at several altitudes, finally as high as 16,000' (on oxygen) trying to avoid the worst ones. Landed at Anchorage's busy
Merrill Field at 5:40 PM June 1st.
Summer in Alaska:
My wife arrived the next day on the airlines and we spent the month at Ace Hangars, in one of their clean, modern motel rooms. Before leaving home, we got some 'heckles' from the neighbors about me expecting her to spend a month in an "airplane hangar". Linda actually grew attached to the room, with the busier-than-Oshkosh airplane activity and great
view of the Chugach Mountains just east of us.
Over the summer, in the Mustang II we enjoyed trips to several towns in south-central Alaska and flightseeing opportunities. We visited Seward and flew over the very impressive
(image # 2)
- several hundred square miles! - enroute to
Homer - the town that is literally "The End of the Road" for the North American road system. We flew "beyond the-end-of-the-road" to
Seldovia, a 19th century Russian town, landing on an 1,800' gravel runway there. On base leg, a bald eagle "cut me off", and I yielded to him. What a majestic sight! We saw several
bald eagles in Seldovia and photographed
one feeding on a salmon 50' in front of us.
Other flightseeing included flying the Mustang II over the
Mt. Spurr volcano and the tremendous
glaciers flowing from
Mt. McKinley / "Denali" . At 20,320', it is the highest point in North America, and taking the Mustang II right up next to it is an experience words or photographs simply can't describe. I've flown flight tours to it half a dozen times now and it's always an
awesome experience. Weather clear enough to see the summit is not very common - another reason to have your own airplane and be able to jump in and fly to it on short notice, just 40 minutes north of Anchorage.
After we were there for a couple weeks, we continued to fall in love with Alaska enjoying the
(image # 2)
(image # 3)
and decided to set up a second home and I changed my bid to work out of the ANC crew base.
Moose are frequently seen adjacent to the airport and walking through our neighborhood.
In August, the dramatically shortening days, and cooler, wetter weather prompted me to take the Mustang II back south when an unusually large area of high pressure moved over eastern Alaska and the Yukon at the beginning of a week off of work.
Return Trip - Day One:
August 15th, at 8:50 am, I took off from Anchorage Intn'l airport into a 1,100' overcast, "wiggling" my wings at my wife standing on the bluff below at the departure end of runway 32. She later admitted to crying as I disappeared into the overcast over the water while she listened to the sound of the engine slowly fade away into silence...
Moments later I popped out on top and could see 70+ miles to the upper peaks of the Alaska Range to the west, the Talkeetna Mountains to the north and the
Chugach Mountains to the east - all poking out of the pool-table-smooth cloud layer below. Just 20 minutes later, Anchorage Center said "Radar contact lost" and it would be more than 1,000 miles before I'd be on radar again west of Edmonton later that night.
Conditions turned smoky from forest fires in central Alaska, and for the most part, could not even see the ground from 11,000'.
Almost three hours into the flight, still in instrument conditions, non-radar about 60 miles west of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, I experienced a vacuum pump failure. My "Immediate Action" response was to pull out the two gyro covers that I'd been carrying for seven years for just such a scenario.
I was always impressed by the appearance of the
Whitehorse approach plate for the Localizer Back Course NDB, DME Approach to 13R, but now would be doing that (with a DME arc transition) on
partial panel. The fact is, with the S-Tec autopilot (using the turn coordinator) and the Garmin GNS 430, it was "not a big deal". I went visual on final and landed at 1:05, 5 minutes after the ETA I'd given Canadian Customs.
I was now a VFR airplane, with 2,500 miles ahead of me. I then flew 2 1/2 hours along the
Alaska Highway including some
low-level over the Liard River under a thickening cloud deck to Ft. Nelson, then 3+12 in marginal VFR conditions - the last hour at night - to Edmonton City Centre Airport, landing at 10 PM.
It was a bit of a long Day One. Flight time: 9+07, block 9+41, Hobbs 9.8 hours having covered 1, 365 NM / 1, 570 SM.
Weather was IFR south and east of Edmonton, so I elected to replace the vacuum pump and luckily within 100 yards of the Esso FBO was an aircraft parts store with several on the shelf. Working on the ramp in a light drizzle, with the help of another weather-bound pilot from Yellowknife, I replaced the pump by 2:30. Called US Customs in Minot with an ETA of 8:30 PM and took off IFR at 3:50 MT into a 1,200' overcast, flying solid IMC until approaching Saskatoon. After a 3+50 flight, landed at Minot at 8:40 PM.
Due to the late start, I'd planned to "call it a day" there, but I learned that there was a large complex of thunderstorms approaching and there were no hangars or hotel rooms available. Two young cloud seeding pilots offered their suggestion to continue southeastward out of their path. They were about to fly into them for
"weather modification" (hail suppression). Now dark, at 9:40 PM, I took off for a 2+20 night flight to Sioux Falls, SD landing at 11:59 PM just as the tower was closing.
Times for Day Two: Flight 6+11, Block 6+38, Hobbs 6.7
Flew non-stop 4+25 (4+38 Block) from Sioux Falls, SD to Olive Branch, MS, landing in mid-afternoon. Memphis Center was helpful in getting me through an
area of thunderstorms across northern Arkansas and southern Missouri. My wife in Alaska and son in Memphis were tracking me on the Internet and got some interesting screen shots during the weather deviations.
Totals for the trip from ANC-OLV were: Flight 19+43, Block 20+57, Hobbs 21.1
Twelve hours later at 3 AM I was about to ride a FedEx MD-11 jumpseat from Memphis back to Anchorage. Running into another pilot in the crew lounge (who was about to fly a 1 hour trip to Dallas), he asked me where I was off to and I told him. He replied "A SIX hour flight to Anchorage - that's WAY too much time in an airplane". I just smiled.
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