I had hopes of more snow and ski flying but I guess it is time to admit that winter is over. This means I can get starting working on the hangar again!
The Maule is back in the air, thanks to Missionary Aviation Repair Center (MARC) in Soldotna. The flight home went great (for the most part) and I plan to put the skis on soon. Maybe before Christmas but with the lack of snow and cold we will see.
After having so much work done at this annual inspection (new crankshaft, new Emergency Locator Transmitter, cleaning up some of the preheater wiring, fixing the auto pilot… the list goes on and on) we decided to do a “return to service” flight before I headed across the wilds of Alaska. Everything checked out and the trip home was uneventful, well almost…
Mechanically things went great. The weather was, well the weather was typical, it was difficult. I was able to get on top of a fog layer that had all of South Central Alaska socked in. It was clear above and the Alaska Range was out and beautiful. The Interior was covered by a thick blanket of weather too and I wasn’t going to be able to get down without picking up a clearance from Anchorage Center.
It took a little back and forth over the radio but I was able to get my clearance and start the process of shooting the instrument approach (RNAV 4L). By this time it was dark (4:15pm) and there was some light snow falling. This is where I really appreciated having the auto pilot issues resolved. I knew that I would pop out under the cloud layer in plenty of time to set up for a normal landing but I was curious about the runway conditions. When I left home the day before the city hadn’t completed the snow removal.
As I entered the holding pattern to descend to the initial approach fix I started picking up ice on the airframe and windshield. I mentioned it to Center and asked if I could expedite my decent to get out of the clouds. They gave me the latitude to do what I needed to get out of the ice. When I popped out of the clouds I could only see out of two 3″ holes in the windshield. The heater/defroster in the Maule is more suited for the tropics than the arctic. No problem, the auto pilot was doing a great job keeping me on the approach and I knew that I could keep it lined up on landing because of the runway edge lighting.
At this point I am remembering again that the runway wasn’t completely cleared when I left the day before and I knew that the ski strip was too soft to land on without skis and I was not sure what I was going to find when I needed to land. I was carrying a little extra speed (70 knots vs 50 knots) because of the ice accumulation and I could only see through what were essentially peep holes. I quickly found out what I was dealing with as I disengaged the auto pilot and started the landing sequence. You guessed it, the runway had not been finished and it appeared to have quite a bit of new snow on it. As I flared to land the runway edge lighting disappeared. It took me a bit to realize that 3′ snow berms were blocking me from seeing the only reference I had to keep moving in a straight line. I could only see two red dots (a portion of the threshold lighting) at the far end of the runway. I was dancing very lightly on the rudder pedals to keep those red lights in the center of the peep holes. My efforts to brake resulted in the tires skidding on the new snow so I had to coast to a stop. Talk about nerve-racking… I got stopped and turned around on the runway and started to taxi back to my parking area. I could only follow my tracks in the snow until the defroster started to overcome the ice on the windshield. When I got out of the airplane my knees were a little wobbly and I finished the prayer that I had been in for quite some time.
If you have seen any of the “reality” shows about Alaska I hope you understand that it is “dramatized for TV.” Life in Alaska is not always as dangerous and edge of your seat suspenseful as it is depicted on TV. However, there are times when real life is exponentially more dramatic than “reality” TV. When I first started flying in Alaska (almost 20 years ago) an older gentleman told me that “the day you fly and are not a little nervous will be your last because overconfidence will kill you.” The converse is also true. “A superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations that would require the use of his superior skills.” This flight fell somewhere between these two pieces of advice.
You may remember that the village of Galena flooded last spring. Several Missionary Aviation groups here in Alaska responded to help evacuate the women and children long into the night and then flew supplies and workers to help with the rebuilding effort for many months. The Alaska Air Carriers Association recently recognized several of us that helped. In their letter announcing the award they stated:
This award recognizes an aviation individual who, through a particular rescue / transport or contributions over a period of time, has exemplified professionalism and expediency in the saving of lives.
You are being honored for selfless aviation service and your commitment to serving and protecting the people of Galena, Alaska during the devastating flood in 2013. We honor your generous, immediate and tireless service not only at the outset of the flood, but continuing through the long grueling months of recovery.
From the nominations received on your behalf, it is obvious you are respected and held in high esteem. The community of Galena and Alaska’s aviation community commends you.
Thank you for your outstanding example and professionalism. We are a better aviation community because of your participation and your example.
Through out all of the flying for the Galena recovery effort I have been able to explain to folks why the Christian community has do so much to help. It is because we love our neighbors and we have been given a gift we could never repay and a gift we certainly do not deserve and we what them to know how they can receive that same gift.
I can not adequately express our gratitude to those of you that make it possible for us to do this type thing full time! To God be the glory!
When flying it is always best to “fly by the numbers.” Meaning that if you want the airplane to perform to it’s limits and be predictable in the way it reacts you must fly the specified airspeeds, manage the engine settings, load buy the book and don’t act like you are Chuck Yeager. So numbers are important when you are trying to figure out if you can really take-off from that confined area or if you will have enough fuel to complete the trip based on the winds aloft. As a result I am a numbers kind of person.
Here are a few numbers as of 1/10/2014 concerning the 100LL Fund campaign we are doing through www.booster.com.
- $618 raised so far
- 474 times the campaign has be viewed
- 200 shirts is the goal
- 140 folks have shared the campaign on FaceBook
- 105 gallons of fuel can be purchased
- 89 shirts sold
- 46 people have purchased shirts
- $20 is the cost per shirt
- 8 days remaining in the campaign
- 7 hours of flight time with the current funds raised
- Immeasurable, the thanks we have for your support!