Friday, January 14, 2011
Pastor, Holy Rosary Catholic Mission Alaska
Flying our Cherokee Warrior II at the crack of dawn on Wednesday, Jan 12, 2011 was a flight of firsts. Two new experiences were in store for me, a pastor of six years and a pilot of about 635 hours: (1) I tried out a new hat with a built in light and the best news of all, (2) I found Goodnews Bay, Alaska (http://www.city-data.com/city/Goodnews-Bay-Alaska.html).
Here is a picture of Goodnews Bay I took from our Cherokee Warrior II while looking Northeast. Goodnews Bay is 95 air miles West of Dillingham.
Before flying to Goodnews Bay I had to perform an aircraft preflight inspection, In the winter in Alaska that usually happens in the dark. Taxiing out to the ramp, doing a run-up, and perusing through the check list also happens in the dark. Flashlights are a must, unless someone makes you a cap with a built-in light. That is what Linda, at L&B Monograms Plus did for me. I was trying it out for the first time.
I ordered some caps with the Holy Rosary Mission logo and Linda tossed in this ultra bright L.E.D. technology lighted hat. Although I did not get a chance to use it on my preflight inspection that morning (I had to put on a stocking hat to keep my ears warm) I used it in the cockpit during my run-up. As I was going through the checklist it worked FANTASTIC. As I am flying between Dillingham and Goodnews Bay, I talked about this useful cap.
To watch this video you can also CLICK HERE.
If you would like one of these hats, contact Linda, at L&B Monograms, 509 Hamlet Avenue, Carolina Beach, NC 28428. This technology is definitely helpful to Bush Pilots in Alaska.
Carolina Beach Today also wrote an excellent article on the lighted caps. Please CLICK HERE.
Preparing to fly into an Alaskan village for the first time, in the dead of winter, takes preparation. First I take out the FAA Approach Plates to see if the village has a GPS approach, Goodnews Bay did not have one. Second, I pour over the maps to get a feel for the terrain and mountain heights in the area. Third, the airport identifier (GNU for Goodnews) gets punched into my Garmin 550 GPS and my in-dash Garmin 155XL. Finally, I wait for a good clear day, preferably with the winds not gusting over 30 MPH.
The following picture shows what I was seeing twenty miles out from Goodnews Bay. I had no Idea where the snow covered runway was, only that I was generally heading in the right direction. I was flying almost due West from Dillingham.
The hills around me were only about 1000 feet high so once my GPS told me I was lined up with the runway I dropped down to 800 feet. As I was trying to find Goodnews Bay, I took a video:
To watch this video you can also CLICK HERE.
What a beautiful little village. I couldn’t help but take a couple pictures of the houses and buildings painted in bright pastel colors. If you look close, you can just see the runway on the right.
After buzzing the village I climbed up to 6,000 feet, turned East, and flew the 95 air miles back to Dillingham. Another great Alaskan Adventure.
Fly safe out there!
Thursday, January 6, 2011
Pastor, Holy Rosary Mission Alaska
When flying in the winter it takes hours to prepare an airplane for flight, especially since our Cherokee Warrior II is parked outside on a gravel parking lot.
First the weather must be flyable. I normally call around 5:00 A.M. for the first check, then I visit the Flight Service Station just before I plan on leaving to ensure there are no “surprises,” i.e. sudden fog that moves in, snow squalls, severe wind, or icing.
Second, the aircraft must be prepared. Preparation includes possible snow shoveling; breaking ice off the airplane (trying to get the doors open, they are normally frozen shut); removing wing, horizontal stabilizer, and engine covers; unplugging cock pit and engine heaters; untying the airplane; doing a thorough preflight.
On January 5, just before getting ready to jump in the Cherokee and fire her up, I caught something on the preflight inspection. As I was taking off the engine blanket some liquid poured out after I un-hooked it. I smelled fuel.
The following picture shows where the fuel drain was sticking out of the engine cowling. Dave (our mechanic) re-positioned it so it would not keep hanging up on the engine blanket in severe wind.
I then noticed that the engine fuel drain (you push it in and a stream of gas comes out) used to drain the fuel of water, was pushed in more than usual and a bit loose. The severe winds we had must have caused the engine blanket to snag on the fuel drain and loosen it up. Sure enough I opened the engine cowling, pushed on the fuel drain from the outside, and fuel started flowing out the top of this fuel cup. After all the preparation I was devastated that I might have to cancel my flight.
Fuel was gushing out of that round silver piece at the bottom right of the picture when I would jiggle the fuel drain.
I walked 30 yards to my neighbor, Tucker Aviation, and asked the mechanic, Dave, to come take a look. He sized up the situation, removed a “fuel cup,” resealed it with some kind of elephant glue, tightened it down, and safety wired everything back together. Instead of having the fuel drain stick out the hole in the cowling, where the engine cover kept catching on it when the wind blew, I had him turn the drain around so I have to open the engine cowling cover to drain it. I finally took-off about noon, only two hours late.
Here is a video after I finally got into the air. I was flying from New Stuyahok to Manokotak.
You can also watch the video if you CLICK HERE.
Fly safe out here!
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Pastor, Holy Rosary Mission Alaska
Before leaving Dillingham in the winter I normally have to dig out by hand. The FAA does not want us to use snow plows for fear of crushing an airplane.
On December 17th, after a Christmas Mass in the small Alaskan village of Clarks Point, I caught a ride down to my Cherokee Warrior II, took off the engine blanket, pulled out the blocks, visually checked my fuel level, jumped in, and fired up the engine. When I went to turn on the master radio switch, a loud horn started beeping, my radios were blinking, my alternator was dead, and my GPS would not turn on. I flipped a few switches and got the horn to stop.
Here is a picture of Clarks Point from the air. The old runway running East and West is just above and to the right of the new runway, which runs North and South.
I then had to make the decision to shut down the engine or take-off back to Dillingham. I sat on the ground for about five minutes contemplating. I checked for traffic, back-taxied the gravel strip, and took off. After climbing to 500 feet I started flipping switches and pulling out cords. One radio came back on then went off again. I pulled out the hand held mike cord and everything came back on, then went off.
By that time I was on a three mile final for runway 01 in Dillingham, I was able to contact the Flight Service Station (FSS) before everything went dead again. Much to my satisfaction I found out that the Penair Saab or John Bouker were not on final approach at the same time I was. Fortunately, there was no reported traffic.
Bristol Bay recently received cell phone service in around March of 2010 and had I been thinking I should have called the FSS before I took off from Clarks Point. I could have told them that I would be entering the airspace in five minutes. I still find it hard to believe that I can call people from remote villages such as Clarks Point, Manokotac, and Levelock.
Flight Service Stations (FSS) have different rules than control towers. Dillingham is one of a very few Flight Service Stations left in Alaska. Others are in Talkeetna and Illiamna. When flying into an airport with a flight service station, a pilot does not have to talk on the radio at all. The FSS is for safety purposes. Dillingham has an exceptionally large amount of traffic and although the FSS does not control the traffic it lets the pilots know where the traffic is and then it is up to the pilots to separate. Among several crucial duties, the Dillingham FSS provides valuable weather data, which helps us to make flying decisions.
In the following video I try to show what it is like taking off from the Flight Service Station in Dillingham, Alaska.
To see the video you can also
I always call the FSS when I am seven miles out. Everyone who flies around Bristol Bay does, it is a given. When I call in I use as little air time as possible, as few words as possible, I always say my complete tail number first (Cherokee 81809), and then shorten it on the second contact (Cherokee 809). I turn to 123.6 and say, “Dillingham Radio, Cherokee 81809, seven northwest, India (the current ATIS). There are no “ands,” “I am’s,” or “this is’s”. Short, sweet, and clear. After the FSS logs me in they are able to report my progress to other pilots entering the airspace.
Here is similar video about contacting the FSS in Dillingham.
To see the video you can also CLICK HERE.
If there is no other traffic I report overhead the runway then land. Two contacts, seven miles out and overhead the runway. If there is reported traffic that is close to me it is up to me to find out how close and contact that pilot. Once the other pilot is spotted we have to decide among ourselves who lands first, second, et .
Common chatter among pilots might sound like, “Cessna 95w this is Cherokee 809 I have you in sight and will follow you in.” “How far out are you 04K?” “Inbound Cherokee, do I have time to back taxi before you get here?”
After landing in Dillingham I reached up where my hand-held microphone plugs in and the jacks were loose. I contacted Dave, my mechanic at Tucker Aviation, and he took things apart, tightened things up, inspected things, and tried to get the horn to go off. He could not duplicate the problem. We decided that the cause of the loss of electrical power may have been a grounding problem or a low battery. After all, it had been below zero for a couple of weeks straight. After re-charging the battery I was ready for an operational check.
Here is a video where I talk a little bit about the electrical problem while flying to Ekwok a few days after trying to fix the electrical problem.
You can also see the video if you CLICK HERE.
December 23rd, I flew to Ekwok then over to Clarks Point and back to Dillingham. Everything worked great. There were no intermittent radio failures.
After going over the electrical diagram in the Aircraft handbook, I decided Ineeded to fly a couple more hours to be double sure everything was working correctly. On December 28th, I flew from Dillingham to Dillingham round Robin via New Stuyahok, Levelock, Manokotak. The runways were covered with Ice and snow. I did GPS approaches into New Stuyahok and Manokotak
In route I decided to buzz Levelock, Alaska airport and village.
You can also see the video if you CLICK HERE.
I did a touch and go on the snowy runway at Manokotak.
For video you can also CLICK HERE.
I finally made it back to Dillingham. All systems in the green. Here is my approach over Dillingham and landing at Dillingham Airport.
To see Video you can also CLICK HERE.
Fly safe out there!
Sunday, January 2, 2011
A diamond-facetted sky is the light I’m writing by tonight. The power is out until 3:00 A.M. because the power company is connecting the new wind towers on the hill to the electric grid making Sand Point a greener energy community. We turned up the heat before the outage and left the water running. My “wireless” computer isn’t working, so I have pen and tablet in hand in the dark.
Although it is cold outside, as I gaze at Orion’s belt and millions of other blinking stars, it is easy to imagine a swaddled newborn baby lying in a straw-filled manger surrounded by softly mewing animals and adoring young parents. Shepherds leaning on their staffs appear out of the silent night to witness the holy event. Three bejeweled wise men appear from the East on camels. They kneel and present their kingly gifts-gold, frankincense, and myrrh-to the infant. Christmas is one of those mountain top festivals.
When flying from Anchorage to the Aleutians, no matter how clear the flight starts out, gradually the shimmering white mountaintops become surrounded by a field of gray white, fluffy clouds so that all that is seen is sunny blue skies and mountain peaks. After descending through many miles of blinding clouds, one never knows what lies below-fog, windy rain, or snowy blizzard-only that you won’t see blue sky. Buy you know the sun and the mountaintops are there because you have seen them.
That’s the kind of Christmas our family is having this year. In October the family lost their father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, and the love of my life. There was great peace in his passing, but we learned how every person leaves such an imprint upon our lives. When they are no longer present at the table or in the conversation, we are left with memories of the person who swiped all the olives before dinner or hid peoples’ shoes so they couldn’t find them when they were ready to leave.
Rather than the family groups gathering, they will gather in small clusters and the adults will go through the motions of decorating, cooking, gift-giving for the sake of the children. But they will reflect on their own burdens and vulnerabilities as I know many others will also be doing: those who suffer from illnesses such as cancer, financial problems, unemployment, addictions-either their own or family members, domestic violence, homelessness, loneliness, military lives lost and wounded warriors coping with lost limbs and emotional trauma, and many others suffering the effects of natural disasters.
To me it is a quiet, reflective time but also one where I treasure every moment of life, search for true and deeper meanings in life, and desire to reach out and make someone happy by giving personal gifts and words to show how loved and appreciated they are for the good deeds they do while living under the clouds.
Strengthen yourselves, your families, and your neighbors because you know the eternal radiance is shining on the mountaintops. One of them is Christmas and all that it is: joy, peace, salvation, love, laughter, friends, unity, hope, and great times and memories. Have a merry Christmas, celebrate in good ways, and light up the world. Be a reflection on earth as are the stars in the night sky in the heavens.
Thank you Mary for your wonderful letter! Fr. Scott