Cruising by air

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Scraping Paint
Oct 23, 2007
I figured I'd put this here rather than OTDE since it IS cruising on the west coast.* I have often mentioned our floatplane trips up and down the Inside Passage into SE Alazka and the Coast Range in BC.* In the course of looking for some photos a local magazine has asked for I came across some pictures from our flights.

Sorry for the crappy quality-- I copied them on my digital camera from the original 35mm Kodachrome slides projected onto a piece of white foam core.* So several opportunities to screw up the focus.

Other than the first photo, which I took for a magazine cover way back when, all the photos were taken on different trips north.* Some of them are from our honeymoon when we took the plane to a remote lake in the Coast Range for a week's camping and fishing.* The plane we used on all our trips was N17598, a DHC-2 Beaver owned by Kenmore Air Harbor.* Bob Munro, the founder and owner, let my wife and I take the plane for a couple of weeks through the 80s and 90s, always in June because that's when he could spare it.* On some of our trips we took a couple of friends, on others it was just my wife and I.

The great thing about the Beaver is it can carry a ton (literally).* For instance the 6hp outboard motor on the aluminum skiff in the one shot is the trolling motor off our Arima fishing boat. All the Forest Service cabins in SE Alaska come with a skiff but no motor, so we carried the outboard on the floor of the plane behind the middle seat.

We carried five gallons of fuel for the outboard, a six gallon can of potable water, ten gallons of avgas, and four gallons of oil (for the plane) in the float compartments.

Ths shot of the survival gear is what we carried on these trips.* Everthing but the shotgun went into a waterproof rafting bag.* The round things on the left of the photo are mosquito hats--- hats with netting that pulls down over your face.* Absolutely essential up there or you go nuts with the bugs.

The second to last shot is of us cutting ice off a little iceberg from the LeConte Glacier to put in our ice chest.

The "vehicle" in the shot of our plane being parked in Ketchikan was made from the front half of an Oldsmobile Toronado (front wheel drive).* The river is the Stikine, the glacier is the LeConte in the Coast Range near Peterseburg and Wrangel.* Our friend standing on the float of the plane was fishing for Dolly Vardens.

The* two lake photos after the shot of the plane and the skiff and the last photo are where we took the plane for our honeymoon in the BC Coast Range.* The lake's elevation is about 1,200' asl.* The top of the mountain across the lake is about 9,500' asl.* We'd sit on the beach and watch the top of the mountain make its own weather.* It's big country up there.....

Anyway, I thought those of you who have cruised these waters might like to see what the area looks like from a little higher up.

-- Edited by Marin on Saturday 30th of October 2010 06:18:19 PM


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** Great shots Mr. Marin.* Ah yes, the good ole Svea stove.* I saved for weeks for one when I was a sprout and still have it $12 I think.
RT Firefly wrote:Ah yes, the good ole Svea stove.
Yeah, we bought our first one when we started taking the flights up north.* We subsequently bought a second one as they're pretty good little stoves albeit noisy as heck.* Do they even make the Svea anymore?*

For our floatplane trips we took a standard Coleman 2-burner stove with us as well as a Coleman single-mantle lantern.* All that stuff was realiable as hell.* I wonder if the equivelents made today are as robust.

An interesting factoid we always looked forward to on these trips--- in the third photo we are flying up the fjord to the LeConte glacier. As this was in June, the seals would have recently given birth to their pups. Many of the flat icebergs had mothers and pups on them, some of them born so recently the afterbirth was still on the ice.

Also, the Stikine River Valley (photos 5 and 6) were full of bears. Brown bears mostly but some blacks, too. And it was not uncommon to come around a corner (we usually flew the river about 500' agl) and find a moose or two standing in a backwater chowing down on grass.

If one is up that way in their boat there are jet boat tours up the Stikine that I would think are well worth taking. Wrangell is the closest harbor town to the river mouth so I imagine some of the tours leave from there. Wrangell had a nice harbor even back when we were there and I understand it's been improved.* They had a tidal grid all the times we were there--- here's a shot of it I took on one of our flights--- but I don't know if they still do.

-- Edited by Marin on Saturday 30th of October 2010 07:54:26 PM


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Great pics Marin. My dad flew his Foker cantilever 10 pass float plane into Canadian lakes when I was a very small boy. I remember pumping the floats by the lake. I almost never fly on the beavers now**** ..I think it's $250. round trip to Ketchikan. We wer'nt in Wrangell this year but I'm quite sure the grid was there the year before*** ....I recognise it. Several locals have great stories about traveling on the Stikine.
We stopped at Telegraph Creek for fuel in the plane (on tiny Sawmill Lake up beind the town) but never went into the town itself, or what's left of it.

Here's a shot of Telegraph I took on one of our fueling trips (we'd fly in from the lakes near the mountains we were camped at). Sawmill Lake is just visible up the hill behind the town. The other shot is of my wife when she was fishing from our handy dandy, super portable fishing platform. We fished from the plane a lot when we weren't on a lake with a skiff, sometimes letting it drift down a lake while we fished from the floats.


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Marin wrote:

The second to last shot is of us cutting ice off a little iceberg from the LeConte Glacier to put in our ice chest.

So, how was it landing with all the little burgie bits everywhere?* I spent years running through the ice at high speeds (20+ knots) and was forever worried about the little, clear ones that floated just at the surface and were very hard to see.* When I did hit one I hadn't seen, the noise was tremendous, and caused the passengers to get a little uptight.* I can only imagine hitting one on landing.* You still flying?........Arctic Traveller
Things look very different from the air. We landed in clear water where the icebergs were widely spaced. The water wasn't muddy and from the air it's very easy to spot things in the water. Far different than trying to see stuff when you're on the water. Even landing in places like Prince Rupert one has to be very careful to select a landing lane with no logs in it. Finding clear landing and takeoff lanes is something floatplane pilots learn early on. So we landed in clear water and then taxied over next to this little iceberg and "docked" against it.

This is why landing on rivers like the Stikine is so dangerous. In Telegraph Creek the one-plane flying service where we bought fuel served some of the individual hometeads and tiny communities that lay downriver. I talked to their pilot and he said that without local knowledge landing on the river was a sure way to wreck a plane. There is no way to tell if the water is ten feet, twenty feet, or two inches deep. He carried a heavy fifteen foot pole lashed to the top of one of his Beaver's floats. He said the pole was a requirement for working on the river--- he used it as a pry bar to hold his plane against the current, lever it off a bar, etc.

We had initially planned on landing on the river and camping on an island but after talking to him (and friends at a seaplane service in Petersburg) we abandoned that idea as being way too dangerous, particularly for someone with no local knowledge of the river at all. That's why flying down the Stikine on our way out from the lake where we had camped for our honeymoon when the weather forced us down until we were flying between the trees on either side of the river we elected to return to the lake--- by now some 60 or 70 miles behind us--- rather than attempt a landing on the river.

-- Edited by Marin on Sunday 31st of October 2010 01:39:28 PM
Marin, I was about to ask you to post some plane pictures and thought I would search first. Too cool!
I've got thousands of photos from our flights north. On these trips I fly with a camera around my neck so many of my shots are looking out the windshield at the scenery in front of us that just keeps changing and, to me, is always amazing no matter what the weather. But to most other people it all starts looking the same after awhile.:)
So on Mahalo, on a serious voyage, I would expect something to break: lose a hose, change a fuel filter, potentially lose something that I could not repair. Does that happen on a plane, you're flying an old plane.... or is maintenance so much better on a plane. Have you had issues on your trips?
So on Mahalo, on a serious voyage, I would expect something to break: lose a hose, change a fuel filter, potentially lose something that I could not repair. Does that happen on a plane, you're flying an old plane.... or is maintenance so much better on a plane. Have you had issues on your trips?

The maintenance on the Beaver we fly is performed by Kenmore Air Harbor (Kenmore Air in today's nomenclature). Kenmore is a company you can walk into with a bolt that fell off a Beaver, and they will build you a new Beaver around it. (They built Harrison Ford's Beaver from a literal wreck that served in Viet Nam. I saw it in it's "before" condition in the back lot at Kenmore and it was just a battered shell with bullet holes in it. If you ever have a chance to see Harrison's Beaver today you will see why Kenmore is considered the top Beaver re-manufacturer in the world. It's also why Harrison agreed to write the forward for my book about Kenmore.:))

We had some minor issues with the Cessna 180KAH that my wife and I used for our honeymoon up the Passage and deep into the Coast Range. (A Cessna 180KAH is a stock 180 that Kenmore has re-engined with a 300hp engine detuned with a carburetor in place of the fuel injection) We had an intermittent alternator problem, a float that leaked badly under certain taxiing conditions, and on the way home, a tachometer cable that broke so I had to set the engine's rpm by sound the rest of the trip. The float issue was some concern so we had to be careful to keep it pumped out but none of these things were show-stoppers so we completed the trip.

We've never had any issues with the Beaver.

We thought we had a higher than normal oil consumption issue during one trip-- the upper end of the allowable oil use rate for the P&W R985 is a quart an hour and we thought we were using more than that (we carry oil in the floats on these trips). We were at a lake deep in the BC mountains and when we checked the oil we found we were down, there was apparently a massive oil leak judging by the oil blown back on the bottom of the plane, and at the rate we thought we were consuming and/or leaking it we realized we didn't have enough oil to run the engine long enough to get out of the mountains and back to Petersburg. A pretty tense period followed as we had no communications with the outside world and nobody would come looking for us for another four or five days.

We finally figured out that we'd added oil a bunch of hours earlier than we thought we had and so our oil consumption was actually what it was supposed to be. And we determined that the oil all over the bottom of the plane was from a a breather blow-down reservoir that hadn't been drained in a long time and was overflowing. Oil is like blood--- it doesn't take much to look like a lot.

So.... we've had major issues with bears and the weather but never the planes. In the Cessna the engine began to fail immediately after takeoff from the remote lake we had been camping at and I had to turn around and do a glassy water landing with intermittent and surging power. A real challenge if you know anything about glassy water landings-- my wife was calling out our height above the water using leaves floating on the surface next to a cliff--- but that turned out to be a carburetor ice problem that we had never encountered at home so were unaware could occur. We learned all about it after we got back to Petersburg several days later.

Planes, at least the vintage of the ones we fly, are pretty simple. Like the non-electronic diesels most of us on this forum have in our boats, the engines in the planes don't need a battery and alternator to run, only to start. And if the battery is dead you can start them by hand, even the R985. There are two spark plugs per cylinder, each being powered by a different magneto. The R986 has a reputation for continuing to run even after some catastrophic events have taken place inside it. Blown cylinder heads, even broken connecting rods have been known to not prevent the engine from continuing to run. And the planes we fly get expert maintenance on a regular schedule.

Don't forget, the engines are air-cooled so there are is no cooling system to go south and cause you to shut down.

And with a single-engine plane, if the engine should quit all your decisions have been made for you except one, and that is where you are going to come in contact with the planet. And if you have to make a forced landing, particularly in rugged or forested terrain, a floatplane is what you want to be in. Those big floats and strut assemblies are wonderful crumple zones between you and the hard stuff. So if you can keep your head and not stall the plane at the last moment and drop it in on its nose, even if you land in the treetops on on rocks, the chances are very high that you'll walk away. Assuming you can figure out how to get down out of the trees (we carry a very long line in the plane for exactly this reason, by the way).

Ironically, while my wife has no qualms whatsoever about flying deep into the mountains behind a single 9-cylinder radial engine that was made during WWII (the deHaviland Beaver was built new with unused WWII surplus engines as the 985 had been taken out of production long before the Beaver was conceived-- another story), she is far more confident, secure, and happy with two engines under the GBs cabin sole than just one.

PS--- With regards to your "does that happen on a plane?" stuff craps out all the time on jetliners no matter who makes them. They are almost always flying with something "inop" even if it's just a lighbulb or someone's seatback entertainment system. But what makes this all work is redundancy. Anything actually important to the operation of the plane (the entertainment system is the most complex system on a modern jetliner but it's the least important to the operation of the plane) has multiple levels of redundancy. And most modern jetliners are constantly monitored (assuming the airline subscribes to this type of service) in real time wherever they are around the planet so that faults and failure are immediately reported and when the plane lands people are there with the parts and tools to fix it as the plane is being turned around for its next flight.
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A fascinating life you have had so far my friend!

My only piloting story:

Pop was a carrier pilot during and after Korea and I always thought I would like to learn to fly. After talking about it for years, a buddy and I decided we would get started. An outfit at Reid Hillview in San Jose offers a "be a pilot for a day" program and we signed up. I won the coin toss, so I was going first.

We walked into the hanger, met the pilot and told him how it was going to be. I would fly first, Dan would ride in the back then we were having lunch and would reverse the order. We are both about 285lbs and the pilot said he would have to do some math and see if that was going to be wasn't.

We sat for an hour and learned how a plane flies and what the controls do. We were ready to fly jumbo jets. I taxied the plane out of the "parking lot", out on the runway, ran it up and took the plane off with the instructor in a "look no hands pose". All was well until the plane started speaking to me telling me there was traffic. No problem, turn the plane to the right and level out. Problem: I couldn't remember how to turn or level. No jumbo jets for me.

I travel a lot so I am familiar with the up and down motion of flying but I had never experienced the right and left motion. One moment you are here and then next you are 100 yards to the right. It was windy and we were moving all over the place. The tower even called us to let us know that we were gaining and losing altitude like a pogo stick as we crossed SJC approach area.

We flew for about an hour, I got pictures of my house and we buzzed my Wednesday golf group on 17.

If I never set foot in a small plane again, I'll be a happy man!
By the time Dan got up there the wind had mellowed, he had a great flight and went on to get his license. He keeps asking but I'm not going up with him!
(the deHaviland Beaver was built new with unused WWII surplus engines as the 985 had been taken out of production long before the Beaver was conceived-- another story)

You knew this was coming ... the first Beaver flew 6 years before the last 985 came out of the test cell.
I may have been wrong on the production dates of the 985 unless the information I was given was for 985s built in Canada, but regardless deHavilland used zero-time surplus engines from WWII in their new ones.

The Beaver was originally designed for an inline engine that was being developed in England. This engine had so many problems that it looked like it would unavailable for years if ever. Meanwhile deHavilland of Canada had their new plane ready to go but no engine.

One day, over lunch IIRC, the head of the Beaver program was talking with the head of Pratt & Whitney of Canada. The deHaviland man was bemoaning the disasterous engine situation in England that was preventing the DHC-2 from making any progress. The P&W man suggested they think about using the P&W 985 instead of which his company had a zillion brand new war surplus ones, all nicely pickled in crates. They could be had for really cheap.

So the front end of the Beaver was redesigned to take the radial and that's what they used. The Beaver first flew in 1947 and production started the folowing year and ended in 1967. As-built, they were powered with the R985 although there have been various repowers over the years with other engines including a big Polish radial that turned its huge prop the other direction..

Sixty of the 1,657 Beavers produced were Turbo Beavers which had longer fuselages, a swept back angular tail, and a P&W Canada PT6-A 550shp turbine in the extended nose.

The majority of piston Beavers went first to various military organizations, the largest purchaser being the US Army.

For anyone interested in the Beaver and its history the definitive book is "The Immortal Beaver" by Sean Rossiter. I helped Sean with some of the material for the book and some of the photos. He goes into great detail on the development of the plane and how it acquired the engine that it did. Much of his book is based on interviews he did with all the key players in the airplane's development.
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If I never set foot in a small plane again, I'll be a happy man!

Turbulence can be annoying, no question. But flying a plane--- at least a conventional and dynamically stable plane--- is really, really easy. Other than having to learn to judge things in three dimensions, in some ways I think learning to fly a plane is easier than learning to drive a car. I'm talking about just mastering the machine, not learning all the rules and regulations and navigation and all that other stuff.

Flying a helicopter is a whole different story. I have one hour in a helicopter, a little Robinson. I needed to understand what thefully automated flight control computer we and Hamilton-Standard were going to build for the then-new RAH-66 Comanche program was going to do so I could produce some marketing material for it. So the company bought me an hour of helicopter training to find out. After explaining to the chopper company what I was trying to accomplish the instructor said, "We'll go out and try to teach you how to hover. That will give you an appreciation of what a flight control computer has to do to accomplish the same thing." So we did, and it is still the hardest thing in terms of coordination I've ever done even though we never got more than ten feet off the ground.

But planes, particularly the Cessna-Piper-Beaver-etc. type, are dirt-simple to fly. You should try it again. And even if you don't want to get a license but are still interested in flying, I would recommend you get and read a book if you haven't already called "Stick and Rudder" by Wolfgang Langewische (sp?). My first instructor told me to buy the book and read it before our first lesson, and it was very good advice. Even though I had no idea how things were going to sound and feel, I knew exacltly why the plane was going to fly and how and why it was going to take off, climb, cruise, descend, turn and land when I climbed into the cockpit for the first time.

The book was written in the 1940s, and even way back then Wolfgang's explanation of lift was right on the money. "Forget Bernoulli and all that other stuff," he says. "All you need to know about lift is that it's created by the wing moving air down." Or words to that effect.

Great book, well worth reading if you want to learn to fly or just learn why and how they do.
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