Flying on Floats

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Another two weeks have passed up here in the Final Frontier, and my excitement and amazement of and for this incredible state has only increased. One of my goals for the summer was to get my commercial certificate for single engine sea aircraft, so I figured there was no better time to start it than right away. After some research of local flight schools I settled on flying with Alaska Floats and Skis, gave them a call and scheduled a lesson.

On day one I was greeted by the most interestingly painted aircraft I had ever seen, aptly named “Flower Power.” A Piper Tri-Pacer on EDO 2000 floats, you might think it was a step down from the Goose I had flown a week prior, but as someone new to the world of floats I was excited to get my hands on anything.

Flower Power in all her glory.

I met my instructor, we did a brief ground school session before walking down to the dock, starting the plane and taxiing away. Within minutes of takeoff I was introduced to Alaskan flying in the best possible way. As I set myself up at 1,000 feet I heard my instructor say, “This is too high, take me to 20 feet and follow the river.”

A little different than Riddle’s G1000 equipped aircraft

Over the next three days, 4.1 hours in the plane, and many more hours studying at home, I learned everything I needed to know about operating a seaplane. We worked on different kinds of taxiing (idle taxi, plow taxi, step taxi) and what makes each kind work. We worked on different types of takeoffs and landings such as rough water and confined area. To me, the most interesting maneuver to learn was the glassy water landing.

When water is glassy, meaning it is completely still, the reflection of the trees, sky and clouds can make it impossible for a pilot to judge their height above the surface. Many accidents have resulted from glassy water in which a pilot flares too high, stalls the aircraft and flips on contact or the pilot never flares, digs the fronts of the floats into the water and flips the aircraft. Not only would the experience be terrifying, it could be deadly. To avoid this, the glassy water landing technique was created. In this approach, the aircraft must be set to land while the pilot still has a visual reference of height, usually the shore before the water begins. This means holding the correct pitch attitude, having flaps set, and the proper airspeed.

Then you wait.

And wait…

And wait…

SPLASH!

All you can do is hold what you know is a safe landing attitude that will allow you to touchdown safely. You cannot change the pitch of the seaplane up. You cannot flare. Only minor adjustments of the throttle are allowed to adjust your descent rate. My first few glassy landings were a mix of horrifying and exhilarating. Without a good visual reference it was impossible to tell how close we were to the water so we waited and waited until touchdown. On an attempt in which I started higher than I should have we had to wait over a minute before the floats finally reached the surface. It was a particularly long lake so the mistake wasn’t dangerous, but instead it taught me to understand how much of an increased landing distance the glassy landing has over a standard approach.

After our 4.1 hours were up, I had an oral exam and a 1.0 check ride flight with a local examiner who found me to be in good standing. I became a certified seaplane pilot!

If you’re interested in flying and haven’t flown a float plane, I absolutely recommend it. Not only does it open up a new type of flying and new places to go, but it reinforces old lessons you’ve learned with land planes. It teaches you to have better control of the aircraft and really work with the environment you’re flying in.

These lessons and more will be further engraved in my mind after I complete next week’s goal: an Alaskan Bush Flying course.

A Long Way from Home

3,789 miles. As I sit here typing, I am 3,789 miles from home sweet home Embry-Riddle. I’ve found myself in Talkeetna, Alaska for the summer, working as an intern for K2 Aviation, a company that performs flightseeing tours around the Alaska Mountain Range in Denali National Park.

It has now been one week since I packed my bags and, accompanied by my mother, boarded an Alaska Airlines flight from Chicago to Anchorage.

Getting ready to board a flight from KORD to PALH.

We spent three days in Anchorage before making the 113 mile drive to Talkeetna. On the third day, I had the honor to visit to Lake Hood Seaplane Base and spend time flying a 1944 Grumman Goose, a multi-engine flying boat. It was as incredible as its sounds. With Goose expert Burke Mees in the right seat, we departed one lake for another, doing steep turns and stalls along the way. I could, and probably should, do an entire post about that flight, but for now I’ll simply say that my time in N703 is by far the most interesting entry in my logbook I have to date and will likely hold that title for years to come. I would encourage anyone visiting Anchorage to do an hour long flight with them, or at least take a look at the historical plane. If you are interested, more information can be found at www.goosehangar.com.

Sitting on the wing of the Goose while floating in Figure Eight Lake, just outside of Anchorage.

The arrival of Thursday meant my first day of work with K2 Aviation. My position for the summer is being a part of the office staff team doing customer service. It means I’ll be doing anything from answering calls and questions of people interested in the flightseeing tours to assisting mountain climbers get all their gear prepared for their attempt of climbing North America’s tallest peak.

Oh yeah, did I mention that Denali, formerly Mount McKinley, is the tallest mountain in North America? It stands at 20,310 feet above sea level and is accessible for only a small margin of the year running from around April to July. As someone who doesn’t claim to be the least bit in shape, I decided to take the easy route of getting to the top and boarded a plane.

Aboard a deHavilland Beaver I experienced the most amazing flight I have ever been a passenger on (most amazing flight overall being the Goose). Seeing the summit of the continent’s tallest peak poking above the clouds, flying between cliff walls thousands of feet high, cruising just hundreds of feet above a 44-mile long glacier, and touching down on the snow bank in the middle of a National Park combined for an experience that still makes my jaw drop when I look back on it.

The peak of Denali in the distance.

I don’t pretend to have Alaska figured out yet. I still get confused when I call my friends after my shift for them to groggily answer that it’s 2:00am and it better be important. I still struggle to get in bed when I look out the window at a beautiful sunny day even though the clock says it’s 9:45pm (and it stays brighter later every day!). But what I have figured out is that this is going to be a summer of adventure. Adventure that will take me all over Alaska, on many modes of transportation, and deeper into the wilderness than I truthfully want to go.

While I probably won’t accomplish all the adventure goals I’ve set for myself, I promise to make sure you enjoy reading about the ones I do. So stick around, bookmark this page, and check back often because the Grumman Goose, glacier landing, and Denali summit tour was only week one. We’ve got 12 more to go.

-Brian Reedy

Day Trip to Baltimore

Hello readers!

Since we did not have school last Friday, I traveled to see my friend in Baltimore, MD. He graduated from Embry-Riddle last spring and is currently the station manager of a ground handling company at Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI). I spent the afternoon touring with him.

We first started inside the airport where there is a small museum open to the public before the TSA security checkpoint. The Observation Gallery is located between Concourse B and C on the upper level. It features a small observation deck that faces a portion of the airport’s apron.

Observation Gallery (Source: Baltimore Washington International Airport)

Observation Gallery (Credits: Baltimore Washington International Airport)

After the quick museum tour, we went on to the ramp and drove around on the apron. It’s fun to be a passenger inside the airport but it’s also fun to be in the real action of the things thats are going on around an aircraft at the gate. I have always been interested at airline operations at the gate. Ever since I am young, I always sit next to the window at the gate and look outside.

There is a lot going on from the time an aircraft gets marshalled to the gate to the time it gets pushed back from the gate. Depending on the aircraft size, the ground crew only has less than an hour to deplane the passengers of the arriving flight, unload the bags, fuel and clean the aircraft, receive the inflight catering, board passengers and load the bags for the next departure.

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Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-900ER during turnaround for its evening flight back to Seattle-Tacoma. (Credits: Author)

As the Alaska aircraft was being pushed back from the gate, it was already time for me to catch my flight to go back to Daytona. I really enjoyed my experience during my short visit. I had been on the ramp previously but not as close as I did on Friday.

More Adventures
Next week, I’m off to South America with my brother for the Thanksgiving break. Stay tuned for more blogs about my next trip! You can follow me on Snapchat and Instagram @montrealspotter for live pictures.

Until next time!

Nicolas

First Non-rev Adventure: Juneau, AK

As you know, I am currently on internship with Alaska Airlines for the summer. Most airlines give their interns flight benefits for the summer, and thankfully, Alaska Airlines is one of those airlines! So, of course, I am going to take advantage of the benefits.

When you are blessed with flight benefits, there is a specific way in which you go about actually getting on a flight. These procedures vary from airline to airline, but are normally pretty similar. You list for your flight, which indicates to the gate agents that you would like a seat on the plane. Then, you frantically check the flights throughout the day to make sure there are still seats open, hope no one with more non-rev status than you shows up for the flight, and pray that no one buys a ticket last minute (you can imagine how stressful it can get). You are called a “non-rev”, short for non-revenue passenger. This means, you are flying standby, and not paying for your seat on the flight. Flying standby is an art form. It requires you to be very knowledgeable about the flight schedules, hubs, and weight restrictions on different routes. It is not acceptable to miss work on Monday because you were non-reving and got stranded somewhere. Therefore, you have to get creative. Which is why it is sometimes referred to as the non-rev adventure or non-rev challenge.

For my first non-rev trip, I decided to play it safe. I definitely didn’t want to get stranded my first time. So, I decided to take a day trip up to Juneau, Alaska. Since Alaska Airlines was born in Alaska, and is a vital resource for so many people up there, I thought it would be a good idea to understand the Alaskan culture. There are quite a few trips up to Juneau from Seattle during a weekend, so I knew I would definitely be able to make it back in time for work on Monday.

Alaska Airlines also gives companion passes to interns, so I got to take my mom to Juneau with me. We woke up early Saturday morning and caught the 7:00 AM flight to Juneau. I was ecstatic when I found out we were going to be flying on a Combi! I had heard that the flight up to Juneau was supposed to be beautiful, because you fly over the mountains and along the river, but it was cloudy when we went.

Juneau airport

Juneau airport

Once we arrived in Juneau, which is a tiny little airport, we took a taxi up to the Mendenhall Glacier. It was absolutely beautiful! It sits between two hills, and flows down into the lake below. There was also a big waterfall off to the right of it. We walked the trails around the glacier for about an hour, and then decided to head into town. We ended up having to walk 1.5 miles down the hill to the bus stop, where we could catch the bus to downtown. The bus ride took about an hour just to go a few miles, since there were so many stops, but it was cool because we got to see some areas we otherwise wouldn’t have.

Mendenhall Glacier in the background

Mendenhall Glacier in the background

Waterfall next to the glacier

Waterfall next to the glacier

Once we got to town, we walked around all of the shops. We were surprised by the large crowds, but later realized it was because there were four cruise ships there. You could easily tell that the town lives off of tourism, because all of the shops were selling tourist items. For lunch, we went to a famous crab shack on the water. I had shrimp bisque and my mom had the crab cakes. They were to die for! After looking in all of the shops, it was almost dinner time, so we went to a food truck selling fish tacos. Once again, they were wonderful! I loved the fresh fish that were in them. After dinner, we took a taxi back to the airport, where we would catch our evening flight back to Seattle.

It was an amazing day trip, and a successful non-rev adventure. I would definitely recommend everyone go to Alaska at least once, whether it’s for a day or an entire vacation. It really is a whole different way of living. Each city has something special to offer, whether it’s whale watching, glaciers, hiking, fishing, or just a unique atmosphere. If you do decide to go up to the great state of Alaska, I also recommend flying on Alaska Airlines (I might be a little bit biased)!

Until next time,

Lindsey

July 24, 2012

Greetings All,

After my final evening in Rome, I woke up very early the next day and caught a shuttle with a few other study abroad students to the airport. We arrived roughly four hours before my flight was scheduled to board. I figured it would be alright if I showed up that early because I could just go through security and then hang out at an empty gate. However, I was informed by a baggage agent that KLM, the airlines I was flying with, only opens for boarding three hours before departure. Therefore, I sat on the tile floor outside security and tried to find ways to entertain myself. Eventually, the security checkpoint was opened and I was able to get in front of a whole tour bus load of people. When I got through security, I bought a snack consisting of a Panini and gummy bears. I then relaxed at my gate until my airplane was ready to board.

My trip back home was a little hectic. My flight into Minnesota was delayed due to a storm. Once we were able to land at the airport, we found out that most of the connecting flights had been grounded due to high wind speeds. At one point, the airport staff made an announcement asking all passengers to please stay away from the windows because the winds were strong enough to either break them or throw an object into the glass. Naturally, people went closer to the windows to watch the storm and take pictures. The plane I caught out of Minnesota was about two hours and thirty minutes late. Luckily, this was my last connection. I just kept my family aware of what time I would arrive home. They picked me up around 2:30 am at the airport and my luggage made it just fine. When I got home I went straight to bed. I was exhausted after flying the better part of two days.

Home for me is Alaska.

I took this picture from my front porch. This October sunset is just one of the many beautiful views of Alaska. 

Alaska is the largest state in the United States of America and resides in the top left corner of North America west of Canada. Even though Alaska has a gigantic amount of land, relatively few people live here. According to the 2010 Census, there are slightly more than 701,000 inhabitants. Most of the population is concentrated in the main cities: Juneau, our capital, Anchorage, which is the largest city, Wasilla, and Fairbanks. However, there are still a fair bit of people who live in smaller towns and villages located all over Alaska. An interesting fact about Juneau is that even though the city is our capital, it cannot be reached by car. People who would like to visit Juneau must either fly or take a barge. In addition, the city is close enough to glaciers that locals often go swimming in the runoff waters in the summer.

This is a picture of a few ice floes in one of the sounds. 

The state is incredibly diverse. Southeast Alaska receives a lot of rainfall and is considered to be almost like Seattle. The Interior experiences extreme temperature changes. In the winter, I remember temperatures reaching as low as -60 degrees Fahrenheit by the river and in the summer around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Alaska contains the highest peak in North America, Mount McKinley, or as locals refer to it, Denali. Denali means “the great one” in one of the Athabascan dialects. Athabascans are one of the many groups of native indigenous peoples who live here in the Interior.

This is one of Alaska’s many mountains. 

I live in Fairbanks, which is also located in the Interior. The Fairbanks North Star Borough, boroughs are our version of counties, has about 32,000 residents. While the city is considered small compared to other metropolises in the United States, we have everything we need. We have grocery stores, schools, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, a mall, a movie theatre, golf courses, boutique shops, local markets, restaurants, many stores, and even a few farms. It’s like an oasis because the closest town, Nenana, is about an hour away by car and is very small. The closest big city is Anchorage, which about six hours away. One of the advantages to living in Fairbanks is that Moose Mountain Ski Resort is just outside of town. In the winter, I often meet friends on the hill to go snowboarding.

My snowboard standing next to my friend’s board – he’s very tall and I’m short. Some of my friends also enjoy snow machining or four wheeling depending on the season.

Even though Alaska has modern amenities, people still live very close to nature. Some college students choose to live in “dry cabins” because they are very inexpensive. These cabins can be a ways out of town and do not have running water or electricity. Wood stoves are used for heat and water is hauled in by truck. Personally, I live in a subdivision a few miles out of town.

This is a picture of me when I was about 5 or six years old. I’m demonstrating proper winter attire while carrying the head for my snowman. The road is not paved and we don’t have a well or city water. As a result, we have a holding tank that a water truck fills every few weeks. However, we do have electricity and internet, both for which I am thankful.

Though Alaska is very beautiful and modern, there is always one thing to keep in mind: If you don’t know what you’re doing, Alaska can kill you. If you know what you are doing, Alaska can still kill you. In the winter, roads become slick with layers of ice and snow and temperatures drop so low that without proper attire, hypothermia sets in within a matter of minutes.

My truck slid into a ditch due to icy roads. Thank you to my friends who helped me to dig it out.Every year people die due to the cold and not dressing warmly enough. Sometimes, moose wander across roads or into lawns, causing car accidents or threatening the safety of people and pets in yards. In the summer, people like to go camping. If they are unprepared, they risk being visited by a hungry grizzly bear. However, as long as people know what to do, such as staying away from moose and not keeping food at their campsite, most of the time they should be fine.

Two common misconceptions about Alaska are: that it is always winter and that there is nothing to do. While our summer is short, Alaska does experience about three months of the season. Two seasons that we experience very briefly are fall and spring. Each lasts only a few weeks. Furthermore, there are plenty of outdoor activities to do, such as canoeing, rock climbing, hiking, biking, or having bonfires. In the past, I have gone to laser tag, soccer and hockey games, and various street fairs. For a more historical view of my state, there are always the gold dredges, gold mines, saloons, and national parks. Since cities are so isolated from each other, they often are very self-sufficient and are full of entertainment. This, in combination with the natural beauty of the land, makes Alaska a very popular tourist destination, it most definitely a place to visit if you are ever in the area.

Thank you for reading.