Dick Rutan called me from London, Ontario where he was giving a talk and asked if I would be interested in flying up to Point Barrow, Alaska - Wow! Barrow is almost 720 North Latitude and more than 325 miles north of' the Arctic circle. Sally did not want to go nor did Chris, Dick's fianc�e. So, what the heck, I arranged to meet Dick the next day on the Friday Harbor airport. Sounded like a great boondoggle to me!
I departed Mojave the next morning and flew direct toward Friday Harbor, an island northwest of Seattle, WA. Primary navigation was GPS. My panel-mounted King KLN 90 GPS was backed up by a Flitemate Pro GPS driving Mentor Plus' Flite Star and Flite Map which ran on my 270C MacPowerbook. (The belt and suspenders approach!). The GPS antenna was Velcroed to the top of the headrest - worked great! Unless you have flown with a color moving map that gives you almost unbelievably accurate knowledge of your position, you really can not appreciate how neat this is. This trip proved this system out to me as the navigation system of the future. This, or something very close to this, is what we will all be flying with in the future.
The weather was great from Mojave to Portland, OR but went bad north of Portland. The clouds went from the ground to 17000 feet, so I landed at Ellensburg, WA. To my amazement, when I taxied up to the gas pump, Dick was parked there topping off his fuel tanks! He had tried to get to Friday Harbor just as I had and had landed to check the weather and try to figure out how to join up with me. Just when I was wondering how in the world I could contact him! We checked the weather and filed an ADCUS flight plan to Nanaimo, Canada where Dick has some friends and where the weather was excellent.
We overflew the weather and landed at Nanaimo where we cleared customs. We then flew on to Qualicum, Vancouver Island. We spent a beautiful day fishing for salmon and enjoying the hospitality of Dick's friends, Bob and Cherry Ekoos. They have a beautiful home on the coast of Vancouver Island. The next morning, we departed for Campbell's River, the nearest place where we could file a flight plan (all flights, VFR and IFR, must have a flight plan filed in Canada). We filed to Juneau, Alaska and flew up the coast in light rain and low ceilings.
The coastline is very rugged, lots of islands with rocky coastlines and millions of trees. There were no roads at all and airports are few and far between. There is no VFR-on-top in Canada so we were forced to remain under the solid overcast until we reached Ketchican, AK where we climbed to on-top and flew on to Juneau. We overflew the Mindenhall glacier in the foothills just behind the city of Juneau, then landed at Juneau airport and cleared customs. This cost $25.00 a piece for each Long-EZ - the US customs was much more of a hassle than the Canadian customs. We had lunch and checked the weather. It was good all the way to Barrow! We filed to Fairbanks and flew up the coast from Juneau to Skagway, then inland over Canada to Whitehorse, then roughly along the Alcan highway to Northway, Alaska, then on to Fairbanks. It was 87OF at Fairbanks and the weather was perfect, however, it was below minimums at Barrow so we spent the night at a beautiful hotel near Fairbanks airport.
The next morning, 4th of July 1994, we filed to Barrow where the weather was 400' overcast and 6 miles visibility. We ran into rain and low ceilings in the Brookes Range and poked our noses into several passes before finding one that was marginally VFR. We flew through the Anaktuvuk Pass and over a small Eskimo village of the same name where there was a short, gravel runway - not much good for us! The weather improved a little north of the Brookes Range and we flew toward Barrow over country that was flat and covered with thousands of lakes. There are no trees and no roads, only tundra.
This was the North Slope. Gradually, a scattered undercast became solid and, by the time we reached Barrow, we were between layers at 3000 feet. We shot an approach at Barrow and broke out on the centerline of the runway at 400 feet. The GPS-driven moving map depicted this graphically and was very comforting! The North Slope Search and Rescue took us under their wing and found us a hotel room and provided us with huge parkas (it was 330F) Price Brower, a Barrow native and the Chief Pilot for Search and Rescue, treated us like royalty. He flew us to every single point of interest in a Jet Ranger helicopter and later invited us to his home where we had the dubious experience Of eating maktak (the skin and blubber of a bowhead whale which had been captured by Price's village). We watched the Eskimo Olympic games which were being held in Barrow and went on around the clock since it did not get dark all night.
At almost 720 north latitude, the ocean was frozen as far as we could see. All of the buildings in Barrow are built on pilings and are 6 feet above the permafrost. The high on July 4th was 33OF! The sun does not set at this time of the year, it simply circles around the sky about 300 above the horizon! The next morning, we headed down the coast of Alaska toward Prudhoe Bay. We flew very low and followed the coastline looking for polar bear and caribou. We saw hundreds of caribou but no bears. We did fly by two DEW line (early warning radar sites) that are no longer needed but were still manned with skeleton crews.
A more remote place you will never see! We flew a low approach to Prudhoe Bay airport (Deadhorse), then turned and followed the gravel service road that parallels the oil pipeline. We essentially followed the pipeline almost all the way to Fairbanks. We crossed the Brookes Range via the Atigan Pass and were fortunate to clear the highest point in the pass, 6500', due to rain and low ceilings. We decided to bypass Fairbanks and flew directly towards Anchorage. The weather really deteriorated and we flew through the broad pass from Nenana through Talkeetna to Anchorage with driving rain and less than I mile visibility.
This was our longest leg, from Barrow to Anchorage, just over 6 hours, much of it flown in heavy rain. We landed at Merrill Field in downtown Anchorage where we were met by Fred Keller and his wife, Judy. We stayed with Fred and Judy for two nights and Fred very kindly repaired my rain-damaged prop (Dick's is a B&T with the urethane leading edge and was essentially undamaged). They lent us a car and we visited the local points of interest. It was a neat time and we needed the rest.
We departed from Anchorage and flew south over the Portage Glacier to Valdez, then on down the coast which was much friendlier here with beautiful beaches and quite a few airports. We landed at Yakutat for lunch of fresh caught halibut. This is the place for fishermen. They catch several varieties of salmon and it is fairly routine to catch 400 lb. halibut here! After lunch, we flew on down the coast and then inland to Glacier Bay. What a spectacular sight! We continued over Gustavus where the Glacier Bay Lodge is, on down the central islands to Sitka, AK. We spent two days at Sitka which is really a beautiful place and the site of the original Russian capital of Alaska.
We saw all the historical sites (Dick is a fanatic about such things!), met some really fine people, and I can tell you this: I intend to return to Sitka, sometime, with Sally. We departed Sitka on a rainy, cloudy day and flew low along the coast all the way to Arlington, WA where Dick landed to give a couple of talks at the Arlington Fly-in. I continued on to Madras, Oregon where I filled the tanks with 100 low lead and headed south across Nevada and down the Owens Valley to Mojave. 10.2 hours of flying with one stop - Sitka, AK to Mojave, CA - 1514nm, 174 1 sm.
We had flown more than 6000 miles in 8 days. I used 281 gallons of fuel and N26MS performed the most northern point in the USA where the Eskimos showed us great hospitality. A marvelous trip in the -company of a good friend. All take-offs and landings were flown in close formation, as was the approach into Barrow. We flew more than the distance from Mojave, CA to London, England in only 8 days and this trip brought back, once again, what magical flying carpets the Long-EZs are! For a trip like this, GPS is not a luxury and should be considered mandatory. The moving map was fabulous and it was very reassuring to always know exactly were we were.
Plan long trips, and go for it!