Just get-up here to Alaska so we can go on a flight, I want to show you this. :o) BlueIceAviation@gmail.com
Just get-up here to Alaska so we can go on a flight, I want to show you this. :o) BlueIceAviation@gmail.com
I was looking at this picture thinking, “wow, nice job Matt, the way you captured all the bugs and scratches on the wind screen, beeeaautiful”. Then I remembered where I took this, and why it was funny to me. Look at my GPS, and notice the ground speed, 29 mph. N7780Y cruises at 90 mph in dead calm air at 2500 RPM. I think the wind was blowing 50-60 mph at altitude. The air-strip I was heading for was on the valley floor so it had good approaches from both directions and I had a sneaking suspicion that it was not blowing as hard on the ground. I landed several times here on this particular day and it was never blowing more than 20 on the ground.
For those that don’t fly I am going to briefly explain the difference between airspeed and groundspeed. If my airspeed in flight is 100 mph and I am flying into a 100 mph headwind then my ground speed is 0 mph. That’s all, it’s not rocket science. Airspeed is all-important when it comes to the flight of the aircraft because it’s what keeps the plane in the air. It’s also what all of our structural limitations are based on for deploying flaps, maneuvering speed, Never Exceed Speeds, etc. Groundspeed is what gets us home in time for dinner. Pilots often ask what airspeed I land at in the cub. I have NO IDEA. I honestly don’t know, I have never looked at my airspeed indicator on landing because I don’t care. I can feel it in my butt like all the other guys that fly cubs. I just fly it as slow as I can behind the power curve so I am hanging on the prop a bit.
Here is my point after saying all this … I ALWAYS LOOK AT MY GROUNDSPEED on final. I know that is bassackwards from how we were taught because the aerodynamics of the plane don’t care about groundspeed, and if you have a tailwind you could stall and crash. A well-tuned Super-Cub-Butt should be able to feel a 3 mph tail-wind. If I see my specific magic groundspeed, in landing configuration, on final, I know I can get my plane stopped in the given distance. (NOTE: I did not put numbers in that last sentence because I don’t want some idiot to sue me when he/she crashes using them.) All I am saying is that I feel my airspeed, but I visually check my groundspeed, because groundspeed is the energy I need to dissipate upon touchdown. I did not always have a GPS so I certainly don’t need it, but I sure do love double-checking that ground speed. On numerous occasions I have used that information to get out of bad approaches on one-way strips before it was too late. If you’ve ever landed on the side of a mountain with a 8 mph tailwind you overlooked then you know what I am squawking about … ya’ that’ll make your butt pucker.
This is a great spot deep in the Talkeetna Moutains. You can see the type of hiking terrain surrounding this area, it is limitless. Only 100 yards from this position runs a bluish-green glacial stream on a bed of white sand. The elevation here is about 5000′ so the only vegetation standing in your way won’t get past your shins. Caribou frequent this area, and can be viewed almost everyday of the summer as they run through. A medium sized glacier tumbles out of the mountains up valley from the landing strip and wildflowers are poking up all around. We can even even coordinate hiking/rafting trips from this location down to Talkeetna. If you would like to get into the Alaskan wilderness this is a great option and you can read more at my wife’s website BackPackAK.com. In fact it’s Samantha’s 29th birthday today, and all she wants is for everyone who reads this post to schedule a backpacking trip :o) Gotta go, we’re headed out for her birthday dinner.
There is a 3 dimensional aspect to flying which is nearly impossible to explain to those who have never sat at the controls. This characteristic of flight is amplified when numerous layers of clouds obstruct certain terrain features and enhance others. Are you familiar with the saying, “I know it like the back of my hand”? What if the back of your hand was 75% obscured, and you could only see random pieces of it, would it be the same? Please say no.
So here’s the story … This group of six gals was headed out for a month long mountaineering expedition in the Alaska Range. The weather was crap on the morning of the flight, and just when I had given-up hope for getting the flight done on the scheduled date, the weather cleared. So I jumped in the Cessna 185 and booked it for the Alaska Range. There were multiple layers of clouds obscuring the mountains in some areas, and showing sun on other portions of the landscape. I landed at the Black Rapids airstrip and loaded the plane with three of the gals and a bunch of gear and headed up the glacier. We picked our way up to 7500′ feet headed for the VERY familiar landing spot. Since I left in such a hurry, I managed to forget both the GPS and my topo map back at Sheep Mt. in my Super Cub. I did not care because I had been to this area numerous times, and … I knew it like the back of my hand. So I flew up the glacier past lots of glacier fog (clouds that lie right on the surface of the glacier, but only 75′ thick) and multiple cloud layers to “Divide Basin” on the Black Rapids Glacier. I circled a few times while I observed the movement of the clouds and determined a landing spot on the glacier below.
Once I had it dialed-in I landed and dropped the ladies off and headed back for the second load of girls and gear. As I was enjoying the music on my iPod and soaking in the view I beheld a strikingly familiar glacial landscape only recently revealed by a separation in the glacial fog. Much to my dismay I recognized it as … Divide Basin … the desired drop-off point. I had just off-loaded 1100 lbs of girls and gear 8 miles from the pre-planned destination … OOPS! I decided to keep going because I could tell that the glacial fog below was fickle at best. When I returned I asked the group leader if she wanted the good news or the bad? With a red face I explained that they were not in divide basin, but actually 8 miles to the West. Yep, it was embarrassing. If I were a better bull-shooter I probably could have covered for myself, but I’ve never been any good at bull-shooting, so I just shrugged and explained that a landing in the desired spot was not possible due to the prevailing conditions. They agreed to stay where I had put them and it actually turned out great. They told me weeks later that the weather had been awesome for them most of the time but horrible all around. I guess we all get lucky once- in-awhile.
These were some hardcore dudes. Mike and I dropped them off at 8500′ in the Chugach and they spent something like 18 days out here grabbing first descents and taking their chances kite skiing on the glacier. All three were heli-ski guides in Valdez during our winter, and then they move to South America for more winter. They said skiing the Mount Goode area was great, but that everything was bigger than they anticipated. The crevasses they skied around were large enough to swallow a house, and that tends to knock some of the edge off the carefree attitude. They did manage to ski Mt. Goode which is 10,610 feet tall. You can see the conditions were superb, but while they were there they got like five more feet, and this was in May.
These mountains can brew up some awesome weather and kite skiing seems to be growing in popularity. We dropped a guy off a couple years ago who kite skied the Tazlina glacier, which might be compared to canoeing Niagra Falls. He is still alive, but his kite is still out there … somewhere.
During the winter months we move off of Sheep Mountain back to town which is only 60 miles away on the Glenn Hwy. Samantha and I are building a house on a 10 acre parcel with a small runway in Wasilla. We are very near town but Matanuska Electric Association (MEA) wants $55,000 to run power the last 400 yards to our driveway and appx. $30,000 more to get it to our house. So we live on a generator and battery bank in a small cabin near the building site. We started this project in May and plan to finish it ourselves. We subbed out the septic and the driveway preparation, but the rest is being built by myself and my family and friends. It’s been a lot of fun so far, but today it was only 10 degrees F and gusting to 75 mph. Conditions like that make it difficult to get excited about going outside to work. Anywhere else in the nation this might make the news, but in Alaska you better just tie on your hat and keep working. If anybody is jealous of my radio headset, let me tell you, it is the finest invention since the Super Cub.
Good evening. Here’s a compelling story from yesteryear about bravery and heroism high in the Talkeetna Mountains, near Hatcher’s Pass.
On November 15, 1957, about 6:30 p.m., a B-29 bomber from Elmendorf Air Force Base with a crew of 10 was returning to base after a radar-calibrating mission farther north. Weather had deteriorated and the ceiling had dropped to below 4,000 feet as they made their way south past Talkeetna. A routine radio report from the aircraft reported no problems. The plane was scheduled to arrive at Elmendorf at 7 p.m.
Staff Sergeant Calvin Campbell, then 34, was assigned to the right scanner position, about mid-point in the aircraft behind the engines. One of his tasks was to monitor the two engines on the right side. Staff Sergeant Robert McMurray had similar duties on the left side. In the pilot seat was Major Robert Butler.
In a recent telephone interview Campbell, now 77, described what happened next
“We were descending toward Elmendorf at good speed, when we hit real hard with no warning. Everything went black…I mean real black. Then we hit again and it felt so cold. It felt like the wings tore off and when I crawled out, I saw that the fuselage was broken into two. We were on a snowy field—I didn’t know at the time it was a glacier. It was so quiet.
“McMurray was right below me, pinned between the fuselage and the observation post. I pulled him out of there. Navigator Lt. Claire Johnson had dragged himself out of the plane and collapsed in the snow nearby. I wrapped them both in parachutes and put Johnson in a sleeping bag that I found in the cargo hold.
“I could hear Sgt. Garza, the flight engineer, yelling from farther up the slope. He was still inside the nose section. It had sheared off and gone up the hill about 500 feet.”
“When I got up to Garza I soon realized he was the only other survivor—it was just the four of us. The pilot, Major Robert A. Butler and the five other officers had all perished. Garza weighed about 140 lbs…it was hard pulling him out. I placed him on a piece of canvas and dragged him down to the others. He had a broken arm and broken leg. I went back to the cargo hold and got more sleeping bags and then got us into the wreckage out of the wind—it felt very cold, but I had extra flight clothing to help cover us up.”
Air Rescue at Elmendorf began its helicopter search at daybreak the following morning, zeroing in on the B-29’s last known position. By 9:30 they found the crash site—on a broad glacial slope at fifty three hundred feet —about a mile northeast of upper Reed Lake. Thanks to Campbell’s decisive actions, the injured men survived the night. They were taken to the hospital at Elmendorf.
“I think we were about 17 degrees off course.” Campbell says. “Too far to the east—put us right into those high mountains.”
Campbell said that except for a scratch over his eye, he was unharmed. He later would suffer complications from frostbitten feet, however, and lose the use of several toes.
Calvin K. Campbell received a special commendation from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Soldier’s Medal, a decoration for valor in a non-combat situation. He retired from the Air Force in 1968.
“I didn’t feel like a hero or anything,” says Campbell. “I just did what I had to do. “The other guys would have done the same thing for me.”
Today, the broken bomber sits on the glacier as a quiet memorial to the six men who died there 43 years ago.
I hiked there with a friend earlier this summer—via upper Reed Lake trail and then over the pass. The wreckage looked surreal, out of place. Here was 50 tons of torn and twisted metal, once with wings stretching about half the length of football field. The pride of the U.S. Air Force in World War II now lay in ruins on a glacier, bent and buckled, wrenched apart, scattered… exposed to the whims of nature.
We walked around the site awhile, took a few photos, afraid to touch anything. Six men had died here. It was unearthly quiet, as Calvin Campbell described it. A cool gust of wind blew up from the valley below. I felt like it was telling us to move on.
After that visit I vowed to find out more about the incident, and eventually located Calvin K. Campbell, who though not in the best of health, was more than willing to talk about the experience. My special thanks to Calvin and Elmendorf’s Historian for help in researching this unique piece of Alaska history.
Samantha and I flew out to the glacier to take a friend on a hike. It was a beautiful fall day and we spent a couple of hours running around on the ice exploring. Sometimes I turn into a little kid out there running around, and I decided to manifest this in a headstand. It’s one of my favorite yoga poses. OK that’s a lie … I tipped-over in about a 1/2 a second but the picture really makes me look talented, but the truth is that Samantha is just really fast with the camera :o)
The mountain on the left is Gunsight Mt. because it has a big notch visible from a more Northern perspective. I just love the sky in this picture and I hope you enjoy it too.
This was a new spot for us and it worked really well. A bit rough but other than that very usable. You can see it is fairly steep because I am only a couple hundred feet from the plane and the picture reveals how quickly it is dropping.
What I am about to describe will get flight instructors everywhere disagreeing with me, but thats ok. When the terrain gets really steep its best to use the altimeter to judge the elevation of your desired touch down spot. Usually this requires a fly-by of sorts. Sometimes its so steep you can’t fly down the strip so you just fly by it, and look out your side window. Once you have the elevation determined fly out-bound and descend about 150-200 feet below your desired touch down spot, before turning in towards the mountain. Once you are on final approach fly straight and level into the mountain until you are a couple hundred feet out, then start adding power and climbing up the mountain until your tires hit. I know, I know, thats not the way I was taught either, but this works well. It’s also safer than flying a descent into rising terrain because it forces you to climb to your spot rather than risking a steep approach on a one way strip that will force you to flare like a maniac, and possibly hit really hard after floating well beyond your touch down spot. The angle between the air strip and your approach path is much less than if you were to descend to your point.
I realize that is pretty special application flying, but we use the technique all the time. I will often hit the ground with the throttle wide open. It requires knowing your airplane and your loaded condition very well. This past summer I was flying into a very steep glacier with a bit of wind blowing and I got into a downdraft that would not allow me to climb. I was totally empty, and it got my attention, I was preparing to land short when the down draft let me go and it was fine. That is why we do not fly into marginal strips when the wind is blowing. I would not have damaged the cub in that scenario, but it would have been a different touchdown point than I had planned and I HATE surprises in the air. So this technique has its limits for sure, but it is a more consistent, safer option than the alternative.
The spot pictured above is not all that steep, but it still required some special attention. In fact I just remembered that on my initial approach to land I lost sight of my touch down spot. You will see in the video that the clients had marked the ice with their towels and I thought the markers would show up really well on final, but when I turned inbound I could not spot them so I bailed off the approach before I was committed and re-memorized my touchdown point. ( I edited that out) The video is an old one and has been on Youtube for several months already but I like it. The footage for the video was taken on the same day that I took this picture and it shows the landing to this strip. I must have been feeling very uncreative, because the name is pretty weak, “Glacier Landing 1” … wow ….. gripping.
This picture was taken deep in the Talkeetna Mountains. Looking at the terrain in the distance you can see why my wife and I promote backpacking trips through our eco-tourism business, Alaska Wilderness Trails (BackPackAK.com). The hills in the Talkeetna Mountains are virtually empty in June and July and somebody with good walking legs can cover 15 miles through some of God’s finest creation. This Photo was taken in August so there is a bit of yellow in the grass and white on the mountain tops, but earlier in the summer it is a brilliant green. There are numerous mountain lakes, waterfalls, and wildlife. The Caribou run through these hills daily and sheep can be seen crawling around in the steeper rock. Most of the streams are easily crossed if you don’t mind getting your feet wet and I know of some awesome grayling fishing holes. Mosquitos are few and far between which is more than can be said for most of South central Alaska. Also you will notice a total absence of underbrush so the hiking is totally uninhibited. Our name, Alaska Wilderness Trails, can be a bit misleading because there is not a trail to be seen anywhere except those left by the caribou. If anybody wants to go on a guided backpacking trip check out my wife’s web site at BackPackAk.com because it is a real Alaskan adventure at a great value.
Every time I see this picture I initially think its a boring image, but then I find myself staring at the layering of colors and I decide I really like it. It’s just not super flattering at first glance. The funny thing is I cannot remember where this was or what I was doing. It appears as though I am on top of a cloud bank but I am not. There are federal regulations prohibiting me from operating over a cloud bank without being able to glide to good VFR conditions. In other words if the engine quits I must at all times be able to glide down without going in the clouds. It makes sense because I do not have an artificial horizon in my instrument panel to maintain wings level once I loose visual reference with the ground. My engine has never unexpectedly quit, but I don’t care, I still don’t fly on top of cloud banks.
Happy New Years everyone ! We’ve got another six hours to go up here in Alaska-land. Hawaii and us will loose the race to the New Year once again. CHEERS !
The weather had been bad for several days and this mountaineering team was left without their scheduled supplies. When the weather finally cleared it was fairly late at night so I did not leave the house until after 9 PM. The snow was fairly soft and I got stuck trying to turn around. This is at about 7000′ elevation and I was loaded with almost 400 lbs of food and supplies. You can tell I was heavy because of the way that tail wheel is digging in. In the Winter I run a tail-ski for added floatation in the powder. But, In the summer the snow is often slippery and compacted so it is nice to have a wheel back-there for added drag to use as an anchor for stopping. It’s great until snow like this when it burrows into the crust like a boat anchor, when I am headed up-hill heavily loaded. The baby bush wheel (pictured above) is usually too fat for a brake and does not float well enough to help out when it gets soft. The baby bush wheel is a fairly new invention and is an awesome piece of equipment in rugged terrain…but not so awesome in the snow. Of course, who is surprised, it was not meant for snow, it’s a wheel :o). I should mention that babybushwheel is my user name on YouTube so if you have not seen any of the 30 videos I have posted you may enjoy this. I also have a new Vimeo page coming that should allow a little higher quality video to be viewed. I have about 300 more unedited video clips that I need to turn into videos as time allows. Keep watching this site because there will be some great new features added after the new year.