Jill Tallman

Juneau mountains’ majesty

June 30, 2008 by Jill W. Tallman, Associate Editor

I can now cross “Flying in Alaska” off my bucket list.

Well, that’s not precisely true. I’ve never had a formal list of things to do before I depart for new horizons. But if I did, “Flying to Alaska” would be near the top, now with a big red check next to it.

Last week I flew a modified Cessna 150 (a Texas taildragger) out of Juneau International. My CFI and affable tour guide was Wallace Long of the Alaska Flight Center. Long provides flight instruction, tailwheel training, and flight reviews and such in the highly polished 150 as well as a Cessna 172. For 1.3 on the Hobbs and a mere $168–less than half of the cost of a floatplane sightseeing tour–I experienced some of the most beautiful sights and fun flying I’ve ever done. Aside from the astounding scenery–a tiny portion of which you see here–a highlight of the trip was a low pass over a backcountry airstrip, about 1,900 feet long.

I can’t wait to go back. If you have an Alaska flying story, please share it in the Comments section.


17 Responses to “Juneau mountains’ majesty”

  1. Andy Bowman Says:


    I’m glad you enjoyed flying from Juneau. my daughter, Son-in-law, and two Grandchildren live in Juneau, a five minute walk from the end of the runway trail. My grandson, Dylan, age 2+ loves to hike the trail and wave to the planes. i decided it would be fun to fly in and surprise him.

    I left indian River, Mi,Y65 on May 8th and arrived in Juneau on May 13th. I flew my homebuilt Rans S-6-S on amphib floats with a Rotax 912S engine. I had not flown it farther than two hours from my home field and it had never spent a night outside my hangar. The total was just under 3000 miles, 18 stops, about 87mph average speed and I got 22mpg most of the way. I flew close to the Alaska Highway for a large portion of the way up. It took three attempts to cross the Coast Mountains and get into Juneau. I ended up not going through the White Pass and over Skagway due to poor visibility in snow showers. I did make it through the Taku River pass on my second attempt. As you said, the scenery is beautiful.

    I returned via a differnt route leaving on May 19th and arriving at Y65 on May 28th. The return took three days longer due to some weather delays. This was truely a great adventure and I highly recommend you next fly to Alaska. I have some pictures if you are interested.

    Andy Bowman

  2. Kathryn Potere Says:

    I’ve never flown in Alaska, but I look forward to the opportunity when I start my internship this fall in Seattle! I’m hoping to take a weekend trip to somewhere in Alaska and maybe get the opportunity to fly up there! Thanks for the stories! :-)

  3. Glenn Plymate Says:

    How ironic I would see your refreshing story about flying at JNU and the mention of Wallace Long in your blog. I had just written a piot-friend only yesterday telling him about things to do on a cruise to Alaska. In Sep 2006 I was on a cruise with my two pilot-sons and daugher-in-law. One son had wanted to fly in Alaska so I spent a couple weeks on the phone prior to the cruise trying to find an airplane to rent. Other son and wife, being from Arizona, wanted to experience a glacier tour so spent more than $900 on a guided adventure by helicopter.

    I was only only able to find one rental airplane in all of SE Alaska — a 172 belonging to a guy in Juneau (this was Wallace Long). He met us in town near the Red Dog Saloon and took us to his plane at Juneau International. After 30 minutes of briefing, off we went with him in the right seat, son in the left. We flew out to the edge of Glacier Bay, did some T&Gs at Gustavus. Then traded seats, did some airwork and lots of spectacular sight-seeing. Son logged 1.0 hr and I got in 1.5. It was a FABULOUS experience and I would recommend it to anyone. We didn’t get to walk on a glacier but our adventure cost only a third of what the glaicer trekker’s did.

    We didn’t get to see the Texas Taildragger; it was in a closed hangar. But we did fly the 172. Also, the picture in the article shows exceptional weather, nothing like we had
    the day we flew. Your article is good publicity for Wallace, and for flying in Alaska . I hope it gets published in AOPA Pilot so more prospective pilot-adventurers will see it.

    Thanks for mentioning Wallace and reminding me of the most stupendous highlight of our Alaska cruise.

    AOPA 196380

  4. John B. Ervin Says:

    Alaska is awesome! In 2005, I was able to fly Alaska in a C-182T and see the incredible sights. So majectic and too many stories to tell but the highlight of the trip for me was to circle Mt McKinely at 23,320 feet in the 182.

    The trip started in Medford Oregon with stops along the way but including Port Hardy, BC, Ketchikan, Juneau, Anchorage, Cordova, Valdez, Yukatat, and Sitka. The scenery was awesome. The flying experience has been invaluable. Words do not do justice to describe the vastness of Alaska. Sewards purchase was a steal!.

  5. Field Morey Says:

    For those that would like a guided trip to Alaska in a Cessna T182T with G1000 it is something I schedule once a month in the summer leaving from Medford,OR. John Irvin is a client,read his comments above. Stop and visit our booth at AOPA Expo this November in San Jose!

    Field Morey
    Morey’s West Coast Adventure

  6. Jim C. Says:

    Good for you Jill, and yes if there is one thing every person needs to have on their bucket list it is definatley Flying in Alaska!!! I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to Fly a Helicopter from Louisianna to Juneau, Alaska to spend the summer months giving Glacier Tours and Dogsledding Tours and it was one of the best experiences of my life!!! I gave tours last summer there and wished I could have gone back, maybe next year. I cannot tell you how many of my passengers cried during the tour because of the pure splendor and beauty, it was absolutely Awesome. JUST DO IT !!!! it may seem a little expensive to some, but trust me when I tell you every single person who flew with me said it was the best money they ever spent and Truly the highlight of their entire trip.

  7. Richard Huff Says:

    Flying in Alaska is great. I have flown here since 1980 and in 2001 left Alaska and now live in the winters in Texas and return each year in May and leave in Oct to go back for the winter. The trip in our PA28 is about 30 hrs of flying and the route we like the best is up the coast. Just watch the weather close and pick your days. Ice can be a problem, and the MEA’s are high. Everyone should fly up here at least once. It is a great country.

  8. John B. Ervin Says:

    If you are thinking about a trip to Alaska be sure to visit with Field Morey of Morey’s West Coast Adventure. Field puts the trip together and expertly guides you. If you have never been it’s the only way to go.

  9. Ken Graham Says:

    Hi, Jill–Thanks for your refreshing article about your adventure in the Alaska Panhandle.
    You remind us that we don’t need to own a plane to enjoy remote flying. Find a good instructor, and experience the thrill.

    We can also do this as renter pilots. Twice I’ve rented planes from Edmonton Flying Club for frontier flying. An article I wrote, “Fly the North As a Renter Pilot”, appears on http://www.foxvalleyflyingclub.com in Aug 2007 about such a trip. A second trip, done with a friend, went to Alaska.

    Tip for your readers. Enter Alaska through Eagle from Dawson, Yukon Territory. Leave by flying to Old Crow, YT. This town has no road connection to the outside world. And Canadian Customs will clear you there, often by phone. “Enter and leave Alaska clockwise” is the tip.

    May you return to Alaska flying many times. Flying there is one thing that should never be crossed off the “Bucket List”.

  10. Gary King Says:

    Jill: Many years ago, while serving with the Air Force in Alaska in 1975/76, I had the pleasure of getting some of the most memorable GA flying I could imagine in. A retiring Air Force sergeant befriended me while stationed in California, where he bought a 1948 Stinson 108 Voyager which he was going to take back to Alaska. He took a job with the FAA in Anchorage and I was stationed up north in Fort Yukon. Over the course of the next year, I had several ocassions to return to Anchorage on leave, and to meet up with Bill and his Stinson. He owned five acres on the banks of the Deshka River, where he had a cabin. Several times we flew out to the Deshka and spent up to a week fishing and hunting the river in summer, and trapping in winter. He had floats, skiis, and tundra tires for that old plane, depending on the season. From the air, I’ve seen Dahl sheep, bear, moose, and wolf. There’s no better way to see that vast land than out the window of an airplane. Bill became a CFI and I even have a few hours of dual instruction in my logbook for that airplane.

    Gary King, Captain, USAF retired

  11. Dwayne Rolfson Says:

    Wow. The foregoing essays on flying in Alaska really jog memories. I believe I had the epitome of Alaska flying in the “good old days”. My good friend, Burton D. Calkins and I purchased a Boeing PT17 Stearman, N61427 for the immense sum of $1500 ..,while stationed at Elmendorf Field (Anchorage) 1946 thru 1948 in the Army Air Force, thence US Air Force (1947)…. We made various flights during those years in the open-cockpit biplane (Real Flying)…To Kenai, Seward, Mt McKinley Park, Fairbanks, etc., many trips to Willow Airstrip and hikes to then primitive Nancy lake to go fishing in a rubber life-raft on the lake, and sleeping in jungle- hammoks at night to frustrate the giant mosquitoes. Some flights in the winter, only had to brush light powder snow off the wings… During that sojourn also had C47 flights around the top of Mt Mckinley, flights to Nome, Pt. Barrow, Barter Island in the Arctic, Big Delta, Yakutat, and Annette Island. Drinking in the fantastic scenery on every flight. Vast stretches of seemingly untouched wilderness.. Ah, those were reallty the “good old days”..
    Dwayne Rolfson C333780, AOPA 15897….

  12. Stephen DeBock Says:

    My first-ever flying was done in Alaska, the result of winning a department store contest to fish the Anglers Paradise Camps in Katmai National Monument. I flew into ANC aboard a DC-7C (this was in 1959; I was 17), thence to King Salmon in a Fairchild F-27 propjet, and finally to the Brooks River Camp aboard a C-310 on floats.

    The camp stood on the shore of Naknek Lake. The crystalline water revealed a constant dark line, which indicated the backs of myriad silver salmon entering the river to spawn. Pumice stone from the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes comprised the lakeshore. And some forty miles away, those volcanic peaks puffed white smoke into the otherwise pristine sky.

    Alden Williams, the lead pilot, took me under his wing (so to speak) and allowed me to sit right seat during jaunts to the other fishing camps. On one such flight, we passed over a huge meadow, in the center of which stood a lone tree. And reaching into that tree was a mama grizzly (brownie, to Alaskans), with two cubs waiting to see what she would bring down for them to eat.

    “Want to get closer?” asked Alden, and I nodded, remembering the Sky King radio shows that had occupied much of my youth. We buzzed the meadow, a few hundred feet above ground level, and the cubs bolted; mama swung a paw at us, looking like King Kong and just as perturbed. The second pass was lower, with the same result. The third time, even mama took off, as the floats seemed barely to clear the tree.

    On a later day, fishing back at Brooks, we could see that the smoke from Mount Martin had turned from white to black. Ed Steinauer, the manager, gathered some of us to muscle the Cessna from its dock to a protected cove, where we tied it to the trees. Good thing, as the wind caused by the eruption would’ve played hob with the plane had it been left at its normal mooring. The most striking event, though, was the sky: it turned red and stayed that color for two days.

    Jill, as you know, photographs can’t do justice to the grandeur that is The Great Land. While at the Kulik camp, I happened upon a magazine article about fishing in Alaska, complete with a full-page color photo of Kulik. I looked up from the photo to the actual area it represented, and shook my head. The picture couldn’t compare to the three-dimensional, in-your-face experience of seeing it in person. And seeing it from the air–the lakes, rivers, forests, and snow-covered “purple mountains’ majesty”–defines sublime.

    My trip lasted two weeks. When I landed in Anchorage, Alaska was still a territory; when I took off for home, it had become our 49th state.

  13. Mary Beth Price Says:

    I also got to fly in Alaska for the first time. In June I flew commercial into Fairbanks and took the train to Talkeentna where I got my float plane rating at Alaska Floats and Skis. What a treat. Not only did I get 3 full days of flying into remore lakes, Don Lee (the owner of flight school) let me take the controls and we flew up the glaciers surrounding Mt. McKinley. My personal favorite was once when we were “clearing the lake” for landing, we had to do a go-around and wait for the mamma moose and her baby to cross.

    Encourage any wanna Alaska flyers to look into http://www.alaskafloats.com.
    Lovely cabin, great hostpitality, beyond all expectations!

  14. Irv Frost Says:

    I just came back from a two week tour of Alaska which included a flight all the way up to Prudhoe Bay, as well as Fairbanks, Anchorage, Homer, Ketchikan, and places in between. This was a group of 13 planes lead by a guide from LetsflyAlaska.com. We flew only vfr at altitudes around 1000′ AGL through the mountain passes and over the glaciers in a loose formation. We left from Olympia, Washington, passing through Quesnel, B.C. and Whitehorse, Yukon territory. The views and photos were spectacular.

  15. C Cozad Says:

    If you really want to experiance Alaska come on up to the Big Lake area. I have three cubs,2 PA-18,s and a J-3. Come on up and I would be happy to give some dual either on floats, whells or ski’s depending on the time of year. Better yet come up in May and put a booth in the Alaska Airmens trade show and then have a lot of fun in seeing both Denalli area as well as Prince William sound. Regards, Chuck Cozad

  16. Jill Tallman Says:

    Wow, thanks for all the comments! I’m very late to answering, but Chuck’s kind invitation was too good to pass up. I’d love to get a float rating in Alaska, as Mary Beth did.

    Mary Beth, be sure to read Katie Writer’s article, “Living the Dream,” June 2005 Flight Training–here’s the link. http://www.aopa.org/members/ftmag/article.cfm?article=5328

    Glenn: I had planned to fly Wallace’s 172. He picked me up in town, along with my 13-year-old son, who was to ride in the back. But the 172 was down for maintenance and we didn’t get the call in time, so my son was parked in the FBO–a trailer–with his iPod for two hours while I did the flight. Oh well–I made it up to him with an extra souvenir.

    Stephen: Your comment, “photographs can’t do justice to the grandeur that is The Great Land,” is absolutely true. But we sure took a lot of photos anyway.

    Thanks everybody!

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