Talking GA in the Beehive State

Since joining AOPA as our Northwest Mountain Regional manager three years ago, I’ve had many opportunities to visit all seven of the beautiful states I cover.  But by virtue of few aviation issues to address, Utah has not been as frequent a destination for me as my other six states.  I was able to rectify that last week, however, as I at last had an opportunity to spend several days in the Salt Lake Valley, participating in a variety of productive aviation functions and meetings.

My first stop after arriving at KSLC was to visit with Pat Morley, a great friend of GA (and an AOPA member) who is the Director of the Utah Division of AeronauticsB4bHjJaCUAARVysI’ve known Pat for nearly 13 years, since my time as the airport manager in St. George, Utah.  You’d be hard-pressed to find a harder working, more dedicated aviation professional.  With minimal resources, Pat and his small staff do a fantastic job supporting the maintenance and improvement of Utah’s 47 public use airports.  Utah is a great example of effective application of GA revenues- 100% of GA fuel taxes and aircraft registration fees collected are allocated to the Aeronautics Division, where they are invested back into the state’s airport and aviation system.  The Aeronautics Division also operates the state’s general aviation aircraft, efficiently transporting state employees between the state’s far-flung communities that are often difficult to reached easily by road.  It was great seeing Pat again, and finally seeing his operation first hand.

The primary reason for my trip to SLC, however, was to represent AOPA and GA at the annual Runway Safety Summit, presented by the American Association of IMG_1063Airport Executives (AAAE) and the Salt Lake City Department of Airports.  This valuable two day event focused on how GA, airlines, airports, air traffic control, FAA and others are collaborating to improve runway safety, minimize runway incursions, and keep airports and their users safe.  I participated on a panel that addressed “Preventing GA Runway Incursions”, where I discussed GA cockpit technology evolution, as well as products and devices like Foreflight and IPads available to pilots to improve situational awareness and help minimize incursions.  I also briefed attendees on the AOPA Air Safety Institute’s excellent training resources for GA pilots on runway safety, which were developed in partnership with FAA.  If you haven’t seen them, have a look.  And don’t forget to have a look outside that cockpit and avoid those incursions!

What I was most excited about on this trip, however, was my evening visit on Tuesday December 9th to the South Valley Regional Airport in West Jordan, south of SLC.  Just a few short years ago, this GA reliever airport to KSLC was struggling, with little activity and lackluster aviation services.  All that changed three years ago when local pilots Don and Scott Weaver opened Leading Edge Aviation. In that short time, with the strong support of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports, the Weavers have B4eArgNCQAAVeC_developed and fostered a thriving GA community, and the airport is vibrant and re-energized.  Each month, the Weaver’s host a monthly dinner and meeting for GA users on the airport, and I was fortunate to participate in December’s dinner while I was there.  We all enjoyed a fantastic meal prepared by the Weaver’s, and I updated the group on AOPA’s latest advocacy efforts, and our initiatives to grow GA.  This airport is a perfect example of the camaraderie, fun and engaging social community aspect of GA that AOPA President Mark Baker talks so much about.  If you want to see how successful a GA airport can be, drop in to U42 some time.

I finished up my trip with a visit to the Ogden-Hinckley Airport (KOGD), a very busy GA reliever about 30 miles north of SLC.  I met with our Airport Support Network Volunteer Bob Foxley to discuss a variety of airport topics that AOPA is engaged with, including challenges faced by GA tenants and users as a result of Allegiant Airlines’ two weekly flights, and TSA regulations and their impact on the rest of the airport.  We also B4h-9TcCAAAevPBdiscussed the airport’s rules and regulations and how AOPA can help airports like KOGD implement rules and regulations that are reasonable, fair and not overly burdensome.  And while at KOGD, I was treated to a rare sight of not one, but two airworthy Grumman Albatrosses.  Thanks to the gracious staff at CB Aviation I was able to check out the interior, and even get a chance to sit up front!

And with a few hours to kill before my flight home, and being the true avgeek that I’ve always been, I finally was able to visit the Hill Air Force Base Aerospace Museum, a B4mJem0CYAA3Plafantastic and comprehensive collection of military aircraft, including the world’s only C-model SR-71.  If you ever have free time in Salt Lake City, this is definitely a place not to miss.

Although I was in Utah for just three days, my time there was incredibly worthwhile, and I thoroughly enjoyed talking with a variety of GA professionals and enthusiasts about AOPA and our advocacy, as well as our shared love of flying and all things aviation.  To keep tabs on all that AOPA is working on in Utah and at state and local levels across the country, be sure to check out our regional advocacy pages.  I look forward to seeing you in your state in 2015!

 

 

Cold Temperature Restricted Airports in Central SW Region

In temperatures below standard, an aircraft’s true altitude is below that is indicated. This is especially critical at high altitude airports where the error is exaggerated and a pilot flying the published altitudes on an instrument approach may be several hundred feet below the indicated altitude. Per AIM 7-2-3, pilots should apply temperature corrections to all altitudes while not in radar contact. An E6B or the ICAO Cold Temperature Error Table in AIM 7-2-3 can provide the pilot with the appropriate data.

In addition, the FAA has identified “cold temperature restricted airports.” A symbol will be placed on the approach plates for the restricted airports. The symbol indicates a cold temperature altitude correction is required on that particular approach when reported temperature is at or below the published temperature. Pilots are responsible for applying altitude corrections and advising ATC when these corrections have been made.

Note that temperatures for Cold Temperature Restricted Airports are completely separate from the temperatures published on RNAV approaches. Temperature restrictions on RNAV approaches must be followed, even if warner than temperature listed with the snowflake symbol.

The following airports in the Central Southwest Region are affected:

  • New Mexico: 2 airports. KAXX Angel Fire and KSKX Taos.
  • Texas: None.
  • Louisiana: None.
  • Oklahoma: None.
  • Arkansas: None.
  • Kansas: None.
  • Missouri: None.
  • Nebraska: 1 airport. KCDR Chadron.
  • Iowa: 8 airports. KALO Waterloo, KAMW Ames, KBRL Southeast Iowa, KCWI Clinton, KDBQ Dubuque, KIIB Independence, KIKV Ankeny, and KSPW Spencer.

Here is the entire list of airports affected with the temperature restrictions and segments of the approach to which the restrictions apply: http://aeronav.faa.gov/d-tpp/Cold_Temp_Restricted_Airports_List.pdf

For more information about this, take a look at the FAA’s FAASTeam Notice from December 12, 2014.

Mat Su CTAF Areas on Terminal Area Chart

As of May 29, 2014 the FAA made a significant change to how Common Traffic Advisory Frequencies (CTAFs) were allocated in the Mat Su Valley, north of Anchorage. In addition to changing the CTAF assignments of almost 80 individual airports and assigning them to 36 airport that previously didn’t have one designated, they defined specific geographic areas along the bulk of the Matanuska and Susitna River valleys. Initially this information was officially released as a diagram in the Notices section of the Alaska Supplement. Recently, it got easier to see the areas assigned to specific radio frequencies.  In the November 13th edition of the Anchorage/Fairbanks Terminal Area Chart (TAC), an inset was added just below the IFR Traffic Flow map.

This inset if found under the IFR traffic flow diagram on the ANC/FAI Terminal Area Chart.

This inset if found under the IFR traffic flow diagram on the ANC/FAI Terminal Area Chart.

When not in contact with ATC, pilots are encouraged to use these frequencies to increase situational awareness in the areas depicted on this chart.  Pilots should use CTAF frequencies specifically to communicate aircraft location and intentions to other aircraft or to a Flight Service Station. Other air-to-air communications should be conducted on 122.75 or a company frequency to avoid congestion.
For more on the Mat Su CTAF Areas, see AOPA’s blog, with links to a Google Earth map and other information.

WE CAN MAKE 2015 A GOOD YEAR FOR GENERAL AVIATION

I first read Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING as a teenager, and I’ve read it a few more times since. Positive thinking works. I have tried to instill its principles in my children, grandchildren and friends.

For those of us living in the real world, there is certainly a lot to be concerned about and we can’t change much of that alone but brought down to our own, much smaller world, closer to home, there is a lot we can do with a positive attitude and a little bit of deliberate effort. It feels good to make a difference. I think it’s a responsibility!

So, if you will join me in the coming year, I have some suggestions about how we can make a difference in General Aviation in 2015:

There are already some signs of better times in the industry press, so lets put together a plan and follow through with it… starting with a positive attitude!

There is a very real possibility that the a Driver’s License Medical NPRM will surface during the first quarter. During the customary comment period, we need to put together some very good input for FAA. Watch the AOPA website for guidance and do all you can to help with that effort.

Familiarize yourself with AOPA’s “Rusty Pilots” initiative. There are lots of us who are rusty, including me, and we can get back in the air easier than you think. Learn about this and spread the word to your friends… take them with you when you go to the airport and just “hang out”. We need to resurrect some old “airport bums” and restore that great camaraderie at the airport. And… most impromptu invitations to “go flying” occur in the lobby at the airport.

Look for local airport events like breakfasts and fly-ins and go to them. These things aren’t expensive and you will have a great time. Don’t just go once and don’t just go to one!

In an earlier blog I pointed out the importance of making sure we are voting for people at the local, state and national level that support general aviation. With that in mind, we need to cultivate those relationships as well as those that may not yet be in our corner. Make sure your airport in “engaged” in your community. Get youngsters involved at your airport and promote aviation education. Be a catalyst for airport events that support local non-profit organizations, attend local government meetings, have an airport reception for your locally elected state officials and come up with other unique ideas to get everyone thinking positively about your airport and general aviation. Invite your friends expand their lives by learning to fly.

One more, really important thing… make it a personal goal to get a new or renewed AOPA member every month during the coming year! There’s strength in numbers.

If we each will do some of these things we will make a real difference and we will feel good about ourselves too. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Aviation Resources for Parents and Students

As I travel around and meet people interested in learning to fly, I always struggle to send them to one web page where they can get all the information they ask for to get started, tailored to their state/city, and without having to dig through several links within a website. I always start off with AOPA’s AV8RS membership (ages 13-18 years old) or the free 6-month membership to AOPA so they can start getting the wonderful AOPA Flight Training magazine right away. Then, I can send them to the AOPA website (www.aopa.org) where there is sooo much information that they can get lost or to the flighttraining.aopa.org but it does not have all the information they are usually looking for, such as scholarships. So, I decided to create a document with a list of links that would take them directly to the information they need (national, state, and local information as it relates to the Central Southwest Region). The document I have developed is focused mainly towards Middle School and High School students and their parents but it is also very helpful for adults. Some of the information applies regardless of age.

Resources for Parents and Students

Good luck with flight training and let me know if we can help you with anything. I always like to hear from student pilots… so please send me an e-mail with your progress and pictures: yasmina.platt@aopa.org or Twitter name @AOPACentralSW. Your enthusiasm and progress can be enough motivation for someone else to get started and become a pilot =)

The Magic of First GA Flights

If you’ve been reading our AOPA eBrief messages here in early November, you’ve no doubt seen our informal poll asking pilots if they’ve ever given someone their first flight in a general aviation aircraft.  As did about 96% of other respondents, I too was able to answer “yes”.  And as I did, I recalled with fondness both the first and latest GA flights I’ve shared with someone else.

Like many newly minted private pilots, my first passenger was a family member- in my case it was my dad, on the very same day I took my checkride.  To that day, he had never before flown in an aircraft without a flight attendant.  Yet bravely, he joined me, his low time, twenty year old son, in the right seat of a well-worn Cessna 172 that I had just been checked out in literally minutes before.  On that December day in 1988, my logbook shows a whopping total of 5.7 hours of flying on my first day as a private pilot- 1.5 for my private pilot checkride, 1.3 hours for a checkout in “Nancy Tango”, our flight school’s venerable Cessna 172, and 2.9 hours of flying with my dad.

IMG_0798Although I don’t recall much about that flight, we flew cross country from Erie/Tri-County Airport, northeast of Denver (then 48V, now KEIK) through what was then the Denver TCA to Pueblo, Colorado and back.  I remember how proud I was to finally be a pilot and ecstatic that my dad was with me on this first flight.  I remember how proud my dad was that he flew with me first, and how cool flying over downtown Denver in a GA aircraft was.  In new pilot cool, however, all I thought to note was “First flight after checkride- dad’s first flight”.  In today’s world,where even the most mundane daily events seem to be relentlessly documented and shared, it seems strange that I didn’t think to take at least a couple of pictures that momentous day.

Fast forward over 23 years.  This past May, I again was able to again relish the joy of giving someone their first flight in a GA aircraft-  in this case five year old Aidan from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  Aidan’s dad works with my wife, and Aidan’s family was soon headed for Disney World via the airlines.  Aidan had never been on an airplane, and his parents wanted him to see one up close first, even if it wasn’t a brand new 737.

IMG_0803So on that beautiful Sunday morning last May, my wife and I headed from Felts Field (KSFF) in Spokane over to Coeur d’Alene (KCOE) in a Cessna 172 (ironcially of the exact same vintage as the one I flew my dad) to provide young Aidan and his family (right) with their first glimpse of general aviation, his family’s first flights in a general aviation aircraft, and Aidan’s first flight in an aircraft- ever.

IMG_0787First, I flew Aidan’s mom and his ten year old sister around the Coeur d’Alene area, enjoying views of Lake Coeur d’Alene, Hayden Lake, Mount Spokane and the beauty that is northern Idaho.  It was smooth and clear- a perfect spring day for flying in the northern Rockies.  Next up was Aidan and his dad.  As much as I wanted Aidan to be able to sit up front, the 172′s weight and balance (and comfort) dictated that his 6’4″ dad occupy the right seat.  With Aidan sitting up on his booster seat and buckled into the back, the incessant happy chatter over the intercom was

Aidan Opines on His First Airplane Ride Ever...
Aidan Opines on His First Airplane Ride Ever…

 

infectious.  He giggled and shrieked and pointed out everything he saw as we taxiied out and took off, finding his house and school in short order.  As we flew over Lake Coeur d’Alene, he marveled incessantly about the lake and the boats and the interstate and the bridges and the houses.  And then, for a few startling seconds, he abuptly became quiet.

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Aidan’s View of Lake Coeur d’Alene

Concerned that he was suddenly not enjoying himself, I started to turn around to look at him, when he stated quite enthusiastically, but in a somewhat deeper and reverent tone “I think I can see the future from up here!”

And that, from a five year old who had never been in an airplane before, is probably the most prophetic comment I’ve ever heard from anyone about the joys of general aviation.

So help spread that joy, and introduce someone to GA.  Take that person for their first flight so that they too can see the future from up here.

 

Our General Aviation Experience in Central Switzerland and Northern Italy

My husband Jared and I recently came back from a trip to Switzerland (CH for easier reference) and Northern Italy and, of course, we carved out some time to learn a bit about their general aviation (GA) system and activity and do some flying around such beautiful scenery.

Prior to our trip, I did some research and made some contacts along our proposed route to identify interesting flying activities and airports to visit. I have found that the International Council of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and Google Earth are my biggest allies when doing this sort of thing.

Disclosure: This, like all other international trips my husband and I have taken and blogged about, are not paid for or organized by AOPA.

Our first stop was to the Militärflugplatz airport (LSMA) in Alpnach after some canyoning (or canyoneering). This was our second time crossing an active runway by car. The first time was at the Gibraltar International Airport although the experiences were quite different. The road crossing the Alpnach airport was not nearly as busy as the one in Gibraltar.

Google’s satellite image of the Militärflugplatz Alpnach airport

Google’s satellite image of the Militärflugplatz Alpnach airport

(In case you were wondering since it shows up on the Google image… RUAG Aviation is a Swiss company that handles maintenance, repair, overhaul, modifications/upgrades, manufacturing and integration of subsystems on aircraft. They also do a lot of the maintenance on airports and produce the Dornier 228 Next Generation turboprop in Germany.)

The Alpnach Airport as viewed from the mountain west of the field

The Alpnach Airport as viewed from the mountain west of the field

Car crossing across the runway in Alpnach

Car crossing across the runway in Alpnach

Sign explaining airport operations and the procedures for crossing the runway

Sign explaining airport operations and the procedures for crossing the runway

Notice the mountains all around the area, probably making the approaches into the Alpnach airport quite interesting and fun.

Alpnach airport and runway looking north

Alpnach airport and runway looking north

Alpnach airport and runway looking south

Alpnach airport and runway looking south

If there is one thing we have learned as we travel around different countries… it’s that it does not matter where people are born, where they live, how old they are, what they look like, what their background is or what they do for a living… most of us are amazed at the beauty of flight and we have a tendency to stop and look for aircraft when we hear them flying overhead (or call it ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder, when it comes to aircraft flying). Below is one example in Alpnach. This gentleman was watching a Pilatus PC-7 doing aerobatics over the airport.

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On Wednesday, we went to the Buochs AG airport (LSZC) in Stans where Airport Manager Thomas Bienz and Operations Manager Jan Spycher (who also serves as AOPA Switzerland‘s Airport Liaison – our form of an Airport Support Network (ASN) Volunteer) gave us a wonderful tour of their facilities prior to taking a tour of the home-based Pilatus Aircraft factory.

Google’s satellite image of the Buochs airport

Google’s satellite image of the Buochs airport

Thomas, Yasmina and Jan by the ATC tower and airport management offices

Thomas, Yasmina and Jan by the ATC tower and airport management offices. I should mention that Jan was only wearing a military uniform because he was serving his annual military duty, not because his airport job requires it :)

They had some interesting things at their airport… a closed runway where two groups were test driving cars (one group was driving Porsches, the others were driving high-end cars of different brands), bunkers inside the mountain where the Swiss military used to store military jets (they used to line them up and use a lift to bring the aircraft they needed forward), not very often seen hangars with exhaust escapes so pilots could start their engines inside the hangar prior to taxiing out while keeping the aircraft warm and away from the weather, city roads running across taxiways, and, of course, lots of Pilatus aircraft flying around doing training, intro flights, and practicing aerobatics, etc.

Closed runway being used by car enthusiasts

Closed runway being used by car enthusiasts

One of the aircraft bunkers

One of the aircraft bunkers

One of the hangars with an exhaust escape (airplane should have been turned around to use it)

One of the hangars with an exhaust escape (airplane should have been turned around to use it)

Buochs’ active runway

Buochs’ active runway

A Pilatus Porter PC-6 departing the Buochs airport

A Pilatus Porter PC-6 departing the Buochs airport

Prior to visiting Buochs, I had never heard of the AC4 Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) manufactured by Lightwing Aircraft, also headquartered in Stans. It’s too bad because I would have loved to visit with them and learned more about the aircraft. Oh well! It’s now on the list for a future trip to the area… and at least we had a chance to see their prototype flying.

“Ops vehicle 1, hold short of taxiway, give way to AC4”

“Ops vehicle 1, hold short of taxiway, give way to AC4”

Thomas is also a proud AOPA member and Diamond aircraft owner and displays so in his car. It always put a smile on my face when I see this as a member and staffer myself.

Thomas' car w stickers

Following the airport tour, we visited the Pilatus Aircraft factory with Jan and Jörg Ruckstuhl, Sales Manager for the PC-12. Pilatus has over 1,700 employees in Stans, making it one of Central Switzerland’s largest employers.

Jorg, Yasmina and Jan in front of the first PC-12 prototype from 1991

Jorg, Yasmina and Jan in front of the first PC-12 prototype from 1991

The name of the aircraft manufacturer comes from nearby Mount Pilatus (picture shown later). Legend has it that this almost 7,000 feet peak was named after “Pontius Pilate,” whose corpse was thrown into a lake on its summit and whose restless ghost has haunted its height ever since. However, I also read that “Pileatus” is the Latin word for “cloud covered” as the mountain frequently is. Take your pick!

Pilatus is staying pretty busy building a combination of business (PC-6 and PC-12) and military aircraft (PC-7, PC-9 and PC-21) as well as designing their upcoming PC-24 – their first jet, also designed for short, unprepared runways. It was interesting to learn that most of their military aircraft are currently heading over to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). We could not take pictures of those aircraft (although I can tell you that they were beautiful and looked like a lot of fun to fly!) but we were able to take some of the PC-12s in their final stages of completion. We learned that aircraft coming here to the United States are finished to customer specifications (interior and exterior) at the Colorado factory. The remainder of the aircraft are normally completely finished in Stans and flown to the customers with Swiss temporary registration numbers (HB).

This PC-12 was going to Poland (SP) the next day with a temporary HB registration.

This PC-12 was going to Poland (SP) the next day with a temporary HB registration. Notice the two registration numbers.

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Pilatus works with Albuquerque’s Bendix King for onboard weather radars

Pilatus works with Albuquerque’s Bendix King for onboard weather radars

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We were pretty impressed with the work done in the factory and happily surprised with the amount of construction they had: a recently built parking deck for employees and a new logistics hangar going up. We were especially impressed with the metal machines and skills, possibly because we had never seen that before. It is interesting to see the blocks of metals they receive, how they make most pieces of the aircraft and then compress and resale the excess metal they can no longer use.

Blocks of metals Pilatus receives

Blocks of metals Pilatus receives

Sample of an airplane metal part – this one of the belly of the PC-12

Sample of an airplane metal part – this one of the belly of the PC-12

Container full of compacted metal pieces ready to be sold

Container full of compacted metal pieces ready to be sold

While there, we learned that the Pilatus plant was used for the movie Goldfinger where James Bond crashed an Aston Martin DB5 and was captured. I also realized that AOPA and Pilatus had at least one thing in common… they were both founded in 1939 and, therefore, both are celebrating 75 years this year. Big accomplishment for both organizations!

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And, after both of those awesome tours and a flat tire on the rental car, we were able to squeeze in the flight of a lifetime for both Jared and I. We had arranged a flight around the area with Stephan Willi in HB-PHG, a 1981 Piper Archer II, from Kägiswil airfield (LSPG), located north of Sarnen and just a few miles south of Alpnach.

Google’s satellite image of the Kägiswil airfield

Google’s satellite image of the Kägiswil airfield

The aircraft and flight instructor belong to a local flying club. The combination of having Stephan as our flight instructor (a great and very knowledgeable person who explained to us how GA works in CH) with a great flying aircraft and a beautiful area… made our one hour flight one to remember forever. I flew the circular route that took us around Alpnach, Mount Pilatus, Luzern, Buochs, Mount Titlis, Interlaken and the Swiss Alps but Stephan was PIC because he was the one who handled all the radio calls (in English, I must add, since other European countries use their own native language) and kept us away from airspace, noise sensitive areas, etc. The elevation at the airport was around 1,500’ MSL so we climbed to 10,000’ to stay above most of the peaks in the area.

Sectional of the area showing tricky airspace between restricted areas, towered airports and high elevation terrain

Sectional of the area showing tricky airspace between restricted areas, towered airports and high elevation terrain

Daily airspace bulletin for Switzerland… like our TFR map with airspace notams

Daily airspace bulletin for Switzerland… like our TFR map with airspace notams. They are currently in a test/trial program so they are not currently charging for these but they may in the future.

Sectional legend explaining their (and other European country’s) airspace classifications

Sectional legend explaining their (and other European country’s) airspace classifications

Wow! So fun! Writing this blog is making me want to go back now… I will show you some pictures but they don’t do the scenery justice.

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The runway was almost wider than long, haha, and somewhat uneven for what we are used to in the U.S.

The runway was almost wider than long, haha, and somewhat uneven for what we are used to in the U.S.

Mount Pilatus out of the left window

Mount Pilatus out of the left window

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Downtown Luzern and its famous Church Bridge, Water Tower, and the Musegg Wall with some of its nine towers

The lake by Luzern

The lake by Luzern

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Yours truly, happy as can be, with the Swiss Alps in the background

Yours truly, happy as can be, with the Swiss Alps in the background

The treeline around the Swiss Alps is about 7,200 feet, which means trees (and other vegetation) can no longer grow and live.

The treeline around the Swiss Alps is about 7,200 feet, which means trees (and other vegetation) can no longer grow and live.

Most high peaks in the area had clouds attached to it.

Most high peaks in the area had clouds attached to it.

Glaciers were also very common in the Swiss Alps.

Glaciers were also very common in the Swiss Alps.

Interlaken's water color is turquoise because of all the water it receives from the glaciers.

Interlaken’s water color is turquoise because of all the water it receives from the glaciers.

Flying over the Flugplatz Meiringen airport, starting our approach back to home base

Flying over the Flugplatz Meiringen airport, starting our approach back to home base

On approach back to Kägiswil… flying over the middle of the lake while keeping some altitude to avoid noise sensitive areas over town

On approach back to Kägiswil… flying over the middle of the lake while keeping some altitude to avoid noise sensitive areas over town

This was one of those approaches where being on your airspeeds was key to help with the increased descent angle (but yet slow) past obstacles. Immediately after touch down, a car attempted to cross the runway but, luckily, he stopped when he saw me and I was able to stop before reaching that point on the runway.

Stephan and I after putting the aircraft in the hangar for the night

Stephan and I after putting the aircraft in the hangar for the night

My husband Jared was particularly intrigued by the airplane lift the flying club had in the hangar to be able to fit more aircraft. He sent it to several mechanic friends here at home.

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You may also be interested to know how much that one hour flight was… well, 245 CHF (Swiss francs) or about $260 wet with the instructor and a $10 landing fee. Yes, more expensive than here in the U.S., but totally worth every penny for the experience. However, considering regular car gas was around 1.50 CHF per liter (or about $6 per gallon!)… I did not think the flight was too expensive in relation. The Lugano Airport, close to where we spent the night that night, was selling avgas for 278.70 CHF per 100 liters. That equates to about 10.55 CHF per gallon or $11.15 per gallon. Who says 100LL is expensive in the U.S.? ;)

We then crossed the border into Italy where we visited the Aero Club Como (and, yes, George Clooney has a house nearby since everybody asks…). They claim to be “the oldest seaplane operation and flight school in the world“ so, of course, we wanted to see it. They were founded on April 6th, 1930 and you can read more about their history on their website (some of which is in Italian). Unfortunately, airplane maintenance and weather prevented us from seaplane flying around Lake Como. Nevertheless, we enjoyed seeing their facility and aircraft. The club and flight school (scuola di piloti) have a hangar and ramp across the lake, very close to downtown Como.

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Since the weather grounded students as well, one of them decided to do some chair flying with his instructor.

Since the weather grounded students as well, one of them decided to do some chair flying with his instructor.

I thought it was neat that they perform weddings in the club’s 1930 hangar and they had a poster with information about it inside the hangar.

On the way back to Zurich, we stopped at the Locarno Airport in CH. We were happy to see a wonderful GA airport with lots of activity, including skydiving, flight training, military training, emergency/air ambulance operations, external cargo load operations using one helicopter, other helicopters, gliders, etc. The airport is divided into two areas: the north side had a paved runway and the south side had two grass runways. In between and just west of the skydiving facility, there was an area for the skydivers to land.

Google’s satellite image of the Locarno airport

Google’s satellite image of the Locarno airport

PC-6 performing some kind of military training

PC-6 performing some kind of military training

Helicopter making rounds dropping off cargo

Helicopter making rounds dropping off cargo

Skydiver trying to make his landing target. The skydiving plane was also a PC-6.

Skydiver trying to make his landing target. The skydiving plane was also a PC-6.

Air medical helicopter with skis.

Air medical helicopter with skis

Grass runways in Locarno

Grass runways in Locarno

Do you think you want to experience what we did? Well, you can, and AOPA is making it easier for you. The AOPA Foundation is preparing to launch its annual online auction in November with one-of-a-kind packages and flight experiences. One of those items in 2013 was a popular “Pilatus Aircraft package in Switzerland“ so there will be another one with new features in this year’s auction, which opens on November 7. Be sure to bid!

Before I end this blog, I wanted to thank all those people involved in our visits (all mentioned above) in addition to President Daniel Affolter and Philippe Hauser of AOPA Switzerland for their help and coordination. Special thanks go out to Thomas and Jan who helped us get two new tires for the rental car in a short timeframe, which allowed us to continue with our itinerary. Danke!

Ok, now back down to the ground….. after daydreaming for a little while.

Alaska is a “weather-poor” state

Alaska pilots are poor (impoverished) when it comes to the amount of weather data available to make critical go/no-go flight decisions. According to the FAA’s surface weather observation stations website, Alaska has 133 AWOS or ASOS weather station locations. In comparison, the “contiguous 48 states” have over 1,800 similar sites. Based on average density of stations nationwide, Alaska would need 183 additional stations to be on par with the rest of the country. That is 2.4 times as many observations as we have today. I am not expecting to see that number of conventional stations in Alaska, but it does point to the need for Alaska pilots to be creative, weather-vigilant, and look to non-conventional sources of information. But first, let’s dig a little deeper into our weather observing system of today.

An overview of the over 1,800 aviation weather stations providing data for pilots and forecasters across the "contiguous 48 states"

An overview of over 1,800 aviation weather stations that provide data for pilots and forecasters across the “contiguous 48 states.”

At approximately the same scale as the previous map, note the density of aviation weather stations providing coverage for Alaska.  Some 180 more stations would be needed to provide a comparably dense network to that enjoyed by the rest of the country.

At approximately the same scale as the map above, note the density of aviation weather stations providing coverage for Alaska. Some 180 additional stations would be needed to provide a comparably dense network to that enjoyed by the rest of the country.

Not all weather reports are equal
Not all weather observations are the same quality. The standard weather observation today is an unattended FAA Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) and its National Weather Service counterpart the Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS). These devices operate 24 hours a day, and report weather based on sensors that measure wind speed and direction, temperature, dew point, altimeter, ceiling and visibility. Some models may detect precipitation type and accumulation and/or thunderstorms. Advanced as they may be, the unattended stations have some significant limitations. The ceiling is measured using a small laser beam directly overhead while a computer calculates the cloud cover based on a 30 minute average of readings. If, for example, a low fog bank is creeping up on the airport, the unit won’t know about it until the field has gone IFR. Another well-known limitation of these devices is the visibility sensor, which measures the particles within a 1 meter beam of light, and calculates the “up to 10 miles” visibility value we see in the reports. A frustration with this sensor at rural Alaska airports results when a four-wheeler parks next to the sensor (perhaps waiting for an arriving aircraft) and its exhaust drifts into the visibility sensor’s “view,” reducing the reported visibility to 1/8 mile. It’s a mere annoyance to most pilots flying under Part 91, but a commercial pilot flying under Part 135 regulations can’t even shoot the approach with reported conditions lower than the allowable minimums. Automated stations operating unattended contain the word AUTO in the report to alert pilots to that fact. The omission of that term lets the pilot know that either a human is making the observation in the first place, or the observation is being augmented by an observer.

Augmented Weather Stations
Given these limitations in automated stations, the FAA has contract weather observers who augment the equipment at select locations. Airports with significant volumes of traffic, such as Anchorage and Fairbanks, are augmented. One of our Alaska adaptations has been that when the network of Flight Service Stations was reduced in the mid-1990’s, locations that were identified as important strategic locations were provided with a contract weather observer to ensure that the known limitations of automated units didn’t catch a pilot off guard. In the summer of 2013, the weather augmentation contract at Gulkana was cancelled. I am concerned that in the interest of budget reductions, other stations may be on the chopping block.

Five more weather stations closed
One of the means of collecting weather information at remote locations that don’t have an automated station is to contract with a local resident using the A-PAID Program. Under this program, an interested person is trained and certified by the NWS to make a set number of weather reports per day the old fashioned way—by looking at the sky and making manual observations, such as using the distance to local landmarks to estimate visibility. A-PAID observers don’t report 24 hours a day, and if the observer has to travel, is sick or otherwise not available, no report gets filed. A-PAID observers also don’t file Special reports to alert pilots when conditions change, but often they are the only source of weather information in remote areas, or along VFR routes, that help pilots make informed decisions on whether to initiate a flight. A few days ago I learned that the FAA had cancelled the contracts for the last five stations that they had funded for years, leaving us with no weather reports from Farewell Lake, Merrill Pass West, Manley Hot Springs, Nabesna and Chandalar Lake. Five more points, of our already sparse weather network, went dark.

Replacements for A-PAID stations
In 2011 the National Weather Service announced its intention to phase out the A-PAID program, and for those areas that they felt they needed continued observations, replace them with an automated observations similar but not identical to AWOS units. The package they selected is called a Modular Automated Weather Station (MAWS). It is built by a company that makes AWOS systems, and the sensors used are all certified by FAA for use in an AWOS system. MAWS stations record the main elements we need for aviation weather, including ceiling and visibility, but don’t have a VHF radio to transmit the data to an aircraft. They are not certified by FAA as an AWOS, and cost about half as much as a fully certified unit. Due to the lack of certification, at least so far, the FAA and NWS haven’t been able to agree on a basis to consider the reports as METARs, and distribute them through the normal FAA weather channels. This is a real problem for John & Suzy Q Pilot, because unless they know exactly where to look, these observations don’t exist. To date these stations have been deployed in the Central/Circle Hot Springs area, Healy and at Whittier. AOPA and other Alaskan aviation groups are pushing both NWS and FAA to find a way to distribute these observations through the normal channels, given that they are intended for use at VFR airports, or non-airport locations along key VFR routes. Given the lack of progress solving this issue between two federal agencies, we have asked Senator Begich, who sits on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, for help getting the two agencies to come up with a practical solution to this issue to make the observations available. We will continue to push to make this weather fully available to pilots.

Weather Cameras
The FAA Weather Camera Program is the one bright spot that adds weather information to a pilot’s flight kit when it comes to making go/no-go flight decisions. A set of cameras looking multiple directions, updated every 10 minutes, available on the internet from 221 locations across the state provides a tremendous amount of information for flight planning and decision making. As just one example, the camera at the McKinley Park airstrip is co-located with the AWOS unit there. The camera has helped me “interpret” the AWOS report, which one morning was reporting 1/8 mile visibility. A look at the weather camera revealed blue skys in multiple directions with a few wisps of ground fog in the foreground.  This image let me know I was good to launch for a flight thorough Windy Pass. On another occasion, while the AWOS was reporting “clear below 12,000,” a look at the big, ugly, towering cumulus clouds both to the north and south of the station let me know that this was not a good time to expect smooth sailing through the mountains. The station at the airstrip is located in the of the valley between two sets of ridges, which are often where the clouds form, outside the “view” of the AWOS cloud sensor.

As valuable as the network of cameras is, there is a very serious limitation. Currently, the cameras are good during daylight hours only. Great in the summer, but as days shorten, pilots are back “in the dark” having to make go/no-go decisions before camera observations are available. Even in mid-October a local pilot told me this past week he had to wait until 10 a.m. to get a usable image from an interior camera to tell if he could conduct a flight down the Tanana and middle Yukon Rivers. And we aren’t yet into really short winter days! There are now low-light level cameras on the market that might extend the utility of the camera network, however we need a serious research and development effort to evaluate available sensors, and consider the human factors of how to present other than standard color video data for pilots to use in their decision making process.

Alaska forecasts also have limitations
The sparse network of weather observations impacts pilots in more ways than one. In addition to our own weather interpretation, the NWS forecasters are a major consumer of surface observations. They count on them to make and verify the Area and Terminal Forecasts that we use to anticipate what conditions will be like in a few hours, along a cross-country route of flight. Or how fast a weather system is approaching that will impact even local operations. At a recent conference a map was presented (see below) showing how the Alaska weather forecast areas correspond to a similar size area “outside.” NWS forecasters in three weather offices (Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau) turn out forecasts for areas that would be covered by 68 forecast offices in the lower 48. Even if you discount the marine areas, the three forecast offices are covering an area equal to 30 offices down south. Another way to look at it is that about 50 forecasters in Alaska issue products for an area that is covered by about 400 forecasters “outside.”

The three NWS forecast offices in Alaska cover the an area that overlays 68 forecast areas in the middle of the country.

The three NWS forecast offices in Alaska cover the an area that overlays 68 forecast areas in the middle of the country.

The spatial granularity of Alaska products is also different. Just looking at the winds-aloft product,  Alaska forecasts are reported using a 90 kilometer grid in contrast to a 30 kilometer grid used elsewhere in the country. Pilots flying in Alaska have to bear in mind that while the forecast products look the same across the nation, the informational content of our forecasts are lower than if we were planning a route across other portions of the country.

From this flight planning program screen shot, one can see the difference in density between winds aloft forecast values generated for Alaska versus the rest of the country.

From this flight planning program screen shot, one can see the difference in density between winds aloft forecast values generated for Alaska versus the rest of the country.

We need all the observations we can get
Given the size of Alaska, our reliance on the airplane to provide basic transportation, the diversity of terrain and climate, and paucity of emergency landing areas, we need all the weather observations we can lay our hands on. The lack of conventional weather stations enjoyed by pilots in the rest of the country means that:

a)      We need to continue to have augmented weather in key regional locations.

b)      It is essential that observations from lower cost MAWS sites are fully distributed.

c)      We need fully certified AWOS units at airports with instrument approaches.

d)     It is important to expedite research into expanding the use of weather cameras beyond daylight hours, to obtain better utilization of this innovative program.

AOPA is working with the Alaska Airmen’s Association, Air Carriers Association and the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation on these issues, and is engaging both the FAA and National Weather Service to express our concerns. We addressed the Senate GA Caucus meeting held by Senator Begich last spring and have also asked for the help of the entire Alaska congressional delegation. In the current budget climate it will not be an easy sell, but for aviation safety and access, we must make the effort.

Showcasing “Kansas Aviation is for Everybody”… the 2014 Fly Kansas Air Tour

700, 10, 10, 9. 3, 60, 40, 600 are all great numbers. Can you imagine… flying about 700 NM in around 10 hours of flight time to 10 airports, in 9 cities, in 3 days, with about 60 other pilots in close to 40 different aircraft while learning about general aviation in your state and sharing your love for general aviation and flying with over 600 school children, many of which could be our next generation of aviators? Yes! That’s what Joey Colleran, AOPA’s Director of the Airport Support Network (ASN) program, and I did September 22-24 when we participated in the 2014 Fly Kansas Air Tour as part of the Kansas Aviation Expo – a week-long series of aviation events in Kansas. In the history of flight in Kansas, this was only the third organized air tour of Kansas.

2014 Fly Kansas Air Tour’s circular route

2014 Fly Kansas Air Tour’s circular route

Joey and Yasmina on right of the picture accompanied by the other three female air tour pilots Tiffany Brown, Pat Hockett, and Star Novak (left to right).

Joey and Yasmina on right of the picture accompanied by the other three female air tour pilots Tiffany Brown, Star Novak, and Pat Hockett (left to right).

On Sunday, Joey and I headed up to Wellington, KS (KEGT – Exhaust Gas Temperature? Ha!) to prepare for the start of the air tour on Monday. On the way, we stopped at the Guthrie-Edmond Regional Airport (KGOK) for fuel, to see how things are at the airport since I had met airport manager Justin Heid at an earlier event this year and had asked me to stop by, and to check out the home of Zivko Aeronautics, the builder of the Edge 540.

The air tour started out at the Wellington Municipal Airport (KEGT) bright and early on Monday. Lots of aircraft, including some who did not participate in the air tour, came to Wellington to kick-off and celebrate its start. Several skydivers brought down the U.S. flag as the local H.S. band sang the national anthem and Randy Hardy flew around them in his Stearman with smoke on as they were coming down. A local ag operator performed an ag spraying demonstration and lots of local students got a chance to walk around all the aircraft. There was a formal presentation of the air tour by Jesse Romo, the Kansas DOT-Aviation Director, and a discussion of the local benefits the airport and its activity and business brings to the community. Each of the pilots also introduced themselves and their aircraft.

Flight line at KEGT

Flight line at KEGT

Skydivers, Stearman, and the National Anthem

Skydivers, Stearman, and the National Anthem

Kids and aircraft

HS band and Stearman

Students and aircraft

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback showed his appreciation of the Kansas Aviation Expo program by proclaiming September 22-26, 2014 as “Aviation Appreciation Week.”

Governor's proclamation

Governor’s proclamation

From KEGT, we flew to Hutchinson (KHUT) for lunch at the Airport Steakhouse. After the lovely lunch, the pilots departed to the Cosmosphere for an awesome behind-the-scenes tour by Brian Youngers, President of the Kansas Commission on Aerospace Education (KCAE), and aerodynamics activities with local students. I’m not sure who loved this visit more… the students or the pilots… Once back at the airport, students interacted with the pilots, learning all about their aircraft, how to become a pilot, pilot jobs, etc. They also got a chance to see a Life Team helicopter and a fly-by by several Stearman and a Navion. I tell you… those kids sure got excited when they turned their smoke on! (well, and the “not so kids”)

First group of kids learning about aerodynamics

First group of kids learning about aerodynamics

Kids testing their propeller-driven vehicle

Kids testing their propeller-driven vehicle

From Hutchinson, rather than getting the heck out of dodge, we went to it – Dodge City (KDDC) for the night. Several Boy and Girl Scouts joined us after dinner. Joey and I had a good time showing a group of them (and their parents) the Archer we were flying. They had great questions and we enjoyed linking Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) to aviation by doing a few math problems and science experiments with them.

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Tuesday called for stops at Scott City (KTQK), Salina (KSLN), and Topeka (KTOP). We toured and learned about the Spencer Flight Training Center in Scott City – a non-profit center whose objective is to provide access to resources and training opportunities for pilots to keep their skills as sharp as possible and help ensure their safety while inflight. We had read about it but it was great to be able to visit it and learn more about what they’re doing first hand. Great work!

Some of the air tour pilots and Spencer Flight Training Center staff

Some of the air tour pilots and Spencer Flight Training Center staff

The flight between Scott City and Salina was our longest leg of the trip – 150 NM+ direct with a couple of deviations for airspace so we were ready for lunch upon arrival. Salina had organized booths for several of their based tenants to include military, law enforcement, and K-State Salina’s aviation program.

And we made it to the Capital… Topeka – Philip Billard Municipal Airport (KTOP)… before nightfall to learn about the Aviation Explorer’s Post 8, where Post 8 kids learn about aviation, flying, and leadership. The organization operates two aircraft to provide young people an introduction to aviation and a private pilot certificate! We also enjoyed dinner accompanied by Kansas Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Mike King.

Learning about Aviation Explorer’s Post 8

Learning about Aviation Explorer’s Post 8

Joey, Secretary Mike King, Yasmina, and Jesse Romo (left to right)

Joey, Secretary Mike King, Yasmina, and Jesse Romo (left to right)

On Wednesday, we were off to Pittsburg (Pittsburg-Atkinson, Kansas, that is…). Lots of students (one of the largest crowds we saw) were awaiting our arrival at KPTS. They watched us land, taxi, and park from the fence. This stop was centered around business aviation because several companies operate flight departments and aircraft from Pittsburg so we talked about using our Piper Archer for AOPA business travel and work. They really understood it when we put it in perspective and worked some example trips with them.

Names and Numbers, a local aviation operator discussing business aviation on the field

Names and Numbers, a local aviation operator discussing business aviation on the fiel

The youngest of the air tour bunch also met us at KPTS – an adorable 13 month old future aviator – with her dad Andy!

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Daddy day care

And, because “aviation means independence” everywhere but especially in Independence, KS… we stopped at KIDP for our second to last stop of the trip. A group of kids had already taken a tour of the Cessna facility by the time we had arrived so they were pumped to see the aircraft pull up. We toured the facility where Cessna makes C172s, TTXs, Mustangs, etc and gave the students an opportunity to jump in our aircraft and ask questions.

The final stop of the tour was at Benton-Lloyd Stearman Field (1K1), where we had a hangar party and shared our great air tour experience with other aviation professionals. Stearman Field is a lovely residential airstrip with a cool restaurant but it was a bitter-sweet moment to see the air tour end…

Final group pic

2014 Fly Kansas Air Tour group

All along the 3-day tour… the pilots developed a great camaraderie and lasting relationships. We were also able to get a couple of rusty pilots back into flying and one worked on his tailwheel endorsement. In addition, we showed the local community the importance of their airport, including the economic impact that their airport and general aviation has on their community and the state.

If that wasn’t enough… Joey and I were able to meet and talk with the wonderful AOPA Airport Support Network Volunteers (ASNVs) along the route. Joey also recruited a few new Volunteers. I say it was a very successful tour.

Several of the ASNVs we met with along the route.

Several of the ASNVs we met with along the route.

Joey and I flew one more very short reposition leg over to Colonel James Jabara Airport (KAAO) from Stearman (all 5 NM!) to prepare for Thursday’s Flying Classroom (and Joey’s airline flight back home to Austin).

So, yes, we invite you to consider flying the 2015 Fly Kansas Air Tour, already being organized for September 28-30, for many reasons: 1) you get to visit new airports you may not have visited before, 2) you can learn more about aviation in Kansas, 3) you can introduce young people to aviation and have an impact in their lives, 4) you can show a local community and a state why general aviation is important, necessary, and that they should protect it and promote it, 5) you get to meet some great people and pilots, 6) you can bring friends or family with you (maybe even someone new to aviation!), 7) you can build time, work on another rating, build cross country time, or whatever else you may want to work on, 8) you can share rides with people (several pilots got a chance to fly in other people’s airplanes), and, yes, 9) it is lots of fun!

See you then!

Alaska loses five weather reporting stations

Alaska pilots are already “weather challenged” when it comes to flight planning. Obtaining current weather information can be a challenge depending on your destination and route of flight. That just got a little more difficult due to FAA cancelling the contracts for weather observers at five locations as of October 1st. Those stations are:

Farewell Lake          Manley Hot Springs
Merrill Pass West    Nabesna
Chandalar Lake

These are not the conventional automated weather stations (AWOS or ASOS), that have become the national standard for aviation weather. These stations are called A-PAID sites, because they were locations where a human observer, certified by the National Weather Service, actually looked at the sky and filed a report for a limited number of observations during the day. They don’t report “specials,”  and when the observer is on vacation or sick, no report is filed. But they are far better than nothing, which is what we are left with for the moment.

Over the years, I personally counted on the Manley weather, not only to figure if I could make it into Manley Hot Springs, but to determine what conditions were like for longer flights down the Yukon River headed to Galena and Nome. I also used the Chandalar Lake weather as an important observation when establishing if I could fly directly from Fairbanks to Galbraith Lake or Happy Valley– or if I needed to make the much longer trip via Bettles and through the lower mountain passes to get across the Brooks Range.

AOPA, the Alaska Airmen’s Association, Alaska Air Carriers Association and the Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation were already concerned about changes to the network of surface observations that started in 2011– when the National Weather Service announced it was replacing A-Paid observers with a new automated weather stations. The replacement equipment is not certified by the FAA to produce official METAR observations. While the development of the FAA Weather Camera Program has provided an excellent source of supplemental weather information, the value of this network is limited to daylight hours only, and is not a substitute for actual weather observations that include ceiling and visibility measurements. We will continue to aggressively pursue both the FAA and National Weather Service to improve, and not degrade, our already sparse network of weather stations.

Your input needed
Below are maps showing the stations that have just gone dark. If you have a need for aviation weather from these locations, please drop me an email with a brief note listing the station or stations and why weather observations from those locations is important to you. Being able to articulate the role these stations play may help us when it comes to justifying our aviation weather needs in some of these areas.

You can expect to hear more on this topic!

Farewell Lake, near the west entrance to Rainey Pass.

Farewell Lake, near the west entrance to Rainey Pass. The black circle on this series of screen captures from the Alaska Aviation Weather Unit website means NO DATA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manley Hot Springs, along the Tanana River between Nenana and Tanana.

Manley Hot Springs, along the Tanana River between Nenana and Tanana.

 

Merrill Pass West

Merrill Pass West

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nebesna, between the Alaska Range and Wrangell Mountains.

Nebesna, between the Alaska Range and Wrangell Mountains. Paxson and Slana stations were closed previously, leaving no stations along the southern flanks of the eastern Alaska Range.

 

Chandalar Lake, on the south side of the Brooks Range almost directly on the flight path from Fairbanks to Deadhorse.

Chandalar Lake, on the south side of the Brooks Range almost directly on the flight path from Fairbanks to Deadhorse. Fort Yukon is about 100 miles away.