About Tom George

Tom George serves as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Regional Manager for Alaska. He resides in Fairbanks, and flies a Cessna 185. Follow Alaska aviation activities and events on Twitter at http://www.twitter/AOPAAlaska or at: http://www.aopa.org/region/ak

FAA looking for feedback on new Alaska automated weather stations

Knowing current weather conditions and how they are expected to change is important information for pilots. Today, the primary source of information on current weather conditions is the network of automated surface weather observations. Those operated by the FAA are commonly called Automated Weather Observing Systems (AWOS). Pilots rely on the data from these stations to make operational decisions on whether to fly or not, augmented by the FAA Alaska Weather Camera Program, which during daylight hours provides a visual look at the weather.

The FAA Surveillance and Broadcast Services Program is primarily tasked to implement ADS-B and other technologies, in support of NextGen. As follow-on to the FAA Capstone Program, however, they undertook the challenge of adding additional AWOS stations, as well as a couple Remote Communication Outlets in some parts of Alaska. Working with FAA, Alaskan user groups argued that ADS-B alone wouldn’t improve safety and access—we needed a system solution that also included instrument approaches, weather and communications. Over the past few years, the SBS Program has installed twenty additional AWOS stations in Alaska. Improved IFR access is certainly a result at airports that have WAAS GPS approaches, which most have. In some cases, nearby airports with existing approaches were able to obtain lower minimums, based on these stations. In all cases, pilots have better weather information about these airports to aid their decision making, whether flying under VFR or IFR rules.

Currently the FAA is looking for feedback from users who fly in these areas, and would like to hear from individual pilots, air taxi operators, private business users, communities, or anyone else that has seen a change based on any of these twenty stations.

FAA and industry officials examine an AWOS station in Alaska. Sensors are located above an equipment shelter.

FAA and industry officials examine an AWOS station in Alaska. Sensors are located above an equipment hut that provides shelter for technicians servicing the station at remote locations.

SBS Funded AWOS Stations

Barter Island/PABA

Brevig Mission/PFKT

Chevak/PAVA

Clarks Point/PFCL

Elim/PFEL

False Pass/PAKF

Galena/PAGA

Kiana/PAIK

Kwethluk/PFKW

Napakiak/PANA

Noorvik/PFNO

Weather sensors are above the equipment shelter. The gray antenna in the background is part of a satellite communication system that sends that transmits weather data for distribution in areas that lack direct phone access.

Weather sensors are above the equipment shelter. The gray antenna in the background is part of a satellite communication system that sends that transmits weather data for distribution in areas that lack direct phone access.

Nunapitchuk/PPIT

Quinhagak/PAQH

Shageluk/PAHX

Shaktoolik/PFSH

Shugnak/PAGH

South Naknek/PFWS

Teller/PATE

Wales/PAIW

White Mountain/PAWM

 

 

 

While these twenty stations are an improvement, Alaska is still very sparsely covered with aviation weather stations in comparison to the rest of the country. Additional weather stations are needed to improve aviation safety and access. Letting FAA know the benefits from these stations is a step in the right direction.

Please provide feedback to:
Jim Wright, Sr. Systems Engineer
Surveillance and Broadcast Services (AJM-232)
Lockheed Martin Corporation
1873 Shell Simmons Drive, Suite 110
Juneau, AK 99801

phone: 907-790-7316  email: jim.ctr.wright@faa.gov  Please send AOPA a copy of your comments: airtrafficservices@aopa.org

GA Survey: Your input needed to quantify general aviation activity

A group of government VIP's at Unalkleet during a 1928 Alaska tour.  Alaska State Library Historical Collections Id: ASL-P240-027.

A group led by Gov. George Parks (light hat) at Unalakleet during a 1928 Alaska inspection tour. Alaska State Library Historical Collections Id: ASL-P240-027.

1928 was an active year for aviation in Alaska. In only five years since the first commercial flight in the state, airplanes had grabbed the attention of the public, making trips that previously took several weeks possible to complete in a few hours. At the time, quantifying the number of pilots, airplanes and mechanics was easier than it is today. According to author Robert Steven’s Alaskan Aviation History, Vol. 1, that year there were only eight licensed pilots in the territory (Alaska wouldn’t be granted statehood until 1959). This spanned the spectrum from student to transport certificates. There were a total of seventeen airplanes, and twelve licensed mechanics. Those aircraft were getting a lot more hours than the average GA aircraft today, I can assure you. Reading Steven’s detailed accounts of this year alone, these aircraft were on the go whenever the weather allowed, and not just for short hops, either. They were covering routes three to four hundred miles in length, otherwise navigated by dog sleds or river boats. Before instrument airways had become a reality, this was a totally VFR operation, with a lot of time spent turning around, and waiting for better weather.

Quantifying GA today?
While the FAA has records describing how many aircraft are registered, determining how many are active and how much they fly is another matter, especially with activities as diverse as those that make up the universe of general aviation. To figure how many active aircraft we have, the FAA contracts with an independent research firm, Tetra Tech, to conduct the General Aviation and Part 135 Activity Survey. The survey asks questions like: Was your aircraft flown last year? How is your aircraft equipped? What percentage of your flight hours were for recreation/instruction/business/etc.? While the survey is sent to a sample of aircraft owner’s nationwide, all Alaskan aircraft owners are asked to participate. I hope you will take the few minutes required to respond. AOPA and other aviation advocates rely on this data to help make our case when it comes to protecting your ability to fly. For example, one of the questions (What kind of fuel do you burn?) combined with information about the types of flying you do, helps us understand the potential impact of policy decisions involving 100LL fuel. The question about installed equipment lets us know how many (or few) aircraft owners have ADS-B capabilities installed.

Your response is needed
The survey only covers flight time during calendar year 2013. Even if you DIDN’T fly, sold your aircraft, or were waiting for your mechanic to finish a repair— checking the appropriate box and returning the survey helps. If you have three or more aircraft, contact Tetra Tech to obtain a short forum of the survey (1-800-826-1797 or email infoaviationsurvey@tetratech.com). If you would rather take the survey online, go to www.aviationsurvey.org, and use your N –number to log in. The information in the survey is kept confidential, with only aggregate data provided to the FAA.

We know Alaska has a lot more airplanes than the seventeen that were present in 1928. Please take the few minutes with your pilot and aircraft log books to help quantify the magnitude of general aviation in 2013!

Practice Runways: A low-cost pilot proficiency tool

It is finally summer in Alaska. Salmon are running in the rivers, wild roses are blooming on the roadsides and paint marks are starting to appear on select gravel runways around the state. Paint marks? On gravel runways? Are you crazy? Only a little, but read on…

Threshold of the freshly painted "practice runway" on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

Threshold of the freshly painted “practice runway” on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

Last week a twelve-person crew armed with 5 gallons of white paint, a sprayer, couple of plywood templates and a bunch of enthusiasm, assembled to create two “practice runways” on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport. Each end of the gravel runway (named the Ski Strip, because that’s it’s winter occupation) now sports a 25 foot wide by 800 foot long “practice runway.” Delineated by white 2 x 4 foot white rectangles painted directly on the packed gravel surface every hundred feet, it simulates a narrow, short runway pilots are liable to be landing on at back-country airstrips or gravel bars. These landing areas, often surrounded by trees, with rough surfaces, provide access at their favorite hunting, fishing or camping spot. The practice runways don’t provide the full range of conditions encountered in the field, but are also without the consequences– if you don’t get down and stopped in the right place on the first try!

Airports and stakeholder working together
Often these projects are a collaborative effort between the airport owner and a volunteer group that teams up to paint the markings in the spring, after the runway has been graded and packed. At Fairbanks, AOPA Airport Support Volunteer Ron Dearborn put out a call for volunteers using General Aviation Association’s email list, which brought help not only from that group but also from members of the Alaska Airmen’s Association, Midnight Sun Chapter of the Ninety Nines. and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Aviation Program.

AOPA Airport Support Network Volunteer Ron Dearborn lining out tasks for painting the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

AOPA Airport Support Network Volunteer Ron Dearborn lining out tasks for painting the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

Previously established reference markers off the side of the runway make it easy to lay out markings for the paint crew.

Previously established reference markers off the side of the runway make it easy to lay out markings for the paint crew.

Plywood templates allow the paint crew to quickly leap frog from one mark to the next.

Plywood templates allow the paint crew to quickly leap frog from one mark to the next.

As soon as the NOTAM closing the Ski Strip went into effect, and after a safety briefing by airport operations staff, the crew took possession of the runway. They marked and painted the two practice runways in just under an hour. Assembling the crew and equipment, and cleaning up afterward took more time than actual painting itself. After the work was done, the group celebrated with baked goodies and beverages, before calling it a night. The Ski Strip stayed closed overnight to let the paint dry, but by the following day, airplanes were hard at it, doing stop-and-goes.

This is the fourth year that volunteers have worked with the airport operations staff to create this piece of infrastructure at Fairbanks, and other airports around the state. The practice runways have proven to be popular not only for super cub drivers, but with students just learning to fly and pilots of a wide range of aircraft wishing to calibrate their landing distances. Other airports that have received a “modification to standards” from the FAA to create practice runways on their gravel runways include: Goose Bay (Z40), Nenana (PANN), Palmer (PAAQ), Soldotna (PASX) and Wasilla (PAWS). I encourage you to use one of these practice strips and see how well you can hit the marks– and how much runway it takes to get stopped.

If your airport has a runway you think might be suitable for a practice runway, contact your airport manager to see if they are interested. The airport typically will need to coordinate with FAA Airports Division to approve a “modification to standards” which specifies how the runway may be marked. This is still a new program, only happening in Alaska. A guide has been developed based on experience from several seasons to help airports owners and volunteer groups figure out how to undertake a similar project. I encourage you to consider whether this program makes sense at your airport, as a small but positive way to influence aviation safety and proficiency.

It certainly makes it much more fun to get out and practice take off’s and landings!

Airport open house draws a crowd in Fairbanks

The opportunity to fly in a small plane, take an “inside the fence” tour of the airport, or to sit in the cockpit of a Boeing 727, drew quite a crowd to Fairbanks International Airport on May 17th.  This year’s edition of Fairbanks Aviation Day was blessed with good weather, and in spite of competition from a dozen competing community events, let approximately 2,000 members of the public experience different aspects of aviation.

ATC controllers coaching “pilots” waiting to “take off” on the mini-airport at Fairbanks Aviation Day. Photo by Ron Dearborn

ATC controllers coaching “pilots” waiting to “take off” on the mini-airport at Fairbanks Aviation Day. Photo by Ron Dearborn

The action started early on Saturday morning—at 7 a.m.—with a the traditional pancake feed, inside the University of Alaska Fairbanks/Community and Technical College Aviation Program hangar.  Almost immediately, families with kids eager to fly started to sign up for EAA Chapter 1129’s Young Eagles flights.  At 9 a.m. the event was in full swing with the Fairbanks ATC controllers operating a 70 by 30 ft. mini-airport, complete with real hold lines, taxiway and runway markings.  Kids, wearing orange vests with individual tail numbers were getting instructions from the “tower” to taxi, take off, and–after a trip around the pattern—cleared to land.  No runway incursions were reported during the 140 “airport operations” that took place during the day.  Meanwhile, exhibitors ranging from flight schools to airlines, military groups and the Alaska State Troopers visited with the crowd.

Future pilot inspecting the controls of a Zenith 750. Photo by Shari George

Future pilot inspecting the controls of a Zenith 750. Photo by Shari George

Outdoors, over two dozen aircraft were on display. These featured everything from old (1929 Travel Air on floats) to the newest aircraft (Jack Schnurr’s Zenith 750 made its first operational flight to participate in the event).  While some airplanes were used “just for fun,” many were working aircraft, which demonstrated some of the roles airplanes serve in a big state with few roads. Tasks included hauling fuel, medevac service, corporate travel, game surveys, forest fire initial attack, parcel delivery and everything in between.

Lining up to see the inside of a Boeing 727, donated to the University by FedEx.

Lining up to see the inside of a Boeing 727, donated to the University by FedEx.

 

Aircraft display viewed from the cockpit of the Boeing 727. Photo by Kevin Alexander

Aircraft display viewed from the cockpit of the Boeing 727. Photo by Wes Ford

 

 

 

 

 

 

Driving a rivet at the UAF/CTC Aviation Program demonstration. Photo by Shari George

Driving a rivet at the UAF/CTC Aviation Program demonstration. Photo by Shari George

Other popular activities included a tabletop flight simulator, courtesy of the Fairbanks FSDO, and a face painting/balloon art station.  Outside the hangar, the Airport Fire Department set up an air-filled slide, along with an impressive array of fire and rescue equipment.  Next to the hangar door, UAF operated a “riveting challenge” demonstration, where anyone could try their hand at driving rivets in a mock wing section.  Indoors, short “aviation sound bites” were going on—15 minute presentations on topics such as the history of the Fairbanks Jenny, air touring opportunities and destinations you could fly from the Fairbanks airport. Civil Air Patrol’s presentation included a two-minute video showing their cadet glider camp operated out of the Clear Airport each summer.  In short, there was something for all ages and interests during the day.

Who makes it happen?
Events like this don’t just spontaneously occur.  A committee of over a dozen people put countless hours of their time into planning this event.  Fairbanks Aviation Day is organized by the Airport Operator’s Council at Fairbanks International Airport.  Over two-dozen organizations sponsor the event by providing the cash, equipment and/or labor to share our passion for aviation with the public.

Sponsors of Fairbanks Aviation Day

Sponsors of Fairbanks Aviation Day

Results
And what did this accomplish? A segment of the public, most of whom don’t fly or work in an aviation field, got a look at something very different from the passenger terminal they normally associate with an airport.  Some went for a flight. Many more got to sit in the pilot’s seat of an aircraft on display.  They interacted with people in aviation businesses and groups that make up the fabric of general aviation.  The food they purchased, buying pancakes for breakfast, or burgers at lunch, brought in about $2,500 that will fund aviation scholarships or safety meetings.  Some of these people will be the next generation of pilots, mechanics, airport managers and air traffic controllers.   You could tell by the looks on their faces!

Valdez Fly In: True Alaska aviation

11 Years and counting. That is the track-record the Valdez Fly In and Air Show established, and continues to uphold.  Something over 275 aircraft from all over Alaska–and from at least as far away as Idaho–converged on the Valdez airport and turned it into a “happening” with tents, campers, families, food booths and a lot of fun.  Most of the aircraft were tail wheel models. Many were supercubs, with big tires, heavy duty landing gear, and other mods to adapt them for back country conditions.  Approximately 2,000 participants watched them perform over the weekend.

Airplanes parked on the ramp at Valdez on Friday night, with more to arrive when the wind dies down.

Airplanes parked on the ramp at Valdez on Friday night, with more to arrive when the wind dies down.

Situated at the end of a fjord, and surrounded by mountains, Valdez is known as the “Switzerland of Alaska” and on the clear days experienced during this year’s fly-in, you can see why.  Weather can be tricky, and this year it was wind that delayed some aircraft from arriving on schedule, cancelled the poker run and caused the STOL competition to get off to a late start.  But that didn’t keep the participants from exhibiting a typical ‘git-er-done’ attitude—which they did!

Paul Claus describes an experience during the off-airport and float plane panel discussion. Other panel members were the Ellis brothers (on the left), Vern Kingsford and Richard Wien (right side).

Paul Claus describes an experience during the off-airport panel discussion. Other presenters were the Ellis brothers (on the left), Vern Kingsford and Richard Wien (right side).

This event has a nice combination of activities for pilots, while at the same time entertaining and educating the public about aspects of general aviation.  Pilots soaked up a presentation by Brady Lane from EAA about how to capture aviation video footage, illustrated with some great examples.  A second pilot session tackled the topics of off-airport operations, and float flying.  A distinguished panel of pilots shared their experiences on these topics: the Ellis Brothers from Nebesna, Paul Claus from Ultima Thule Lodge in the Wrangell mountains, Vern Kingsford who teaches the art of float flying in Moose Pass, and Richard Wien who grew up flying in a pioneering aviation family in Fairbanks.  These aviation veterans had numerous practical tips to offer, and good stories to tell—with a standing room only audience that was hungry for more.

Spectators watching the STOL competition.

Spectators watching the STOL competition.

STOL Competition
Valdez is probably most famous for the Short Take-Off and Landing contest.  Four classes of aircraft compete to see who can make the combined shortest take-off and landing, with distances for each combined to compute a final score.  The full results are available on the show website, but the “Alternate Bush” class winner was Frank Knapp from Palmer, who

Repositioning Frank Knapp's aircraft, that made the shortest take-off and landing of the event.

Repositioning Frank Knapp’s aircraft, that made the shortest take-off and landing of the event.

flew his home-made “Cub X” with a take-off distance of 41 feet, and a landing of only 35 feet.  You had to see it in action. More like a mosquito coming in for a landing!  Knapp, from Palmer, won last year, but over the winter lost his plane to a hangar fire, and had to build a second plane from scratch, in only a few months.  If you want more information on this homebuilt aircraft, check out Brady Lane’s video.  Knapp is also involved in plans for a first ever STOL flight demonstration at Oshkosh this year.

In the “Bush” class (read here, super cubs), young Bobby Breeden from Sterling took that event with a 61 ft take off and 55 foot landing.  Beating his father, Bob Breeden, by only three feet!  A Cessna 170-B took the “Light Touring” class piloted by Shawn Holly of Soldotna, with a take off and landing of 104 and 115 ft respectively.  Finally, the “Heavy Touring” class went to a Helio Courier piloted by Michael Dietz from Big Lake, 118 and 124 foot t/o and landing.  In the “stranger than fiction” department, Chickaloon legislator—Representative Eric Feige—competed in the “Light Touring” class. Take off distance was 172 feet. Landing was 172 feet.  What was he flying? A Cessna 172.  At the banquet, master of ceremonies Joe Prax reported these results with the added quip—“If he’d been flying a C-150, he could have won.”

Aviation History
This year the Saturday night banquet moved from the airport to the Civic Center down town, overlooking the water front.  In addition to STOL results and a sit-down dinner, the audience was transported back the earliest days of Alaskan aviation. Richard Wien, son of pioneer aviator Noel Wien, showed pictures of the early day aircraft and pilots who established many aviation firsts, starting in the early 1920’s.  Richard has a vast collection of photographs, most taken by his father, which recorded some of the early “lessons learned”—like carrying a spare prop for the unexpected forced landing or soft field.

The crowd watches action on the flight line. Families with young children flocked to the event.

The crowd watches action on the flight line. Families with young children flocked to the event.

Bombs Away
Sunday saw a return to the flight line, with Scot Sexton performing an aerobatic routine, balsa wood airplane competitions and the flour bombing contest.  Chuck Miller, flying a WWII vintage Stinson L-13, took first place, placing his flour bomb within 21 feet of the target.  Another impressive demonstration was watching Paul Claus land his turbine Otter land in a few hundred feet, back up under engine power, and then taxi away. While the airplane was not fully loaded, it was carrying a thousand pounds of fuel on board.  By the end of the weekend the crowd had been well supplied with competitions, presentations, demonstrations and food, and ready to declare it another outstanding show of Alaskan aviation.

A big THANK YOU to all the people, businesses and organizations who planned and executed this outstanding event!

Mat Su Valley CTAF Frequencies Change on May 29th

Heads up for pilots who fly in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. On May 29, 2014 a significant change takes place to the Common Traffic Advisory Frequencies (CTAFs) assigned north and west of Anchorage.  If you aren’t religious about buying new flight charts, or updating your GPS databases, plan to do so with this charting cycle, as approximately 78 airport CTAFs will change on that date.  In addition, 36 airports will have CTAFs assigned for the first time.  In total, FAA is sending letters to 178 airport owners notifying them of the CTAF assignment changes.  Goose Bay, Wolf Lake and Anderson Lake are just three of the airports whose CTAFs will change.  The new frequencies will be found on flight charts, in individual airport listings in the Alaska Supplement, along with a map in the Notices section that shows the “big picture” change taking place.

Background
In the summer of 2011, a number of mid-air collisions occurred in the Mat Su Valley, one with fatal results.  During the subsequent NTSB investigation, it appeared that both pilots involved in that accident had been using what they believed was the correct frequency for the location they were flying—but they were not communicating on the same frequency.  A working group with representation from industry and government was established that fall to look at the published guidance regarding CTAF usage.  Over the past two and a half years, the group methodically examined CTAF assignments, civil and military flight patterns, ATC infrastructure and the results of an AOPA pilot survey.  After agreeing that changes needed to be made, different scenarios for creating “area CTAFs” were evaluated and reviewed by seasoned pilots, commercial operators, flight instructors and pilots based at different area airports.  Like all good Alaska discussions, not everyone agreed with everything, but there was widespread support to reduce the complexity—and overlap—between CTAFs used at different airports and landing areas.  Last fall a set of recommendations was made to the FAA, elements of which will go into effect at the end of May.

New CTAF Areas defined
To eliminate the overlap from adjacent airport frequencies, the FAA is designating new “CTAF Areas” within which, all the airports will be on the same frequency. This concept is not new in Alaska, as the airspace over Denali National Park has had designated “mountain traffic advisory frequencies” for many years.  Cook Inlet and the Knik Glacier areas also have established CTAFs.  On May 29th, there will be four new CTAF area frequencies identified, to let pilots know what frequency to use, if they are not in contact with ATC or a Flight Service Station.  There are corresponding changes to the north boundary of the Cook Inlet CTAF area that become effective at this time.  A diagram showing these areas will be on page 399 of the Notices Section of the Alaska Supplement, however the information is also listed on the FAA’s website  www.faa.gov/go/flyalaska.

Depiction of the Mat Su CTAF Areas that go into effect May 29. Notice that the adjacent Cook Inlet CTAF Area to the sound also has a change in boundary

Depiction of the Mat Su CTAF Areas that go into effect May 29. Notice that the adjacent Cook Inlet CTAF Area, west of Anchorage, also has a change in boundary

How were boundaries selected?
The Mat Su Valley is a highly aviation oriented place. In addition to over 200 private and public airports in the FAA’s database, there are other landing areas (lakes, gravel bars and rivers) that are heavily used either seasonally or on a year-around basis.  The boundaries were designed, as much as possible, to avoid areas where traffic concentrated—along major rivers, at area airports, etc.  Consequently, the boundaries were offset from rivers and coast lines, recognizing that they are often used for navigation when weather is down.  Flight patterns in and out of area airports were also considered, and verified with ATC radar data. During the review process, numerous boundary revisions were made to minimize conflicts with existing flows of traffic along commonly used routes to popular locations.  Ultimately, the beauty of the airplane is that it can go anywhere—weather permitting—so no set of boundaries will meet everyone’s needs.  Hopefully assigning advisory frequencies to different areas will reduce some of the ambiguity experienced previously.

Hi Traffic areas are also depicted within the Mat Su CTAF Areas.  While some are popular airports, others are not shown on flight charts.

High Traffic areas are also depicted within the Mat Su CTAF Areas. While some are popular airports, others are not shown on flight charts.

High Traffic Locations
The working group also identified “high traffic” locations in the Mat Su Valley.  Many of these are airports that already appear on the charts, familiar to us all.  Others are popular lakes, rivers and gravel bars used during fishing season or to access recreational cabins.  These are also depicted on the CTAF Area diagram, along with their names, to let pilots know which CTAF frequency to use when operating to or near these locations.  We hope those locations not charted as airports will eventually become VFR waypoints that may be depicted on FAA flight charts.

Feedback Needed
Any significant change of this magnitude has the potential to solve some problems, and may cause others.  As a result, the working group set up a feedback mechanism to report problems or concerns.  A feedback form has been established on the Alaska Aviation Safety Foundation’s website so that pilots may report problems or ask questions, regarding this change of CTAF architecture.  www.aasfonline.org/feedback  Please let us know if you encounter problems that need to be addressed.  The working group will continue to address other areas, such as the Glenn Highway corridor between Anchorage and Palmer, to consider further refinements in the future.

What can I do?
This is a significant change, a long time in the making.  Please make sure to pick up the May 29th issues of flight charts, the Alaska Supplement, and update GPS databases.  Make it a point to check the CTAF of the place you are flying from and to-especially if you have gone there a hundred times before.  Talk about these changes with your friends and neighbors, to make sure they know about it.

This only works if we truly are all on the same frequency!

May 23rd Update:
Here are two additional documents to help “navigate” the changes to the Mat Su CTAFs.

Mat Su single-sided transition map This document is a single-sided map of the Mat Su CTAF Areas, which also has the high traffic areas combined.  The document size is 11 x 17 inches, in Adobe  PDF format, but may also be printed on 81/2 x 11 inch letter size paper.

 

MatSuValley Airports CTAF Listing  This document lists Mat Su Valley airports, seaplane bases and helipads, their identifiers and assigned CTAF frequency as of May 29, 2014.

Winging It: Where Alaska’s aviation system came from

A lot of my time is spent advocating for the aviation infrastructure that we count on to fly around Alaska.  Airports, nav aids, weather stations, Flight Service, weather cameras, etc. are all things that we use and often take for granted. But where did they come from?  If you are at all interested in that question, check out Jack Jefford’s book Winging It,  originally published in 1981, but more recently released in paperback.

winging it coverJack Jefford came to Alaska in the fall of 1937, to take a job flying for Hans Mirow in Nome.  Like many pilots of the time he learned to fly by shear persistence. Jefford kicked around the mid-west trying any way he could to make flying into a career—including a stint as a barn-stormer—before coming north.  Travel to and from Alaska at that time was by ship. Once arriving in Nome, the airplane was pressed into almost around-the-clock service transporting miners to the creeks for the short summer season.  Aviation was all by visual reference, when the weather allowed.  “City” airports were located at the larger communities like Fairbanks, Anchorage, Nome, Bethel. In-between, the airports literally were “fields” or gravel bars; frozen rivers, lakes and sea-ice in the winter months.

Pre-1940, radios were just starting to be installed in airplanes.  Not the VHF radios we know today, but HF radios initially requiring the pilot to learn Morse Code.  Even that was greatly appreciated, Jefford explains, when he crashed in the mountains east of Nome in severe winter conditions. The distress call he tapped out in code eventually brought local natives on dog teams to his rescue, ending his six day ordeal.

In the spring of 1940, Jefford made a change that corresponded with a huge growth spurt in aviation infrastructure development. He was hired by the Civil Aeronautics Authority (precursor to the FAA), as an Airways Flight Inspector just as the country was headed into World War II.  This was the start of his government career which “…would span thirty two years and over twenty thousand flying hours.” It put him in the cat-bird seat during the establishment of the initial airway structure that linked Alaska to Seattle, and connected the communities across the state.

The Japanese invading the Aleutian Islands certainly kicked military activity into high gear. A number of Jefford’s stories involve building the airports and airways down the chain.  The federal DLAND (Development of Landing Areas for National Defense) Program started in 1940, and poured $400 million into the development and improvement of military airfields across the nation.  Over two dozen airports in Alaska were constructed or improved under that program, many of which would later be turned over to the Territory (and eventually the State).  Jefford spent considerable time shuttling engineers and equipment between these construction projects.  Airstrips constructed under the DLAND program included King Salmon, Cordova, McGrath, Galena, Northway and Moses Point, to name a few.

At the same time, radio ranges to establish IFR airways were under construction.  These were low-frequency ranges that operated with dots and dashes to define the different “beams” leading to the station.

Not only did Jefford help site these facilities and transport the teams in to construct them, his job included flight checking and hauling the supplies to the technicians, specialists and families that staffed the network of facilities. Some of the most compelling stories center around rescue missions.

Old Illiamna Flight Service Station.

Old Illiamna Flight Service Station.

One memorable event took place on December 11, 1950.  The CAA manager at the Illiamna station, also a relatively new private pilot, crashed his Piper Clipper near the small community of Nondalton, on the shores of Lake Clark– badly injuring himself and his passenger.  The military flew a doctor to Illiamna, who was transported by dog sled to treat the injured pilot and passenger. He reported that the pilot was in critical condition, not stable enough for dog sled transport, and in need of air evacuation to Anchorage. Snow and icing, severe enough to force a military rescue helicopter to retreat, thwarted an earlier rescue attempt.  Departing from Anchorage in the FAA’s DC-3, Jefford encountered moderate icing as he crossed the Alaska Range but made the approach into Illiamna, which was reporting a 500 foot ceiling and less than a mile visibility. He managed to land and waited for conditions to improve.  Reports from the doctor advised that the injured pilot probably wouldn’t survive the night if he couldn’t get advanced medical attention.  After testing the snow cover on the unplowed crosswind runway at Illiamna in a truck, Jefford asked the residents of Nondalton to put out an array of gas lanterns on the lake ice in front of the village.  The flight crew calculated how many minutes they could fly the north leg of the low-frequency range before arriving at Nondalton, knowing that beyond were the peaks of the Alaska Range.  Jefford took off and flew the prescribed number minutes before being forced to circle back—without seeing any lights. On the second try he extended slightly, and just as he started his turn back, a crew member spotted the lanterns, allowing them to land on the unconsolidated snow. The deceleration in the unpacked snow made for a very short landing roll, requiring all of Jeffords talents to keep the Dug from nosing over.  After loading the patient and doctor, it took multiple attempts before they were able to get airborne, and make the trip back across the mountains to Anchorage.

This book is not a traditional biography, but was developed from many hours of tape-recorded stories Jefford told over a five year period.  It reads as though you were listening to the master story teller himself.  He and the CAA/FAA employees of that era transformed Alaskan aviation, allowing the development of more reliable service.  Low frequency airways gave way to VOR-based airways that are now the “legacy system” we are watching transition to space-based navigation.  Even though Alaska still has a sparse network of infrastructure in comparison to the lower-48 states, it is good to look back and appreciate what aviation was like in earlier times.  A big THANK YOU to Jack’s daughter Carmen Jefford Fisher, who with the assistance of her husband Mark and the late Cliff Cernick, made it possible for the rest of us to enjoy Jack Jefford’s stories—and have a greater appreciation for the men and women who developed aviation system we rely on today!

FAA Upgrades Alaska Aircraft to National ADS-B Standard

It isn’t always best to be an early adopter of a new technology.  Aircraft owners in Alaska that participated in the FAA demonstration program to implement ADS-B were among the first in the nation to experience the benefits of this new technology. Today ADS-B has become a core element of NextGen.  But when the FAA finally approved a technical standard for NextGen, the prototype equipment didn’t meet that standard.  Now FAA is offering to upgrade those aircraft that were “early equippers” so they won’t be left behind.

ADS-B display showing traffic during the Capstone Demonstration Program

ADS-B display showing traffic during the Capstone Demonstration Program

Background
From 1999 to 2006, FAA conducted an operational demonstration program in Alaska to address some serious aviation safety issues.  Known as the Capstone Program, FAA used Alaska as a test bed to launch a new technology, Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, better known as ADS-B.  This GPS-based system broadcasts (automatically) an aircraft’s location once a second, allowing another “equipped” aircraft to receive that information—a powerful tool for collision avoidance!

When within range of a ground radio, additional benefits become available.  Your aircraft position may be tracked by ATC, similar to what ATC radars do today—but with better accuracy in both time and space. If you fail to reach your destination, your ground track may speed search and rescue. But there is more… Ground stations allow aircraft to receive weather reports, NextRad weather radar and other information.  (If you are not familiar with ADS-B, AOPA has an online course which will walk you through the basics).

To obtain these benefits, the aircraft must be equipped.  In the course of the Capstone Program, FAA bought and installed the necessary equipment in about 400 aircraft in Alaska. Most of these aircraft operated commercially and were flying in the system on a daily basis, although some GA aircraft were included in the demonstration.  During this time, a few brave souls invested their own money and equipped their aircraft in order to receive the benefits of real-time traffic and weather in the cockpit.  Recognizing the benefits to aviation access and safety that this new technology represented, the Alaska Legislature adopted a low-interest loan program to help individuals and commercial operators (based in Alaska) to purchase and install this equipment in their aircraft.  The loan program continues today.

After the Capstone Program ended, a national standard for ADS-B avionics was adopted, however the original “demonstration” equipment no longer met the new standard.  To address this problem, FAA has launched a one-time project to upgrade the equipment installed in aircraft that were ADS-B equipped by November 30, 2013, to new “rule compliant” equipment. This includes not only the aircraft equipped by the FAA, but any Alaska-based aircraft that had invested in this technology prior to that date.  FAA has hired an installer who will be operating from different bases around the state on a defined schedule to make the upgrades.  Owners wishing to participate will be required to sign agreements, to have some equipment removed and new, rule-compliant avionics installed.  It may not be the way you wish to upgrade your airplane, but if you qualify, it would be worth checking with FAA to see if this upgrade program could work for you.  If you own an Alaska based aircraft equipped with Capstone-era equipment, contact the FAA Surveillance and Broadcast Services Program (907-790-7316 or jim.ctr.wright@faa.gov) to see if this helps upgrade your airplane!

Arctic Winter Games: An International Fly-In to Fairbanks

Fairbanks is undergoing an international invasion—of a good sort.  Almost 2,000 athletes ages 13-23, from eight Arctic nation teams (nine, if you include the Alaska kids) have arrived to participate in the Arctic Winter Games 2014.  Think Olympics (on a smaller scale), to compete in games with others from across the circumpolar north.

What caught my attention was how the international participants got to Fairbanks.  Not exactly general aviation—but by a series of charter flights from all over the Arctic.  The aircraft are one or another model of the Boeing 737, with a couple Airbus 320 or 330’s thrown in for good measure.  After studying the planned schedules, I decided to try and figure out where these planes were coming from, so turned to Google Earth, and below is my best approximation of where the flights came from, and roughly how they got to Fairbanks International Airport.

Approximate map of routes bringing almost 2,000 athletes to Fairbanks for Arctic Winter Games 2014

Approximate map of routes bringing almost 2,000 athletes to Fairbanks for Arctic Winter Games 2014

For the past three days, these aircraft have converged on Fairbanks to bring the participants together for a week-long set of games, ranging from snowshoe based biathlon’s, skiing, and dog mushing to indoor events like curling, soccer and traditional native games.  Much more than an athletic event, Arctic Winter Games has brought people across the arctic together since 1970, when the first games were held in Yellowknife. A total of 500 people participated in that event, which included athletes, coaches and supporters.

Fairbanks will see another flurry of air traffic on March 21, when the return migration occurs.  Airplane watchers will have an opportunity to see aircraft with paint jobs seldom seen in these parts (Air Greenland, Flair Air, Air Yamal, etc.) as they arrive to take the AWG participants home.  Hopefully taking with them new insights and inspiration after a week of rubbing shoulders with people from other circumpolar countries!

Alaska Directory of Youth Aviation Education Programs

Youth participating in an airport "traffic pattern" event, under ATC supervision.

Youth participating in an airport “traffic pattern” activity, under ATC supervision.

Do you know a kid who is interested in aviation?  Whether it’s one of your own, a neighbor or someone you met along the way—knowing the programs that are available in your community might help the next generation of pilots, mechanics, air traffic controller or airport managers get their start.  With that in mind, AOPA in Alaska has started a directory of pre-college aviation programs to help connect kids with different aspects of aviation.  They range from classes in middle or high schools, to “build a plane” projects, to a tour program at the Alaska Aviation Museum at Lake Hood.  The Civil Air Patrol has cadet programs in a dozen communities across the state, which are all listed, including a person to contact and the day and time they meet.  Two schools have actual pilot training programs, where a student could end up with a private pilot’s license!

Start something new
I hope this listing of programs will encourage educators or interested parent who might be thinking about starting a ground-school class in their high school, or an after-school aviation club to take that first step. Using the directory, they can find out who is already engaged a similar activity and contact them for ideas on how to get started.

Be proactive!  As an individual, or as part of a local aviation group, find out what youth programs are active in your area, and offer to help. Consider providing (or being) a guest speaker, setting up a Young Eagles flight event, or organizing a visit to an aviation facility.  If someone has an airplane they want to donate for a build-a-plane project, look for a youth group interested in participating.

AV8RS icon path-coverAlso listed in the directory are some of the resources that AOPA has to offer, such as the free-online AV8RS Program for young people aged 13-18.  Teachers may be interested in the PATH Handbook—Pilots and Teachers Handbook—that helps integrate math, science, physics, history and technology using general aviation examples.

The inspiration for starting this project came from my counterpart Yasmina Platt, AOPA Regional Manager for the Central Southwest Region, who developed a similar directory covering the nine states she serves.  If you would like to see what kinds of middle and high school programs are available in her part of the country (New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa), have a look: http://blog.aopa.org/vfr/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Listing-of-Pre-College-Aviation-Programs.pdf.  There may be ideas worth borrowing.  Each program’s website is included, as well as a personal contact.  Kudos to Yasmina for assembling this document, which prompted me to do a similar thing for Alaska.

This is just the start of this directory. I hope to find other programs that are not yet listed.  If you know of a youth program not included in the directory, just let me know. Please include contact information so I can invite them to participate. Or forward a copy to someone involved in the program, and invite them to contact me directly.  Over the months and years ahead, I hope to see a lot more entries added to the list!