Thursday, June 4, 2009

Summer Approaching

Finally, summer is starting o show its face around here. Temperatures have been up as high as 20C...... Ok, they got up to 20 on one day...But, days are getting a little more pleasant, particularly in the early morning.

I usually wear a t-shirt, a sweatshirt and a de rigeur Plaid Bush Jacket(see above.. I went with the blue means I am very manly and have a lot of chest hair. ) . As the morning goes on and we get warmed up loading the aircraft, the layers start shedding. By the time we are ready to head out, the sweatshirt is usually tossed back inside onto the couch. By the time we get to our firat camp to drop off and unload / reload, I am usually down to the t-shirt and the blue plaid is being tossed over a bush while we offload and then thrown under a seat on the plane.

Most flights are about an hours duration, some a bit less, some a bit more, and the aircraft stays relatively warm inside. Mostly due to the large radial engine she has up front. Its probably a good thing that outside temps are a little cool right now, as I'm told the aircraft gets quite warm inside come the heat of summer.

The flying has been pretty sporadic to date, and not really what I was expecting. Most of the time, its empty legs or freight runs, where one of us gets the controls during the cruise portions. I understand why no one is handing me the keys to such a large aircraft, and sort of figured this was going to be the case, but it is quite different to what I was told I would be doing.

I've gone over this in my head more than a few times whilst doing some difficult or tedious job, some of these jobs very tenuously related to aviation. On the one hand, I could be indignant that the job and its duties were not representative of what I was told I would be doing when The Lovely Wife and I decided that the sacrifices would be worth it for the terms as laid out in advance. Or... I could look at the reality of my situation... I don't really have a better job to turn to, in respect to getting a leg up or into a flying career. I am still learning valuable skills on a daily basis that can only help my job hunt for next year. Also, by being up here, I have not only the chance to make contacts with the people that might be hiring someone like myself next year, but I could end up being in the right place at the right time, even for this year.

I also get a daily reminder of what it is about this part of aviation that attracted me in the first place. The outdoors experience is second to none. I mean, every once in a while, I simply cannot believe that I am where I am..... flying above the northern Canadian wilderness in a bush plane that is not extinct, but definitely not that common anymore.

My goal of course, is to be the one flying it, not some of the time, not in the easy parts, but all of the time. when you are the pilot up here though, you do have a certain amount of other duties that you get called on to do, just because you're probably the only other person there...other than a paying customer of course.

For example, if you fly in a small group of fishermen, up for vacation, or a group of canoers going out on an expedition, and you arrive at the camp to find out that the boat engine they contracted you to provide them with, doesn't work.

If you fly it back to base, the guests trip is delayed, possibly cut short, perhaps even canceled. Now, if you knew some small-engine basic repair skills, you might be able to quickly clean the carb, change the spark plugs, drain and replace possibly contaminated fuel, clean the air filter and check that the wiring connections are secure. To an employer, being able to claim such skills, are a pretty handy insurance policy for him against unhappy customers.

Another example, particularly for a small operation, is when they are using a small aircraft to service a lodge. A small aircraft is probably what your average low-time pilot is going to end up flying as well. So, you fly in three guests and their gear for their week-long trip. On arrival, you find that the previous guests have used up all of the cut firewood, broke a window and left the cap off the main gas tank. There simply is not enough money in these types o operations to send up another flight with staff to fix these problems, without the booking becoming an overall loss. An operator, will probably try to hire guys that he knows will be able to trouble-shoot these types of problems on the spot, negating another costly trip, and keeping the customers happy. Hope you brought that chainsaw and know how to use it!

I guess what I am getting at, is that I see the value in some of the things that I am learning here, other than the flying. I see the type of person that I would want to hire if I were an operator, and I think this job is going to help me towards getting those skills and building a resume that will actually warrant a call back or two for next season.

I hope....

Anyways, not a lot happened this week that was worth writing about...sometimes something funny or interesting will happen and I want to write about it, but I really do have to keep in mind my employers need for there business not to be publicly posted on the internet. I try to imagine that their is both a customer and a competitor reading this, and try to censor myself accordingly.

One thing of note, was that a long time customer, like 15+ years of coming up here to go on fishing trips in our outpost camps, died last year. Part of his will stated that he wanted his ashes brought up with the boys on their next trip and his ashes scattered over one of his favourite lakes. He was packed in little plastic container, with a few stones inside to weigh it down. We couldn't really open it up and truly "scatter" his ashes, as the airflow outside would simply blow "him" back into the cabin... Might have made an interesting blog story and I probably could have gotten a great picture of all of us sitting there, ashen-faced and surprised...but someone had done this before apparently and thankfully we didn't have to learn that lesson first hand. I was asked to hold "frank" while we flew to the designated dropping spot, on the way up to take his buddies on their trip. They were all laughing and telling jokes about the whole thing, so it didn't feel like a very serious affair, till he was passed to me.

As soon as I held the container, I got a distinct feeling of what this meant to "frank".

Every year, him and his friends made this trek up to the wilderness. This might have been half of his yearly vacation allotment from work.

It certainly isn't cheap. Instead of traveling the world, instead of collecting expensive toys or hobbies, this was Frank's Big Thing.

He must have looked forward to his trip every year. Saved for it. Planned around it. He got enough out of this trip every year that it must have satisfied him, in a way that kept him from trying or doing much else. I mean, maybe he was very wealthy and this was one of a dozen trips he made every year, but I kind of doubt it. It hit me the second he was passed to me, that he had found a satisfaction in this trip, this place, that it was enough for him for the last 15 years of his life, he didn't need to do or try anything else.

I didn't drop him, and he was appropriately jettisoned in the appropriate spot. The boss looked over at me with a funny smile on his face like he was about to crack a joke, but then didn't, just kept grinning. I'll admit it, I had a grin too, but I had a little lump in my throat too.

Couple interesting pictures from the last week;

I don't know why, but this picture has bush flying all over it... ( Note the manly blue plaid ). a bucket, a lunch cooler, a plywood floor and a pair of rubber boots.

I like the look of the Beech-18, a fairly popular twin-engined aircraft that is used up here. It looks a little awkward around the docks though, with the low wing. I can only imagine how it would be to operate into some of the rougher outpost docks up north...The pilot actually enters and exits either the back door, where the passengers get in, or through a hatch in the roof. Most of the time I see them using the hatch up top.

When you're docking a float plane, its pretty common for the pilot to be hanging out the door, to watch the front of the float as he drifts up to the dock. Also, hanging halgway out he door helps so that you are ready to quickly jump out and keep the plane from getting into trouble. Other times, the wind isnt working in your fvour and you might be coming in to there is no brakes, you might have to jump out and fend the the aircraft off from the dock or obstacle, to keep from damaging the floats. Could be tricky if you had to fight your way back through a crowded passenger cabin, or up onto the roof through a hatch...

The seats in the back of the DHC3 Otter fold up against the wall. When folded down, there are a row of bench seats along each wall. The ability to quickly go from passenger, to gfreight, to a combination of both, is a huge advantage over some other aircraft. In some, you have to take out unwanted seats and leave them behind if you want to use the space for cargo. As seats have to be pretty sturdy, being made to support a passenger during all kinds of maneuvering and g-loading, installing and removing them can often involve tools and is a pain in the ass.

Just a quick glimpse of a typical northern runway...

My apologies for the poor quality, I've been trying for awhile to get a shot of one of the meandering rivers up here, but keep missing for various reasons. Back home in the mountains, there is really only a few places for the water to go...usually its the bottom of the ravine, valley, crevasse, or other obvious spot. Out here, the geology and its formation is so different, water can do all kinds of funny things. Lakes abound because of the relatively flat terrain and sealed nature of the rocks upon which they are sitting. Rivers carve slow twisting channels through places where there is a deeper layer of overburden and because of the limited slope, are never really in a hurry to get anywhere. In fact, a lot of places that I thought of as lakes, were actually rivers, that just got really wide and basically stopped flowing, until they trickled out the other end.

Note the manly blue plaid.

Its kind of funny to see logging activity out here. I suppose most of it must go to pulp production or something, as the trees really are quite small. As the soil over the rocks of the Canadian Shield is so shallow, th trees never really get any significant size. If they did, it seems like they would just fall over anyway, as there is usually a foot or two of dirt under them and then solid rock...pretty hard to get a footing. Logging out west with some of the giant trees there must be realy lucrative if they are able to make money out here out of what we would call '" pecker poles ' back in BC.


  1. First of all, manly blue plaid noted. Now onto my other observations.

    Nice pic of the Beech 18, what a timeless and beautiful aircraft. I envy you a bit for getting to work with one of those.

    The wilderness pics look awfully familiar... your description of the rivers matches the terrain where I am exactly, and the photo of the gravel runway is basically exactly what I go into every day. I'm curious to know where you actually are. If you like, email me and we can fill each other in on where exactly we both are. I'd be willing to bet we're less then 300 miles apart.

  2. AWE.

    I'm sure Frank appriciated what you did for him. Brought a tear to my eye to read that. (and a good buddy of mine (Sukalo) has an ashes story for you...LMAO.

    Thanks for the pics, and hang in there man!!!

  3. Thanks Dagny... its a grind some days... but there is a certain sadistic satisfaction in getting through it... has he got the ashes story on his blog somewhere?

  4. Discover how 1,000's of people like YOU are earning their LIVING online and are fulfilling their dreams right NOW.