Friday, December 23, 2016

Bringing the SNJ back from Fairbanks AK to Lincoln CA: Part Three

...continued from parts one and two.

Kamloops BC to Oroville WA (USA)

The next morning was "warm" for Canada and the sky above was morning-sky-blue.  We enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the hotel and caught a shuttle back out to the airport.  The wool pants and thermal underwear gave way to a fresh pair of jeans, the fleece was staying in my duffel bag.

The plane was waiting for us where we parked it the night before, but neither Andy nor I could remember the gate code (Note to self:  Take a photo of the gate code before exiting the ramp).  We found a cooperative airport staff member who escorted us back onto the ramp.

Penticton Regional Airport
Andy filed another international flight plan including a time window for us to arrive at the Oroville Airport.

We had plenty of fuel for our short flight across the border so we loaded our bags back into the plane, strapped in, and pointed the plane back down the runway towards Kamloops Lake and the Thompson River we had followed in the previous evening.  As the tail lifts off the ground I let it rise just enough to be able to see the runway ahead over the big engine obscuring my view.  The airplane lifts smoothly off the runway and resumes biting into the sky as I retract the gear.

We climb paralleling the shoreline until we clear the ridge on the south side of the lake and then turn direct on course toward Oroville.  I grew up in Washington, and I have been nearly everywhere in the state.  But I don't recall ever having been to Oroville before.  It sits just four miles from the border where customs agents are usually working the automotive crossing.  For us to clear customs here one of the agents is sent to greet us, thus the earlier time window.

Somewhere down there is the border
Crossing the border I look for the tell-tale line of trimmed vegetation, but in the arid climate of Eastern Washington, there is no vegetation growing from the rock to be trimmed back.

We extend the gear and make a wide left-downwind pattern and line up on the narrow runway.  And boy does it look narrow.  But this time I am ready for it.  I kick the rudders a couple times to loosen up my feet and get my heels on the floor rails and toes away from the breaks.  I get another landing I can be happy about, and Andy again says I am staying ahead of the airplane much better.

Checking for Atomic Bombs?
We parked in front of the customs "office," opened the canopies, released our seat-belts, and waited for the agent to come out to come meet us.  Eventually an ominous SUV pulled up on the other side of the fence and an Agent exited the vehicle.  He let us climb out while he interviewed us.

Then he got out his Geiger counter.  That struck me as really odd, but Andy had warned me that it would happen.  Since the older instruments are painted with "glow in the dark" radium paint, the geiger counter started squawking and squealing as soon as the agent got near the panel.  He glanced over at Andy and me, and Andy just shrugged and said "radium painted gauges in the instrument panel."  The agent move the Geiger-Müller tube over the panel to verify Andy's report, gave us an all clear, and walked back into the office.

Andy walked to the pumps while I climbed in the plane and went through the start-up checklist for the short taxi it to the fuel pumps.

Part of our reasoning for not refueling in Kamloops is that aviation fuel is generally more expensive in Canada than it is in the U.S.  Aside from being paid for in Canadian Dollars, it is dispensed in liters, pushing my limited brain to do two conversions in order to come up with the equivalent price.  But recently I discovered that SkyVector does these conversion for me automatically. Just click layers, select the FBO tab, check the type of fuel, currency, and units of measure.

Make your Flight Plan at

Had we used it, we would have seen that gas was a dollar less expensive per gallon in Kamloops than it was in Oroville. Pretty cool.

Oroville WA to Bend OR

After refilling the plane we saddled back up and snaked the big SNJ down the narrow taxiway that was clearly made for planes the size of a Piper Cub to the south end of the runway.  I lined up the plane with the runway and pushed the manifold pressure back up to 30 inches.  As the tail lifted, again I held it just low enough so I could see the end of the runway over engine and we smoothly departed back to the north.  I retracted the gear and made a climbing 180 degree left turn back to the south, called up Air Traffic Control (ATC) for flight following, and continued to reach for cooler air above.

Crossing from WA to OR
We had been in straight and level cruise for a while when ATC came over the radio to advise us that Military Operation Area (MOA) we were flying in was "Hot," or in use, and we were sharing the airspace with some F-18's who were aware of our presence.  At 10,500 feet I was just above the bottom of the MOA airspace.  I offered to let the F-18's practice their intercept skills on us, but got no joy.

straight line to Bend
We continued straight and level south paralleling the Columbia River as it passed through Wenatchee WA, and then crossing over it on our way south past Ellensburg and Yakima.  Soon we were crossing the Columbia for a second time as we flew into Oregon.  Wind turbines were visible on the mesa above the river.

I had flown into Sunriver Resort in several times, but I had somehow overlooked how close it was to the cluster of airports including Madras, Bend, and Redmond.  We landed in Bend to refuel the airplane.

Due to some technical issues at work, I had several messages on my cell phone.  I attended to these while Andy refueled and oiled the airplane.

Bend OR to Lincoln CA

Our stop in Bend was just brief enough to resupply the plane.  Andy and I snacked on some protein bars, and re-hydrated before pointing the plane south again and picking up flight following from ATC.

Volcanic cone and crater
I had not flown south of Sunriver in eastern Oregon, and I am disappointed I had not done so sooner.  All across the terrain is evidence of the Pacific Northwest's volcanic history.  Everywhere you look are volcanic cones, craters, or lava flows.  It was totally fascinating to me.  I need to go back.

The air grew warmer and I was down to just a t-shirt under my unzipped flight suit, and the canopy was slid open in flight even against the added noise.  Andy and I cruised along straight line south towards Sacramento.

Near the Oregon - California border
We approached the Oregon-California border and the Goose North MOA as we continued south towards Lincoln.  I checked if the MOA was active and the controller responded that it was not.  Andy and I discussed the persistent Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) around Beale Air Force Base, and how we may have to navigate around it.  As we continued south, ATC queried us about our knowledge of the TFR ahead.

I asked if he was referring to the one at Beale and ATC said that the Beale TFR was not active but indicated there was a second TFR closer to us due to a forest fire.  He had us stay at 10,500 feet as we passed through it while the fire-fighting helicopters hugged the terrain far below.  Not long after that we were cleared to start our descent.

ATC cleared us through Beale's airspace as we descended and maneuvered for a long straight in at the Lincoln Airport.  Andy pointed out a cluster of structures to the east of Beale's runway, and mentioned they were some sort of space communication something or other.  We were headed straight for them.  ATC had us turn about 20 degrees right so we would pass north of them as we lined up on the runway.

I was feeling pretty confident from my previous couple of landings, and as soon as the main wheels touched down, I pulled the stick back to pin the tail wheel on the ground.  But my airspeed was still a bit high, so the plane ballooned up off the runway, and I fought the stick for a hard "thump" back down on the ground.  "Pride cometh before a fall."  Every time.

The sun is setting on another adventure.
We were greeted by several of Andy's social circle who were happy to see his return to Lincoln.  We refueled the plane.  One of those who greeted us was representative for the local paper, Melissa, who was there to get Adventure Flight's ad published in the paper.  Andy pointed out the hangar, told me to bring the plane over, and he would walk over an open it up.  I offered Melissa a ride in the back seat as I taxied back, and she eagerly accepted.

We spent the next couple hours unpacking and sorting our gear from the plane, and tucking the SNJ into the hangar with its stable-mates.  I booked a flight home for the next morning.

That evening Andy and I enjoyed a hearty meal at a local Lincoln Pizza Parlor.

Epilogue and photos

A little over 16 hours in the plane, 15 landings, Four U,S, States, Two Provinces, Two countries, and a great adventure with a really good co-pilot.

See all the photos here:
See all the photos here

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Bringing the SNJ back from Fairbanks AK to Lincoln CA: Part Two

...continued from part one.

Dease Lake BC to Smithers BC

Getting above the clouds at Dease Lake
We slept well and in the morning had breakfast at the Super A across the street.  We picked up yet another discouraging weather report and headed over to the airport anyway.

At the airport we are met by low gray clouds blanketing the surrounding hills.  We file a flight plan in hopes it breaks up enough to depart.  Around noon a commuter flight arrives with a load of passengers.  "PIREPS" or Pilot Reports!  Fresh from the cockpit.  I jog from the SNJ down to the commuter plane and locate the pilots.  They tell me of open sky just north east over the lake at the end of the valley.  Andy and I waste no time firing up the plane and taking off in that direction.  Sure enough the sky opened up and we climbed above the broken layer.  South we went, following the wide valley and highway below.

We skipped along at 10,500 feet above the clouds, it felt good to be making progress south towards warmer climates.  Already I was wearing the gloves less and the neck cowl fleece was no longer pulled over my ears.

About 20 miles out of Smithers, the clouds below opened up and gave a nice clearing to circle down.  We flew below the clouds along the valley floor the rest of the way to Smithers.  It was fun flight below the valley walls over the wide floor below.  We came around the valley, lined up on the airport, and landed.

Smithers is in a beautiful setting, a wide flat green valley floor extending north-south for miles.  It is known for steelhead fishing, while we were there the ramp had several helicopters and business jets delivering and awaiting passengers.  I could enjoy hanging out in this kind of peacefulness for several days.

We were greeted by friendly airport line crew and the airport staff came out to see the airplane.  I helped one of the airport staff climb into the cockpit and have her picture taken. They were very nice.  The airport manager came out and chatted with us for a while, making sure we were aware of the services they had to offer, assuring us they would be an excellent place to stay if we got weathered in.  At the time I wondered if he was really nice, or trying to say we should not be departing into the current conditions.  Either way, I really liked the experience.  Those Canadians really are nice.

Smithers BC to Williams Lake BC 

We took off pressing further south and were treated to a double rainbow as we climbed up over the weather, I wish the cellphone camera did it justice.  It was quite beautiful.

We were chasing a cold front, which also meant we are getting a fair tail-wind push.  The front was marked by stacked up clouds that required us to do some zig-zagging to progress around them until we passed the front.  There the mountains finally fell away as the clouds rose high above and the terrain spread wide around us.  The oil belching radial engine pulled us faithfully over the beauty of central British Columbia.

Again the miles were rapidly sliding behind us in 20 second increments, and in just under two hours I was lining back up on a runway.  This time at Williams Lake BC.  We refueled the plane, and called ahead to see where we could clear customs.  I wanted to clear at Paine Field, my home airport, but customs would not be available there,  So we checked Bellingham instead.  They would be open, but we had little margin of error to get there on time.

We filed our flight plan and completed the online forms for clearing customs a Bellingham.

Back into the sky we went.

Williams BC to Kamloops BC

We headed south by southwest toward the US border as golden hour lit up the sky around us.  The cold front that had been our helper on the southeast leg became our punisher on our flight southwest.  We pressed forward towards Bellingham in to headwinds spilling off of the mountains ahead.  Between fighting the headwinds for ground speed, and the rotors for altitude, our forward progress was slow and agonizing.  We tried lower, we tried higher, we tried tweaking the power.  We watched the GPS's estimated arrival time in Bellingham move further away.  Our ETA reached, and then passed the time limit customs had given us.  It was certain we could not push the plane any harder for an on-time arrival.

We turned left headed to Kamloops BC, and started sliding down hill.  The time passed quickly as the sun set behind us and and darkness enveloped the sky, we set the plane down for a straight in landing on runway 08 at Kamloops, just over one hour from when we left Williams lake.

We enjoyed an excellent dinner and a cold adult beverage at the Holiday Inn & Suites before drifting off to sleep for the night.

To be continued...

Bringing the SNJ back from Fairbanks AK to Lincoln CA: Part One

The Adventure begins

After the big adventure of flying the SNJ from Oregon to Alaska, I knew if the opportunity arose to ferry it again, I wanted to participate.  So I let Andy know I was ready to do it again when the time came.  Andy was agreeable, so I set out preparing for the return trip.

I learned a few things from the first trip, and incorporated them into my preparations.
  1. The airplane is loud, and even noise canceling headsets offer little relief.  Andy wore what he called his "Mickey Mouse" hat -- a leather helmet -- and said it helped.  I found that if I removed the cloth covers and pressed my headsets against my head, the noise was suppressed better.  So I looked into buying either a leather or hard helmet.  The leather helmets are not that much money.  Not sure why, but I also looked into low-profile in-ear headsets.  In the end, I decided to build my own low-profile in-ear headset.
  2. The airplane is COLD.  I brought long-johns, wool pants, warm gloves, and boots.
  3. My flight-suit's collar chafes on my neck.
  4. GPS is really handy.  I bought the North American database for my handheld GPS so I could have Canadian data.
I blew a handful of my Delta miles and bought a ticket from Seattle to Fairbanks.  After work on Thursday, my son picked me up from the office, went out to dinner, and then he dropped me off at Seatac.  Andy picked me up at the Fairbanks Airport later.

Downwind at Fairbanks
Friday was a day of wrapping things up at Andy's house and getting me and the plane ready for the trip.  My landings on the first trip were well below my personal standards, so Andy and I took the plane for a few hops around the Fairbanks pattern.  I had studied the manual in preparation for the landings, and worked to establish the correct airspeeds in the pattern.  Downwind, 120, base 100, final 90.  I worked on sight picture and power settings to achieve the speeds.  After six circuits, I felt I had a much better handle on how to manage the landings.

To help stay warm I bought a new fleece jacket and a fleece neck cowl from Proflite.

Saturday the weather was pretty rough and prevented us from leaving, so we took care of some chores around the house and explored around Fairbanks.

Fairbanks AK to Whitehorse YT

Sunday morning we arrived at the airport early to start our adventure.  There was a fairly low ceiling over Fairbanks but the forecast called for it to clear up as we proceeded east out of the valley towards Whitehorse.  We departed east out of Fairbanks and stayed low below the clouds over the Tanana River, and then turned left to pass north of Ellison Air Force base.

crossing the US / Canada border
Shortly after passing Ellison the clouds broke up enough for us to head higher.  We climbed up around a scattered layer and settled in for the flight to the Yukon.  We passed over Tok, Northway, and then the border.  I have been amazed both times I have flown over the border that we take the time, even in the middle of nowhere, to carve out the line between the two countries.  But there, out both sides of the airplane, you can see it extending through the trees.

Our arrival a short time later at Whitehorse gave me my first opportunity to land the heavily loaded SNJ.  And with Andy in the back seat, all our survival gear, a full tool box, and a couple cases of oil, we were heavy with an aft center of gravity.  I set the plane onto the runway with only a small crosswind, and fought it to a taxi.  Andy chuckled at me and said "you are about a half a second behind the plane."

Oh man, I thought I had it down earlier in Fairbanks.  But all that stuff in the back makes a significant difference on the amount of momentum I am working to keep between the main wheels.  I taxi to customs a bit dejected.

Two very polite female customs agents come out and greet us at the plane.  They start with routine questions.  Why are we coming to Canada?

Taking the airplane from AK to CA.

Why are you moving the plane?

For business.  Summer in AK, Winter in CA.

The questions continue.  They ask us to unload the plane.  Everything.  They ask us repeatedly if we have an firearms.  All the flight gear comes out of the cockpits.  All of the bags of charts.  All of the spare coats,  Then all of the supply fluids from the back, then snacks, and then the survival gear.  They ask again about firearms.  Then the toolboxes, then repair kits, then spare magnetos..  They open our duffel bags with our clothing in it.  They find the four beers in the snacks.  They ask again about firearms.  They search the tool boxes, inspect the gaskets and seals, and look at the magnetos.

Finally they have the plane empty, our stuff all unpacked and spread out over the ramp.  And they are convinced.  Yep, we are flying an old airplane from Alaska to California.  Have a nice day, and good luck getting all that back in the plane.  Thanks.  We repack our gear back in to the plane.

We take a potty break, Andy heads for the fuel pumps, and I fire up the plane and taxi to Andy.

Whitehorse YT to Dease Lake BC

We head south east out of Whitehorse towards Dease Lake.  The terrain below us is rugged but not too harsh.  Wide valleys and smallish mountains keep us distracted.  And soon we are closing in on the Dease Lake airport.  The runway sits on the southeast side of a good size hill -- some may call it a mountain.  The clouds obscure the top of the hill so we descend around the clouds and skirt the terrain, approaching from the south west, lined up for a straight in on the runway.  We call the airport radio operator to announce our intentions.  And they repeat them back to anyone in the area.  This is one of the funny differences between American and Canadian airport operations.  In Canada, it seems every airport has a radio operator.  But that operator is not a controller.  They are there to repeat stuff, but not approve of or grant clearances.

Refueling in Dease Lake
The runway is narrow with gravel on either side.  I set the plane down and start the pedal dance.  Again Andy says I still a half second behind the plane, and because of the narrow runway, Andy gives the rudders a couple kicks to keep me out of trouble.  We taxi to the end and shut down at the pumps.

The weather to the south is not encouraging, but we decide to try to run the valley to the west down to Smithers.  In the process of getting ready to go, Andy says something important to me in passing.  He mentions that I cannot wait for the airplane to be lined up with the direction I want it to be going, rather I soon as I detect movement, I should be countering it with opposite rudder.  Turns out, that is the one bit of advice I needed to hear.

Dease Lake BC to Dease Lake BC

We took off to the south and started following the GPS and the valley south.  We were low below the clouds over one of the most ruggedly beautiful canyons I have seen.  Sheer narrow cliffs squeezed the river.  There were no river banks here -- just water and rock walls for miles.  Eventually the canyon widened and train tracks appeared.  We followed them further south for a while.  And then about an hour out of Dease Lake, the terrain rose up and met the bottom of the clouds.  I was pressing forward to look for a gap, but could not find one.  Andy's voice came over the intercom confirming what I too was realizing.  "We can't get through there."

I slowed down and pressed the plane up against one side of the canyon walls and turned hard towards the other side.  In less than a third of the width of the canyon we were pointed back north, the way we came.  About 20 minutes up we turned west to pick up another valley that headed south, but it too was not looking promising.  Neither of us wanted a repeat of the long leg of first ferry trip, so we turned back to Dease Lake.

Again the narrow runway loomed.  I lined the plane up, bounced my feet a couple times to get the rudder away, and started bleeding off air-speed.  90 MPH on final I eased the plane on to the runway, and watched for the nose to move.  As soon and it did, I gave it opposite rudder.  We shut down for the day and Andy said "I think that is the best landing you have made in this plane."


We call the Northway Motor Inn to book a room and they offer to send a vehicle over.  We surrender to the weather for the day.

To be continued...