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Thread: Tips for Winter Flying in Southeast Alaska

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    Default Tips for Winter Flying in Southeast Alaska

    Hi - Just looking for some advice from some old-timers on winter flying in SE. I've got 2 seasons of seasonal summer flying under my belt in Ketchikan and Juneau. This will be my first winter and will be SEL -- Any advice or words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated!

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    Quote Originally Posted by wsucouga View Post
    Hi - Just looking for some advice from some old-timers on winter flying in SE. I've got 2 seasons of seasonal summer flying under my belt in Ketchikan and Juneau. This will be my first winter and will be SEL -- Any advice or words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated!
    Maintain thy sirspeed, lest the ground rise up and smite thee . . . . .

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    Quote Originally Posted by wsucouga View Post
    Hi - Just looking for some advice from some old-timers on winter flying in SE. I've got 2 seasons of seasonal summer flying under my belt in Ketchikan and Juneau. This will be my first winter and will be SEL -- Any advice or words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated!
    You say you're flying SEL, so I'm guessing you're flying out of Juneau this winter. Watch out for the Taku winds downtown. You'll know it's Taku-ing downtown if you're at the airport and you can see the snow blowing off the tops of the mountains downtown.

    Don't let dispatch push you to go out in weather you're not comfortable with. Don't be afraid to turn around at any point during your flight if you don't like the weather. If you get all the way to your destination and you don't like the winds or fog or whatever, turn around and go back to town or another airport where you can sit down and wait for better conditions.

    For whatever destination you're going to, don't believe the agent when they say the weather there is good, when the weather has been bad all around that area. You will get there and find the weather is terrible and they will always tell you, " the winds picked up five minutes before you got here....the fog rolled in five minutes before you got here..." Always take a weather report from anyone other than a pilot with a grain of salt. Always say to yourself "well, we'll just see if it's that good."

    Don't feel bad if you turn around in bad weather, then dispatch calls you and says one of your competitors "just made it in" to the destination. The other pilot may have been far enough ahead of you and the weather has moved in behind him; he may have twenty thousand hours flying in SE and is comfortable with weather that you shouldn't be flying in on your first winter season; or he may use poor judgment and doesn't have the good sense to turn around. Don't let what someone else has done influence your decision if you're not comfortable with the weather.

    Don't let passengers, dispatch, or the freight guys push you to take more baggage or freight than you're comfortable with. There's always another flight going to that destination. Your flight is not the very last flight that is ever going to go to that destination again....the extra baggage/freight can wait for the next flight if you're not comfortable with the load.

    On weather days, dispatch may not send you out on flights but will send the senior guys. If there's room, ask if you can ride along with the senior guy. You will learn a lot about winter flying in SE by watching how the senior guys handle the different weather conditions.

    Ask the senior guys questions about how they handle the weather in different places during different conditions. Take advantage of their knowledge.

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    I'm not a SE pilot but two BFR instructors spent lots of time there. One thing they both teach is facebender turns. Learn your airplane's max performance turn radius. Maintain a greater distance than that radius when flying along the mountains in moderate visibility. If the vis drops, turn toward the mountain and reverse course. If you fly too close to the mountains and encounter bad vis you're only option is to turn out into IFR conditions over the water or valley while losing sight of the mountains. I prefer option A. Like with other mountian flying maneuvers it's important to have the flaps and airspeed where you want them when that max performance 180* turn becomes necessary.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Pid View Post
    I'm not a SE pilot but two BFR instructors spent lots of time there. One thing they both teach is facebender turns. Learn your airplane's max performance turn radius. Maintain a greater distance than that radius when flying along the mountains in moderate visibility. If the vis drops, turn toward the mountain and reverse course. If you fly too close to the mountains and encounter bad vis you're only option is to turn out into IFR conditions over the water or valley while losing sight of the mountains. I prefer option A. Like with other mountian flying maneuvers it's important to have the flaps and airspeed where you want them when that max performance 180* turn becomes necessary.
    For the first time ever, I think I have to disagree with Mr. Pid. I'm not really sure how one goes about accurately measuring the turn radious of a flying airplane. In knife-edge flight, it is probably somewhere between 300' and 500' for most of the airplanes we fly, though I'm not sure of that. Nor do I understand how the pilot's vision, especially in marginal conditions, and no matter how good that vision may be, can guarantee knowing what that distance really is while trying to judge it in flight. I've always been from the school that believes flying along one side of a valley or pass; or closely along the mountains when over open water, is the better technique. If the weather gets so very bad that the pilot cannot see downward to the earth's surface in order to aid him in that turn - - - whether over land or water - - - he's already pretty well "in it."

    Moreover, and while flying in the mountains, flying farther than is necessary from the face of a mountain is cutting down on that area available to the pilot for a high performance 180* turn. In some really tight passes, flying along the center of the valley (or saddle) would put the airplane in the middle of the open area, precluding a turn in either direction, effectively sealing the pilot's fate.


    I'm open to rethinking this practice, but it will take considerable reinforcement in favor of any conflicting techniique.

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    I have flown thousands of hours in lousy Alaska coastal and mountain weather, many times in gale winds or stronger. In a mountain valley in low visibility, I generally hug the side that provides an updraft rather than a down draft if the wind direction is likely to produce either. Also, I have noticed while flying in really bad weather that the visibility is not any worse immediately to the left or the right than it is straight ahead. Consequently I have no apprehension about making a 180 degree turn away from a coastal mountain side over the water using the vertical reference of the surface of the water (along with the DG and attitude indicator if necessary) to execute an easier, less than maximum performance 180 degree turn, especially with passengers aboard.

    The only time I ever regretted making a 180 in bad weather (snowing and 45kt. head wind), was because my ground speed after completing the 180 was so much faster going the opposite direction, it was totally alarming and scary. I was over half way to my destination. The weather had been reported better there (earlier pirep), so I made another 180 back into the wind and my ground speed went back to a tolerable level in spite of only vertical visibility. This occurred on the north gulf coast and I was very familiar with this particular mail route eastbound along the coast out of Cordova to Yakataga and Icy Bay. Had I not been intimately familiar with it, I would have stayed on the ground in Cordova.

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    The only time I ever regretted making a 180 in bad weather (snowing and 45kt. head wind), was because my ground speed after completing the 180 was so much faster going the opposite direction, it was totally alarming and scary. I was over half way to my destination. The weather had been reported better there (earlier pirep), so I made another 180 back into the wind and my ground speed went back to a tolerable level in spite of only vertical visibility. This occurred on the north gulf coast and I was very familiar with this particular mail route eastbound along the coast out of Cordova to Yakataga and Icy Bay. Had I not been intimately familiar with it, I would have stayed on the ground in Cordova.


    Sounds as though your experience gave you the basis for making a good choice. Good flying . . . . .

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    Default Tie down load

    Never skimp on tying down your load, a shift of a heavy load in strong winds can cause problems you cannot recover from. You will go up and down a lot in the up and down drafts of the cold winter storms.

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    Default Tie down load

    Never skimp on tying down your load, a shift of a heavy load in strong winds can cause problems you cannot recover from.  You will go up and down a lot in the up and down drafts of the cold winter storms.

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    My first boss up here told me "always dress like you have to walk out" I have ended up stuck on a ramp many a time and have been comfortable because of those words
    The winner isn't the person with the most gold when they die, but rather, the person with the most stories.

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    I'd have to agree with Mr Pid about the turns. I think the reason for turning towards land is that the other way you can easily lose horizon especially if over water, although you probably can see the surface of the ground or water straight below, it doesn't make for a very tidy turn if looking down there and not at the horizon.

    I made a turn away from the coast line in bad vis ONCE. Lost the horizon, completed the turn using the AH but now had lost sight of the coast line too - eased back towards it hoping it would't appear straight in front of me. Not a nice feeling.

    Every situation is different of course, but I was told never to turn away again - and I haven't.

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    Always leave yourself an out. Have a back up plan B if plan A isn't working out. If you're trying to get to Haines or Skagway and one side of Lynn Canal isn't looking good, cross over to the other side and take a look that way. If you're flying into deteriorating weather, always keep watch behind you; make sure that if you decide to turn around, you turn around soon enough that you have good weather behind you to fly to.

    You don't have a lot of options for landing on wheels once you leave Juneau and head up Lynn Canal until you get to Haines or Skagway, but there are some places. On the east side of Lynn Canal there is Michael's Beach by Berner's Bay and there's a strip by the Katzehin River; on the west side of the canal you could land on the beach on Glacier Pt. These are more like emergency strips if you're on wheels, because they'll be covered in snow in the winter.

    If you're headed to Hoonah, I've always thought you could put it on the beach there by Swanson's harbor in an emergency. If you're headed to Gustavus, there's an old strip at Homestead, though I believe it's pretty grown up. You've got Excursion Inlet's runway.

    We had a first-time winter pilot get stuck in bad weather coming down the canal in a 207 and he circled a tiny island and called us on dispatch freq. He kept circling that island, as that was his only visual reference in blowing snow, and we got out there in an amphib 206 and found him, and he was able to follow the plane back in to Juneau. If you get stuck in a really bad snow squall, you could circle an island or a tree until the squall passes by, but make sure your turns aren't so steep that you would do a moose-hunter stall and spin in.

    Any time you start encountering lower visibility, get that first notch of flaps in and slow that thing down. Be careful if you're heavy, of course, but you don't want to be barrelling into lower visibility at cruise. Slowing down a little gives you a little more time to think about what you're going to do; whether it's continue on and see if the weather improves or turn around and head back to better weather.

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    Default Thanks

    Thanks for the great advice!! Safe flying

  14. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by wsucouga View Post
    Thanks for the great advice!! Safe flying
    You have a great winter, wsucouga!

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