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Thread: Need advice on flying to alaska from the lower 48

  1. #1
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    Default Need advice on flying to alaska from the lower 48

    A friend and I were thinking of flying to Alaska this summer in a fixed gear Cardinal 177. Neither of us has been to Alaska and we would finally like to do it. I hope this forum is the place to ask what we should do to prepare for the trip. What kind of survival gear is needed to cross Canada, should the tires be changed to a larger size, which are the best routes, how much is in the way of nav aids, how well does GPS work, are there better maps than sectionals, is there a site on the net that already has most of this information, etc.???

    Any information would be appreciated
    thank you,
    Max Hendrickson

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    Member Arcticmayhem's Avatar
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    Max, let me be the first to commend you on your ambitions. I have never flown that far, but I know several people who have and I'm sure there are some pilots on here who have. A Cardinal is a fast plane, so I would expect it would be a pretty easy trip. AOPA has some good information on their website on flying to AK and Canada.

    Now for some of the questions. I don't remember exactly what is required for survival gear, but it wasn't to much different than basic survival camping gear. Stock tires should be just fine. I fly a Cessna 150 and have no problem landing on almost any strip marked on the sectionals. The sectionals are the best maps I know of for navigation. Nav aids are GPS and VOR. GPS works fine, as does VOR at reasonable altitudes.

    There are three common routes that I know of, and they all have advantages and disadvantages. The coastal route is beautiful and has cheaper gas, but the legs are longer and the weather can be fickle. There can be hundreds of miles between airports, so if the weather gets bad or you have problems, you can be in real trouble. The second route follows the road, with potential emergency landing areas dotted along it. The gas gets more expensive as you get farther north. The third route is a variation on the second, but it cuts the corners in a few places to save a bit of mileage. One such shortcut is called "the trench" and IIRC is about 5-600 miles between stops.

    Bottom line, I expect that you will have a lot of fun and memories to share for years. Alaska can be very unforgiving of mistakes, so plan ahead and prepare. Most destinations don't have alternate airports along the way, so I try not to commit all of my fuel getting to a place just in case the weather turns bad and you don't have enough to get back. When you get some plans made up, post here and some of us can point you in the right direction for things to see and do while you are here. Good luck!

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    I've made the trip with just about everything from a Super Cub to a TU206G amphib. Trips included Anchorage to Florida and return several times. I would NEVER opt for the offshore route. Bad weather is no stranger to that route, and beaches are as scarce as hens' teeth.

    ADF was always a good radio aid, if that's still available along the inland (or highway) route. If the weather knocks you down to below VOR altitudes, the good ol' ADF still works quite well. Unlike Arcticmayhem, I'd opt for larger tires. Rain can make some of the intermediate (call them emergency) landing spots pretty soft, even with gravel.

    Remember that, even at 2,000 feet, there will be some areas where you are dead reckoning and using pilotage rather than our VOR, for navigation. Again, that's where an ADF (even DME) is so helpful. GPS, of course, is probably the best navaid these days.

    Good luck with a great flight. It's empty up there, but it's also gorgeous.

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    I have made the trip a few times while ferrying planes back and forth, Like Griz I no longer think the off-shore route is much fun. It has darn near killed me a couple times.

    The more recent Alaskan regs are pretty lame:

    Alaska state law (AS 02.35.110. Emergency Rations and Equipment) was modified a while back to reduce the equipment required to be carried. The current regulations require that no airman may make a flight inside the state with an aircraft unless emergency equipment is carried as follows:
    1. The minimum equipment to be carried during summer months is as follows: (for all single engine and for multiengine aircraft licensed to carry 15 passengers or less)
    (A) rations for each occupant sufficient to sustain life for one week;
    (B) one axe or hatchet;
    (C) one first aid kit;
    (D) an assortment of tackle such as hooks, flies, lines, and sinkers;
    (E) one knife;
    (F) fire starter;
    (G) one mosquito headnet for each occupant;
    (H) two small signaling devices such as colored smoke bombs, railroad fuses, or Very pistol shells, in sealed metal containers;
    2. In addition to the above, the following must be carried as minimum equipment from October 15 to April 1 of each year:
    (A) one pair of snowshoes
    (B) one sleeping bag
    (C) one wool blanket for each occupant over four

    The New Canadian Laws are even more wimpy....
    Here is the old Canadian Law which is no longer enforced:



    Emergency Equipment for Flights in Sparsely Settled Areas (most of the area north of 52 degrees North latitude is designated as "Sparsely Settled")

    1. Food having a caloric value of at least 10,000 calories per person carried, not subject to deterioration by heat or cold and stored in a sealed waterproof container bearing a tag or label on which the operator of the aircraft or his representative has certified the amount and satisfactory condition of the food in the container following an inspection made not more than 6 months prior to the flight.
    2. Cooking utensils.
    3. Matches in a waterproof container.
    4. A stove and a supply of fuel or a self-contained means of providing heat for cooking when operating north of the tree line.
    5. A portable compass.
    6. An axe of at least 2 1/2 pounds or 1 kilogram weight with a handle of not less than 28 inches or 70 centimeters in length. (typically referred to as a "Hudson Bay" axe)
    7. A flexible saw blade or equivalent cutting tool.
    8. Snare wire of at least 30 feet or 9 meters and instructions for its use.
    9. Fishing equipment including still fishing bait and a gill net of not more than a 2 inch or 3 centimeter mesh.
    10. Mosquito nets or netting and insect repellant sufficient to meet the needs of all persons carried when operating in an area where insects are likely to be hazardous.
    11. Tents or engine and wing covers of a suitable design, coloured or having panels coloured in international orange or other high visibility colour, sufficient to accommodate all persons when operating north of the tree line.
    12. Winter sleeping bags sufficient in quantity to accommodate all persons carried when operating in an area where the mean daily temperature is likely to be 7 degrees C (approx. 45 degrees F) or less.
    13. Two pairs of snow shoes when operating in areas where the ground snow cover is likely to be 12 inches or 30 centimeters of more.
    14. A signalling mirror.
    15. At least 3 pyrotechnical distress signals.
    16. A sharp jack-knife or hunting knife of good quality.
    17. A suitable survival instruction manual.
    18. Conspicuity panel.

    The following are suggested as useful additional equipment:

    1. Spare Axe Handle
    2. Honing stone or file
    3. Ice chisel
    4. Snow knife or snow saw
    5. Snow shovel
    6. Flashlight with spare bulbs and batteries
    7. Pack sack


    NOW;;; back to the flying stuff....

    Canadian Fuel prices are pretty high, as are their motel / hotel rooms.
    So you have two options, fly up across Canada at an angle pretty much straight to Alaska. ( I planned that trip last fall before it turned out I had to stay here to take care of some family illness problems)
    Or,,, Fly west across the US and then cut up through Canada on the dry side of the mountains. This is a little longer, but safer.

    My favorite place to cross heading north bound back home to Alaska is by
    Oroville WA. , Dorthy Scott airport, if you can get a ride into Oroville they have a great hamburger shop that is right out of the 1950s.
    Then to Canadian customs at Pentictin BC., They are fast and want you gone.
    then north to Kamloops BC,
    Then Williams Lake BC, a guy named Ti who retired from the airport runs a nice B&B nearby.
    Continue north and top off the gas at Prince George, expensive gas and expensive hotels
    Then up toward McKenzie where you can go two ways,,, Either the drench route straight north to Watson Lake....
    OR: Follow the highway through Piney Pass and head up to Fort Saint John, I have slept in the gas shack before.
    Then north west to Fort Nelson, try not to get stuck there overnight. It is a oil town.
    Then to Watson Lake, the guy who sells gas at the airport has a pilot B&B, old Lend Lease airport from WWII
    Then to White Horse, call US customs and tell them you are coming. A sterile airport if there ever was one. No character..
    The to Northway or Tok, depending on where the US customs people want to meet and harass you. Stay in Tok if you have too, the motel across the hwy is better and the food at Fast Eddies is pretty good as well. Plus there are no drunks on 4 wheelers going around the building all night like they do in Northway.
    The to where -ever in Alaska you want to head.....


    Floatplane,Tailwheel and Firearms Instructor- Dragonfly Aero
    Experimental Hand-Loader, NRA Life Member
    http://site.dragonflyaero.com

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    Very informative post, FloatPilot. I remember Pentictin as a place that, from the air, appears as though everyone who owns an apple orchard mows the grass between the trees. A wealth of clean red tile roofs, and absolutely stark white buildings. A truly beautiful place. No wonder they dont' want stangers hanging around messing up their little neat-as-can-be world . . . . .

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    I agree Griz, it seems like a nice littel place. Probably pretty hot in the summer.


    Penticton Airport CYYF

    And it seems to be windy as heck every time I go through there. There is a HUGE lake on the north side and a VERY BIG lake on the south side. The runway is lined up with the winds, but you better find chocks or have good parking brakes to go inside the terminal building.
    I had to sit in a plane once because it kept trying to blow away. The Canadian Customs lady was waving through the window for me to come inside and I was waving back that I was stuck. I finally tied up to a fence post and then had to get an long ass chewing from the Canadi-chick.

    Come to think of it, Kamloops CYKA (about a 100-125 NM dog leg flight north of Penticton) is also by a large lake. There is some sort of factory chimney on the south side of the lake that makes your plane smell like burnt sausage if you fly near it....
    They are a much friendlier bunch of folks around thier fueling area.

    Williams Lake CYWL, is about 110 NM north of Kamloops.

    These are short hops, but if you are in an overloaded Super Cub on tundra tires they do not seem so short. Plus I like to have enough gas to fly back where I came from.
    Floatplane,Tailwheel and Firearms Instructor- Dragonfly Aero
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    Quote Originally Posted by Float Pilot View Post
    I agree Griz, it seems like a nice littel place. Probably pretty hot in the summer.


    Penticton Airport CYYF

    And it seems to be windy as heck every time I go through there. There is a HUGE lake on the north side and a VERY BIG lake on the south side. The runway is lined up with the winds, but you better find chocks or have good parking brakes to go inside the terminal building.
    I had to sit in a plane once because it kept trying to blow away. The Canadian Customs lady was waving through the window for me to come inside and I was waving back that I was stuck. I finally tied up to a fence post and then had to get an long ass chewing from the Canadi-chick.

    Come to think of it, Kamloops CYKA (about a 100-125 NM dog leg flight north of Penticton) is also by a large lake. There is some sort of factory chimney on the south side of the lake that makes your plane smell like burnt sausage if you fly near it....
    They are a much friendlier bunch of folks around thier fueling area.

    Williams Lake CYWL, is about 110 NM north of Kamloops.

    These are short hops, but if you are in an overloaded Super Cub on tundra tires they do not seem so short. Plus I like to have enough gas to fly back where I came from.
    Ah, Kamloops. Home of those rainbow trout that vie for Iliamna's Lower Tularik's for size . . .

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    Max
    What Griz and FP said is right on the money. I do recall being awe struck the first time I flew up. I took the Highway path (not the trench) and I was amazed that every 15 miles or so there was this nice long grass runway cut out of the trees. There were emergency runways from the old lend/lease days. Make sure you take a ton of pictures (memory cards are cheap compared to a flight up. Remember the goal is not to get the plane to Alaska the goal is to enjoy the trip to Alaska. Stop and take time to check things out.

    Just my nickel
    Drew
    Normal people believe that if something ain't broke, don't fix it. Engineers believe that if it ain't broke, it doesn't have enough features yet.

    Scott Adams

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    I think that the weather on the more interior route (Hwy) is much more dry and less windy. I have made the trip in early and late winter, and while pretty cold during those times of year, it was still smooth flying.

    The more coastal route, or the true off-shore route (s) can get downright scarey.
    When all you see is black sleet & rain-clouds all around, giant waves crashing on rock-cliff shores, not a landing beach in sight, nothing but step hills & mountains inland with huge trees, and your gas gauge bouncing around a bit lower than it should be....
    You tend to suck the seat cushion up your rear end...
    Floatplane,Tailwheel and Firearms Instructor- Dragonfly Aero
    Experimental Hand-Loader, NRA Life Member
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    Member Sierra Hotel's Avatar
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    I made my first trip last summer. I kept a blog of the trip, lots of lessons learned there. It's located here

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    Very informative blog, Sierra Hotel. First-time states-to-Alaska pilots can get a lot from it!!!

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    How extreme is the harrasment in northway, I am a bit concerned about boarder agents having the authority to take a knife to your plane if the "suspect" anything. I have heard they can get a bit out of hand, are there any legal protections to prevent them from doing anything extreme, can you call a second agent, etc. My dad crossed the boarder from canada and they had my step mom in an interogation room for an hour, so the boarder crossing is a bit concerning. What are others expereinces.

    Also what are hangar rentals in these areas in canada for a night, I cant have my plane outside as there are no tie down loops on a pitts. I hope to only have to spend one night if that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rppearso View Post
    Also what are hangar rentals in these areas in canada for a night, I cant have my plane outside as there are no tie down loops on a pitts. I hope to only have to spend one night if that.
    You can tie the Pitts down with ropes wrapped around the interplane struts. just get some padding so the ropes don't rub on the fabric and paint...Louis
    Louis Knapp

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    Quote Originally Posted by Grizzly 2 View Post
    Very informative blog, Sierra Hotel. First-time states-to-Alaska pilots can get a lot from it!!!
    Thanks Griz. I hope it shortens the learning curve for others.

    Cheers,

    SH

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    Member Sierra Hotel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rppearso View Post
    How extreme is the harrasment in northway, I am a bit concerned about boarder agents having the authority to take a knife to your plane if the "suspect" anything. I have heard they can get a bit out of hand, are there any legal protections to prevent them from doing anything extreme, can you call a second agent, etc. My dad crossed the boarder from canada and they had my step mom in an interogation room for an hour, so the boarder crossing is a bit concerning. What are others expereinces.

    Also what are hangar rentals in these areas in canada for a night, I cant have my plane outside as there are no tie down loops on a pitts. I hope to only have to spend one night if that.
    Not sure about boarders, unless the boarder agents are looking for overnight guests or skiboarders . . .

    As for the borders, it was a non-event. There was a young customs agent that had to drive in from Tok for every plane crossing. We had done our homework as to the requirements, and he had our info on a clipboard. Checked our ID's and cleared us on our way.

    Have fun with the trip - it really is a trip to remember.

    Cheers,

    SH

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    THats a good idea, I have a little clip board built into my knee board so I will use that. Not much storage room in a pitts.

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    Tie your plane down hard from the inside axles of the front wheels and the tail wheel.

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    I have flown twice from MN to AK. The most direct and logical way is through Canada and more or less up the Alaska Hwy. The coast route only makes sense if you are starting on the west coast and is not for the faint of heart in any case. The trench route does not make sense either unless you just want to fly west to Idaho before turning north. Whatever you do, DO NOT clear Canadian Customs in Brandon, Manitoba!! There is now a $450-$650 Customs Call-Out Fee as Customs is no longer on the field. I recommend clearing customs at Piney Pine Creek Airport which physically straddles the border just northwest of Roseau. The Canadian Customs guy can just walk over to your plane from his normal Highway post 100 yds away. You can also buy your last US priced Avgas here as the fuel station is on the US side. From here make your way northwest to Peace River, AB which is a good point to jump off for the 270 mile hop to Fort Nelson. This kind of short-cuts the true Alaska Hwy route which goes up from Fort St. John, but the terrain is pretty tame and no big deal. From Fort Nelson, the most direct and low altitude route to Watson Lake is to fly up the Liard River Canyon. If you fly the hwy from here you will get into the big terrain and mountain passes around Muncho Lake. If the weather is nice, that's fine but the Liard River canyon lets you get across the spine of the Rockies barely over 3000' MSL. From Watson on into Alaska is pretty much an IFR (I Follow Road) deal unless the weather is nice enough to let you short-cut some of the road sections.

    1. You do not need large tires. All the airports you will be going to are huge and well maintained.
    2. It should go without saying to make double sure your airplane is up to the task with no deferred maintenance. Good tires, brakes, clean plugs, fresh oil change etc. Help is often non-existant and or very expensive. Be prepared and bring some tools and good camping gear.
    3. Have Fun!!

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