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Thread: Planning raft trip: bush plane capacity primer...

  1. #1
    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default Planning raft trip: bush plane capacity primer...

    Do you start with a good estimate of the weight you need to transport for your float trips? From the perspective of a newbie, when comparing costs for fly-out raft trips, others suggested we start with a good weight estimate for our group. Then, notes on bush plane cargo capacities (from this & other sites) helped compare the fly-out quotes based on the aircraft used by each air charter service. For example, a 1-hour flight to the put-in point, might be available for $3,000 with one service, or $2,000 with another service. Which is cheaper? Answer: depends on the weight of your load. If the first quote is for a Beaver and the second quote is for a Cessna 185, and your load, say 900 lbs, would mean two trips for the 185, then the Beaver ($3,000 x 1 trip) is cheaper than the 185 ($2,000 x 2 trips).

    The need for landing in small, sometimes rough spots limits the practical size of bush aircraft in Alaska, but generally as they get larger, they carry more in fewer trips. For rafters, usually it's a 185, 206, Beaver or Goose. Awhile back, I read a discussion of air charter costs which was confusing to me because the prices did not include much info on types of aircraft or air times/distances. Here are some notes for cargo capacities of several common bush planes. Your results, the actual weight limits specified by your air charter service, may vary and should be used for your trip plans.

    1. Piper Super Cub: small fuel capacity and one charter limits gear to 50#, but for non-floaters, can land on very little space like ridge tops. I think Mike Strahan once did a float in which his group landed on a ridge, then fought through brush to the river and had a good float. Packraft trip might be doable in a Super Cub.

    2. Maule: approx 400#

    3. Cessna 185: 700#

    4. DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver: 1,200#

    5. Cessna 206: 1,200#

    6. Grumman G21 Goose: approx 2,000#?: others might know better.

    General descriptive info about common bush planes:
    http://www.bush-planes.com/

    Good luck.

  2. #2
    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Default Aircraft Capacity Considerations

    Leech,

    Here are some additional things to add in:

    Air charters have fallen under heavier FAA scrutiny in recent years; gone are the days when you just stuffed the plane full, tied gear to the struts and took off for the wild blue. The payload (including passengers and fuel) must meet criteria set up for that particular aircraft.

    Not only do different aircraft (Super Cub, Beaver, 206, etc.) have different capacities, each individual aircraft has different capacities, depending on how it's rigged. Obviously a Beaver on floats can carry less than one on wheels (you deduct the weight of the floats and rigging), but what about mods like different engine sizes, props, STOL kits, external baggage compartments, etc. All of these affect the total outcome, in terms of payload. So when you see different numbers from different companies flying the same aircraft type, this is usually why.

    I recommend that you do the following for any flyout trip:

    • Pack your gear in smaller, airplane-friendly containers (no large rigid dry boxes, large coolers, etc.). These not only load better in the aircraft, but they load better in the raft too.

    • Weigh and label each piece before you leave home. I use wire tags for this, and list each item on a sheet of paper, together with its contents. This is especially important if I'm shipping via air cargo to a village first. The list allows me to see what item is missing and what is in the container. If it's a critical item (like a raft pump) I have time to regroup before getting dropped off. The weight also allows me to break my load down by both weight and contents, so each airplane load has what I need in it.

    • Packing containers should be weatherproof. Dry bags, trash compactor bags, etc. This allows my freight shipment to sit outside until I get there, and allows me to toss it out of the airplane at the drop point even in a rainstorm, without concern about it getting wet.

    • Keep in mind that some items (bear spray, for example) must be shipped outside the cabin of the aircraft (in a belly pod or in the floats, for example).

    • Each aircraft load should contain food, shelter, and emergency supplies for the people flying in that aircraft. This is another reason to work off of a checklist. If you have a pile of gear there and don't know what's what, you're going to waste a lot of time.

    • Be ready to go! It's not uncommon for air charter operators to be delayed because of weather. This throws the schedule out of whack, and if they have to wait for you to repack your gear, they're not gonna be happy. Organize your stuff and pack it appropriately before you ship it. Then all you have to do is separate your loads and load it in the aircraft.


    I don't remember running into a 50# limit on Super Cubs. The biggest challenge with Cubs is keeping the weight forward. You have the most space behind your seat, but it is too far aft to place heavy items. The Super Cub and PA-12 trips I've done always involved multiple trips, and naturally you get a lot more load aboard when it's just gear and the pilot.

    Finally I should say that some charter services have taken weight restrictions too far, and have made it all but impossible to fly with them on a float hunt. Also some seem to have little concept of what works and what does not work in the field. I ran into one this year that prefers to put two moose hunters in a 14' round boat with no frame (just paddles). Undoubtedly this works well for the air service, however in the unlikely event that both hunters take moose, they're gonna be in a world of hurt with that kind of setup. Some of the newer floaters, knowing no better, accept these limitations and over time they become accepted practice. Before long, the air service expects other floaters to pack that way too. In my case, I'm willing to pay for an extra gear flight if need be. That said, most of us tend to over pack (bring things we don't need). So there has to be a balance.

    As you mentioned, all of this is offered in greater detail in my book, "Float Hunting Alaska's Wild Rivers". Whether a person is hunting or not, this book is of value to anyone doing a flyout rafting trip of any kind.

    Hope it helps!

    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
    CLICK HERE to send me a private message.
    Web Address: http://alaskaoutdoorssupersite.com/hunt-planner/
    Mob: 1 (907) 229-4501
    "Dream big, and dare to fail." -Norman Vaughan
    "I have climbed my mountain, but I must still live my life." - Tenzig Norgay

  3. #3

    Default bush flying

    Well said Mike- Too bad we don't have MI-8s in Alaska!! Have become some what complacent all these years working in Russia, Contrary to popular belief they are really good choppers, one of the reasons NATO uses them. Now im back to airplanes since "you can't get there from here"!!

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    Member danattherock's Avatar
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    Default Interesting read...

    Good thread Dwight!

    The only thing I can add is to weigh all your gear at home before your trip. It always weighs more than I "estimate"
    The two loudest sounds known to man: a gun that goes bang when it is supposed to go click and a gun that goes click when it is supposed to go bang.

  5. #5

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Strahan View Post
    ...I don't remember running into a 50# limit on Super Cubs. The biggest challenge with Cubs is keeping the weight forward. You have the most space behind your seat, but it is too far aft to place heavy items....
    A few years back I did a couple of hunts where we were flown in by Super Cub, from a well known and respected flying service. They were really picky about weighing our packs, and 55 lbs was max they would accept for a pack in the cargo space behind the seat. However, they were less concerned about the weight of the person riding behind the pilot. Within reason they didn't seem to mind if we put small heavy stuff like extra ammo, batteries etc in our pockets to lighten the packs. I suspect it was part of the "weight forward" thing.

    Just remember it isn't smart to try to sneak around the weight limits. Lots of people die in over loaded or improperly loaded aircraft. Assuming you are flying with a good pilot, follow what they say. Do what the pilot says, because your life is at stake.

    Also, ditto what Mike says about making sure basic survival gear goes on each load with people. You just never know when you go in with the first load that the weather will turn bad or the plane will need some maintainence or whatever...and they won't be able to make another flight for a couple of days. Pretty bad when it starts to snow and you are standing there with the raft frame, pots and pans, and camera gear..... but no food, tent or sleeping bag!

  6. #6
    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Default survival stuff

    Overthehill,

    A bit off topic here, but you reminded me of one more thing:

    I carry a small day pack in my lap on almost every trip. That pack contains some food items, a full water bottle, satphone, rain gear, some parachute cord, a GPS, fire starting materials, a multi-tool, headnet, glove liners, a hat and possibly a small tarp. All electronics are in Ziplock bags. If in the remote chance of a crash, I make it out of the airplane alive, I have the basic essentials with me to survive until help arrives.

    A few years ago a co-worker of mine crashed his floatplane in a remote area off the normal flight pattern. It was a glassy-water landing and he misjudged his altitude as he was landing. He sheared his floats off and was knocked unconscious. When he came to his plane was half full of water and he could not get to the gear in the tail. All he had with him as he exited the sinking aircraft, was a survival vest he was wearing. He lived out there for nine days and survived because of what was in that vest. If was not wearing that vest, he would have died, plain and simple.

    I also avoid synthetic clothing on fly-out day. Most synthetics burn like a torch and if the plane catches fire, your chances of survival may be slim even if you can exit the aircraft. I know of at least one case where an individual would have made it, but his clothing caught fire.

    If I have that stuff in a day pack (or even better, if I am wearing it in a survival vest, my chances of making it until help arrives go up dramatically. HERE'S A LINK that discusses this more thoroughly.

    -Mike
    LOST CREEK COMPANY: Specializing in Alaska hunt consultation and planning for do-it-yourself hunts, fully outfitted hunts, and guided hunts.
    CLICK HERE to send me a private message.
    Web Address: http://alaskaoutdoorssupersite.com/hunt-planner/
    Mob: 1 (907) 229-4501
    "Dream big, and dare to fail." -Norman Vaughan
    "I have climbed my mountain, but I must still live my life." - Tenzig Norgay

  7. #7
    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default "The devil is in the details..."

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Strahan View Post
    ...I carry a small day pack in my lap on almost every trip. That pack contains some food items, a full water bottle, satphone, rain gear, some parachute cord, a GPS, fire starting materials, a multi-tool, headnet, glove liners, a hat and possibly a small tarp. All electronics are in Ziplock bags. If in the remote chance of a crash, I make it out of the airplane alive, I have the basic essentials with me to survive until help arrives......survival vest...I also avoid synthetic clothing on fly-out day. ...-Mike
    And it's easy to see how details like these (quote and others) can make all the difference. Stories, like the one Mike mentioned of others' misadventures are reminders how useless survival gear can be: "If only I could reach my warm neoprene gloves, handheld radio, and extra glasses in the cockpit... " -Clarence Bartley's 1998 Ak Airventures story, "Seven Hours on a Cold Float", described in Kaniut's "Danger Stalks the Land". Mike, thank you for the experience you shared here. Your book has been our "shop manual" for preparation: an excellent reference.

    Appreciate all the comments about Super Cubs (and weight distribution in general) and will plan for items on/with each individual.
    The checklist I'm using is from a composite Word document initially based on Buck Nelson's list (http://www.bucktrack.com/Alaska_Back...st_Review.html), rearranged using ideas from NOLS (www.nols.edu/courses/pdf/tetonvalley/idas_el.pdf) and enhanced for the past year with details from Mike's book and field experience. From this "master checklist", which contains hunting, fishing, dipnetting, rafting and truck camper specific items, I cut/paste the pieces needed for each trip for a purpose-specific checklist.

    Inventory List: Also, Mike's suggestion to "Weigh and label each piece before you leave home" and having an inventory list (also from Mike's book) of each bag, it's contents and weight is similar to what the Army does. My son, who left yesterday, helped me sort some gear (in "the gear warehouse/garage") and commented how similar it was to lists the Army uses in order to know what and where gear/equipment is stored on each convoy vehicle. The inventory list is proving valuable now as we plan to have the right items with us in load #1 in case an overnight is needed before load #2.

    Thank you for the comments. I'll watch for others, but already very helpful.

  8. #8
    Member Buck Nelson's Avatar
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    Default Good info

    I'm always picking up good ideas from threads like this. One typo I noticed is the capacity for the Cessna 206 on floats is usually quoted as around 800 lbs. I heartily agree with the ideas of weighing all your gear ahead of time and carrying important essentials on your flights.

  9. #9
    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default Continuously revising gear lists...

    as a result, against the gear capacities of transport modes; raft, boat or aircraft. The price of air transport esp (varies, but say $2700/Beaver load) puts a new perspective on some lightweight, but spendy gear.

    At Barney's for instance (all prices approx):

    A). "Go Kot": 8.5#, $100 + , REI Camp Bed 2.5, 3#14oz, $75...
    $175 for 13# altogether versus

    B). "Luxury Lite" cot: 2# 12oz, $230 + ThermaRest NeoAir air mattress, 9oz, $150... near $400 package, but just over 3# total.

  10. #10
    Member danattherock's Avatar
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    Default more dollars, less ounces...

    No doubt about it man, the more you spend, the lighter the gear gets. Lots of great info can be found by the backpacking community. Backpacker mag is a good one. Also, the same magazine has a very active online forum. Tons of ideas can be found on that site if you are looking to cut some weight. Check out the "Gear" and "Food" sections. These are ounce counters and while extreme for float trips and such, you can surely get some good ideas for trimming weight. Especially in the tent, sleeping bag/pad, and food categories. For clothes, better stick to what you know works. These tree huggers will get you killed in Alaska. ha ha ... Kind of kidding. But I will not be taking a 10 ounce coat to the arctic anytime soon. Nor will I be cutting a toothbrush in half. But their are some serious places where anyone can save some weight. My Kelty Trail Dome 6 (14 lbs) turned into a Black Diamond Guiding Light (4.5 lbs). Kelty 20 degree bag (5 lbs) turned into a Cabelas Boundary Waters 0 degree (2.5 lbs). The list goes on and on. The cumulative effect is very significant. If nothing else, it allows me to carry extra float trip essentials. Like liquor
    The two loudest sounds known to man: a gun that goes bang when it is supposed to go click and a gun that goes click when it is supposed to go bang.

  11. #11

    Default

    I am not a hunter (I camp) so I do not travel with a lot of lead, brass, or dead weight meat. I usually "bulk-out" a plane before I "pound-out" a plane. Usually the pilots can carry whatever they can fit inside.

    One other plannig point. If your group size or logistics are such that more than one trip is required, pilots have a little more flexibility and can usually juggle things between mulitple loads to make the most efficent use of the bulk/weight.

    (as was mentioned previously, just make sure YOUR basics are on the same plane as you, and that the essentials go in with the first trip, so the first load has what they need should the other loads be delayed)

  12. #12
    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default Good points about bulk and priority gear...

    On bulk, I found another good post by Catch It (http://forums.outdoorsdirectory.com/showthread.php?t=25450):

    Matching weights and planes and prices Essentially when you choose a plane you are looking at weight of the cast and crew that will fit in the plane, coupled with how fast it goes ... we did it with freshwater adventures using their goose... carries around 1800 pounds, it's fast, and you will never bulk out that fuselage. We had 4 guys, ten days worth of food, two rafts and didn't really skimp...

    In comparison, a beaver carries around 1200 pounds and it's not too hard to have too much fluff to jam into it especially if you are filling four seats with people. These weights are what the operators quote you by and many of them have scales at the dock to make sure everyone is safe.

    So, if I had 5 guys, 2 rafts, and enough stuff to have some comfortable fun on the river, I'd shoot for the goose out of Dillingham...the only way it would pan out better than that is if you are all midgets, and eat dried food, and could fit in a beaver. Two trips with a beaver will cost more than one with a goose, unless PB is that much cheaper than Dillingham operators.

    Even four guys wouldn't fit well in a beaver...three guys, one raft would.


    Be interesting to compile a list of who flies a Goose around Alaska besides Freshwater Adventures, Dillingham. Maybe better a separate thread.

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