Less than 15 minutes later we slide sideways to the north a little before a gentle right bank lines us up on final for Noorvik’s sole dirt runway a mile and a half ahead of us and just beyond the lights of the village. As we cross the Kobuk and sail across the top of town at no more than 250 feet I am puzzled looking ahead in the darkness. For while the approach end of the dirt runway 11 is marked with a flare pot on each corner, the far end is only illuminated by one, which appears from here to be on the left side.
Judging from the crab angle and the ride down final the wind isn’t THAT bad that it should’ve blown one out. As I think this to myself the fourth smudge pot, marking the other corner of the runway illuminates and I realize that the village agent had only this minute lit it. He had barely beaten us to the runway which is no surprise. Morning time in the villages in winter is NOT exactly a hopping busy time.
We plop down withing fifteen to twenty feet of the end of the runway (it is said that if you place a sheet of notebook paper on the ground and weight it with a couple of rocks Jonesy will hit the PAPER on touchdown nine outta’ ten times supposedly) and Jonesy rolls the throttle handles forward to unlatch the reverse locks and SNAPS the throttles almost full aftwards launching the propellor blades to maximum reverse angle.
This literally causes the cockpit and cabin occupants (if there WERE any on this leg) to lurch slightly forward.
Just as quickly as the engines begin to increase to MAX thrust Jonesy slides the throttles forward, almost, but not quite out of reverse. The nose comes back upward off the (almost) bottom of it’s strut and the remaining forty or so knots of airspeed drops away quickly.
As Jonesy completes the transition from landing to rollout I watch for him to release the control wheel and grasp the nosewheel steering tiller which is quite INconveniently mounted on the left side of the yoke co-mounted with the control wheel.
I crank the control wheel hard left into the left quartering crosswind holding the yoke neutral as Jonesy steers the Twatter over to the right side of the dirt strip so that he might have the advantage of using the WHOLE seventy or so foot width of the runway to make our taxying course reversal. It is exTREMEly rare outside of either Anchorage or Fairbanks to find what might be termed a TAXIWAY anywhere in the state. You turn around and taxi back on the runways. Even in OME, OTZ and BRW. And at one end or the other of any given runway you will find “the ramp” or what passes as one in the villages.
Sure enough, just as we begin our U-turn, our landing lights illuminate Willie Morrison, the village agent for our airline, hurtling at damn near flying speed down the trail just off the side of the runway so as to beat us back to our parking spot. Behind him his sled bounces slightly up and down in the air, it’s only tied and bungeed contents it appears being a half a dozen mail sacks and three or four wrapped boxes....presumably more mail for town and points beyond.
Halfway through the turn, as the prop blast and the now becoming a quartering TAILwind fight for control of the huge elevator I decide the battle in favor of down elevator with my side of the yoke and hold it there until we again turn the aircraft into the wind on the “ramp”. The ramp which comfortably provides room for us to get the entire aircraft and wingspan OFF to the side of the runway is crowded with a dozen people and half as many snow machines and sleds. The addition of the Twin Otter literally fills it I note as I PRAY that not even HALF of these people want to get on. Otherwise Jonesy and I are gonna’ be humpin’ the whole damn load to rearrange the remaining mail and cargo to accomodate more than the three passsengers whose seats will be available along the back wall after we unload the Noorvik stuff.
Jonesy shuts down the left engine immediately but leaves the right engine turning to make the heat and engine generator provided electricity last as long as possible whilst I fill out the log book and fish out the appropriate paperworks co-mail envelopes, et al that must get off here.
Finally after hanging up my David Clarks on the overhead hook, unclipping my harness and zipping up my snowsuit I turn to Jonesy to tell him I’m ready and he can kill the other engine.
My mouth just hangs open as I watch Jonesy recorking his thermos and spy the styrofoam cup on the glareshield, steam rising slowly from it and the scent of good coffee just now reaching my nose. Sliding the dented and road weary HUGE thermos back to it’s resting place behind his seat he reaches into his breast pocket. Ten seconds later he’s sucking down a good drag on a freshly lit Winston and reaching for his coffee cup. Just aft and outside my door, four feet away, the right propellor continues to thrash the cold morning air in it’s fully feathered position.
Jonesy has started to raise his coffee cup to his lips but has sensed a lack of movement from the right seat for some many seconds now. Turning his head to the right he lays his eyes upon my motionless countenance, mouth still dumbly hanging open. Lowering the coffee cup only slightly, the old guy finally utters his SECOND word since first firing up the engines almost thirty minutes ago. With an accusatory tone in his voice I hear him say....”Well??!!”
As slow-witted as I may be sometimes...it FINALLY dawns on me that my name for THIS trip is Manuel. As in MANUEL LABOR!!
Biting my tongue I reach behind me and find the door handle and hold it open as I descend quite carefully and with a good grip on the doorframe as well. The frozen snow covered ground SHOULDN’T be slippery at this temperature...BUT I am taking NO chances as I step into the brisk northeast wind and the air stirred up by the propellor whishwhishwhish WHISHIHG the air only a couple of feet from my left shoulder now. Slamming the door shut with a good latching of the door handle I walk around the nose. Time to go to WORK again.