UNBELIEVABLE! I can't remember WHAT the heck I was going to call this story! (Getting old SUX!)
Nonetheless, that's no reason to deny you folks your daily dose of Alaskan aerial adventures and giggles. Eventually, I'll remember the damn name, and change the title of the thread. Meanwhile...here goes! Enjoy!
Chapter One - Oooh...the Wheels on the Plane go Round and Round
It was the spring of 1982, late in the month of March. The trip had been on the books for more than two months. It was one of several recurring flights that had been repeated annually for last four years, since our small company had first started with one tired and worn out late 1950’s model Cessna 170 in the late nearly a decade earlier.
My destination was a small “x” marked on the well-worn, four-year-old Fairbanks sectional chart that I had just extracted from the glove box in the 185’s cockpit, as I sat in the on the ramp with the engine idling, awaiting the skinny white needle in the cylinder head temperature gauge to come off it’s left peg. I’d never been to this particular “x” before, but had received a thorough long-distance briefing from my boss over the phone. I had arrived at our log cabin office earlier to find a note stapled to today’s scheduling book page reminding me to call the Chief Pilot in our Fairbanks headquarters before departing.
As the engine slowly ticked over, spinning the propeller at just a lazy 700 RPM, I unfolded the barely still serviceable map gently. The originally stiff, multi-hued thick paper had now become quite pliable in spite of the cold temperatures inside the plane, which so far had only risen to maybe ten degrees warmer than the ambient 22 (F) degrees outside. The addition warmth at this point was mostly provided by the morning sunshine streaming through the plexiglass windshield of the eastward-facing Cessna workhorse, as the engine had been running less than two minutes and wouldn’t really be helping the cabin heat program for a while yet.
Now with a consistency and feel more akin to that of a folded up, well used Bounty paper towel, the sectional came open with ease, which was a good thing. Pulling it open to quickly or unfolding it with force would, no doubt, further speed the deterioration already well evidenced by the several rips in the creases. Many of the creases and folds had holes where, first the colors had faded before going white, as the threadbare paper kept getting thinner and thinner with repeated folding and unfolding, before finally giving way to time and separating altogether.
As I refolded the sectional to show the area east and north of Ft. Yukon encompassing the upper Porcupine River, several of my boss’s recent cautionary words echoed again through my mind.
This was my first winter living and flying in the interior of the state. For the last almost nine years, since arriving in Alaska, I had been a West Coast boy. Kotzebue, Nome and Unalakleet was my country. For all intent and purposes I had literally learned to fly out there. Of the over eight thousand hours I’d already logged at the age of 28, all but 263 had been out there, and most of that in the upper and lower Kobuk Valley. And only one half of one percent of all that time had ever been in a ski-equipped plane, if THAT much.
But today, I looked downward out of the window in the left door, in addition to seeing the familiar 8.50 x 6.00 Goodyear multi-ply tire attached to the axle of the 185’s leaf-spring steel main landing gear leg, the was a really huge and heavy Fluidyne wheel-ski and all the associated tubes, couplings, nuts and bolts, and springs and bungees necessary to make the thing extend and retract on command. Actually…command is not a good word here. “Command” indicates something such as maybe pushing a button to make things happen.
Or maybe glancing through the window, focusing on the big metal slab, and clearly barking the word…“Retract!” and then just sit back and watch as the ski does as it’s told.
Nope. Wasn’t that easy.