By REX GRAY
I’ve heard it a lot — even made the same proclamation myself — “Flying in Alaska is different.” Okay, the truth: It’s not.
A while back (when the Cole Brothers Flying Circus was the premiere airshow act) I learned to fly in Indiana. During the Vietnam war I was in a flying club on Guam. I tried to survive as a flight instructor in Southern California. I flew my Piper Pacer around the US and then to Alaska 39 years ago. Now I cruise the Alaska skies in a 1946 Aeronca Champ.
If I exceed the critical angle of attack in the Champ, it will start falling out the sky, whatever sky it’s in. If it’s not pointed straight ahead on touchdown, it will try to swap ends on me just like N3370E did at Brown Field in San Diego.
If I get to the local airport in the early morning before it comes to life I can be the first to break the morning silence with that beautiful airplane noise that only a Champ or Cub or Taylorcraft or ??? can make, as it launches to catch the sunrise.
The teen’s excitement after a first flight is the same, be it a flight over the Knik glacier or around Talofofo Falls on Guam. Sunday brunch at the Talkeentna roadhouse, just a short walk from the airport, is as good as those biscuits and gravy at, was it Chico?
Marginal VFR that turns into unplanned IFR without the required pilot skills is subject to the same laws of physics in Alaska as in Indiana. It just may take longer to recover the bodies.
The aerodynamic laws are the same in the skies everywhere. The beauty, the joy of flight, happens in the sky. All my Champ needs to do to please me is to have air flowing over its wings (inflight that is). If it’s California air, with a hint of smog, or muggy Indiana air blowing in the open window, or crisp and clear Alaska winter air with unlimited visibilities, the Champ is happy, and so am I.
So what is different in Alaska? The number of pilots. The entire state has a population of less than 800,000. That’s less than half the population of the greater Portland, Oregon, area. The Alaska pilot population is around 8,000. That means 1% of the state’s residents are pilots.
The plane is a big part of everyone’s life in Alaska. Only a small section of the state is accessible by road — everywhere else it’s plane or boat.
In Alaska the plane is used — a lot. It’s a pickup truck, a family RV, a fishing platform, a hunting rig, a fuel truck, a ski lift, a medical connection, a family business, and a dream machine for student pilots. The number of people that have not flown in Alaska is very small.
Alaskan pilots, like pilots everywhere, form a tight community in a large state. We all share in each other’s joys and tragedies. We face the same “threats” (formerly called challenges) as pilots everywhere: The weather, the FAA, state agencies, municipalities, and developers.
The one difference for Alaska pilots is the grassroots organizations that are out there promoting safety and protecting our flying rights and privileges. The Alaskan Airmen’s Association, with more than 2,000 members, has the largest voice in the state.
The first weekend in May was the Great Alaskan Aviation Gathering, which is put on by the Alaska Airmen’s Association. The free event, open to all, was referred to as a trade show for years but has really turned into a spring time ritual for a gathering of Alaskan aviators, families and friends. Aviation vendors from all over the country set up booths at a FedEx maintenance hangar at Ted Stevens International Airport (ANC) in Anchorage. Everybody from Bell Helicopter to mission aviation organizations want to be there. Seminars are held all weekend on a variety of aviation subjects. The weekend ends with someone winning an airplane. The raffle this year was for a 2007 Aviat Husky on amphibious floats and Aeroskis. It was won by Phil Priebe of Anchorage. Proceeds from the raffle help fund the Alaska Airmen’s Association in its efforts to promote and protect general aviation in Alaska.
Like general aviation everywhere, we are challenged all the time in Alaska by taxes, regulations that haven’t been thought out, and airspace re-designation that does not consider the general aviation user. With its large membership, the Airmen’s Association has a strong unified voice and is making a difference for general aviation in Alaska.
An example: The AAA was a proponent of using Spider Track information on flight plans. By working with the FAA and FSS, the AAA was able to get the Spider Track information included as part of the pilot’s FAA flight plan.
The flying — it’s not different in Alaska. It is a way of life in Alaska — that is different. Now that I’m done writing I’m going flying. It looks like a beautiful sunset is on the way. If I get out of here soon enough the mountains will have that beautiful pink glow that one can only get in Alaska. Gone flying!
The Alaska Airmen’s Association is always welcoming new members in helping us to protect general aviation in Alaska. To find out how you can become a member and help, call the office at 800-464-7030 or visit the website at AlaskaAirmen.org