By BILL WALKER
If you’re thinking about flying to Alaska in your own plane, Tony Turinsky is a strong candidate to become your new best friend.
The veteran Cessna 185 pilot from Anchorage has nearly 40 years of flying in America’s Last Frontier. He shared his expert knowledge of Alaska flying with presentations at this year’s SUN ’n FUN and offered his assistance to flyers who choose to visit during the coming year. He also spoke at the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis.
Turinsky went to Alaska as a 6-year-old with his family in 1947 and has lived there since.
“I live on a private airfield called O’Malley Airstrip,” he said. “That’s a shared airstrip. And I own a 500-acre farm across the inlet from Anchorage at Point MacKenzie and have an airstrip and hangars there. One is an urban kind of strip and the other, the farm, is a bush strip.”
In addition to his 185 he also owns and flies a Super Cub and a Cessna 182.
“Almost everybody flies up there,” Turinsky said. “As a kid growing up by the airport, we used to find old wrecked airplanes and play like we were flying, making airplane noises. I started in Piper Colts and then in Super Cubs and I ended up flying a 172 and finished my license. I moved from that ultimately to a 185.”
He has about 4,000 hours of flying time on wheels, skis and floats in Alaska and more in the U.S., Central and South America, and New Zealand. He has flown as a volunteer pilot for the Iditarod and Yukon Quest dog sled races and was among the first pilots who flew across the Bering Strait, opening the first VFR route to Russia in 2004.
Turinsky’s presentation on Flying to Alaska was among the best attended at SUN ’n FUN. He talked for an hour to a filled room of aviators about making the trip, particularly about the preparations and logistics required.
Turinsky advises all first-time Alaska visitors to fly the route of the Alaska Highway. He recommends that those entering from East of the Rockies cross into Canada at Cut Bank, Mont., or enter Canada even further to the east and then make their way up to Edmonton and then start at Dawson Creek, British Columbia, where the nearly 1,400-mile Alaska Highway begins.
“If you’re coming from west of the Rockies I suggest meeting up at Smithers in British Columbia and continuing on up to Kitwanga where Highway 37, often called the Cassiar Highway, begins,” Turinsky said. “You can fly this highway through the mountains all the way to Watson Lake, where you join the Alaska Highway.”
“There are other routes and variations, such as the Alaska coast route and the one called the Trench route, which I start in Abbotsford, British Columbia via Williams Lake, Prince George, MacKenzie and on to Watson Lake in the Yukon, but I still would recommend the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek or Whitehorse the first time up,” Turinsky said.
You don’t need a special airplane to fly to Alaska, he added.
“You can go up in a Kitfox or an ultralight — and people have done that,” he said. “But your aircraft should be in good condition. And you need a good GPS, in fact two of them because if you have only one it will probably fail you just when you need it.”
Also carry a personal locator beacon, he recommended. “I use the DeLorme inReach,” Turinsky said. “If you’re leaving someone behind, a wife or family, and you’re flying to Alaska, they’re always wondering where you are. With this device people can literally go on your site and follow you and see exactly where you are. If you have an emergency, you push the SOS button and you’ve got somebody who knows exactly where you are.”
He packs a sleeping bag, tent and plenty of water on every trip. Your survival kit also needs items to build a fire. “But probably the most important survival gear is that beacon,” he noted.
If standard radio and cellphone communications fail because of the high mountains, he makes use of commercial jets flying far above him. “You can be in the most remote piece of property in the world and there will be 747s up there,” he said. “If you use 121.5, you just get on the radio and call. They’re at 40,000 feet, so you can always reach somebody and they’ll relay your message. Something else people don’t think about is carrying a phone calling card if you don’t have Canadian coverage with your phone. If you don’t, then the charges are quite high.”
Other basic items for the first-time Alaska flyer include duct tape and bug netting. Tape your pant cuffs to your socks and your shirt cuffs to your wrists if you have to get out for an extended period, Turinsky said.
“If you happen to be forced down, put on insect repellent and don a net first thing if you can. The horror tales about people being bitten hundreds of times by mosquitoes are true.”
“For clothing, wool is better than synthetics if you have a crash,” he added. “You don’t have as much opportunity to have that stuff burn and stick to your skin. Cotton can kill you because it doesn’t evaporate. It gets cold and wet and draws the heat off your body.”
His navigation tips including cutting the corner on sections of the Alaska Highway if you see where the road emerges ahead.
“But I tell first timers, even second timers, stay close to the highway,” Turinsky said. “You can land on the highway most anywhere. There are places you can’t but for the most part you’ve got miles and miles of excellent road to land on. It’s legal to land on the highway. And if you need gas it’s legal to land near a gas station. I’ve done that. That was before ethanol was in the gas.”
“Flying in Alaska is like flying everywhere,” Turinsky continued. “It is just common sense. The biggest thing is watching the weather and having enough fuel.”
At one of the forum presentations he was asked about carrying a gun on the trip. “Check the regulations for Canada and the U.S. on weapons, but I encourage carrying a weapon along,” he said. “I prefer carrying a shotgun because you can use slugs with it for larger game and you can use bird shot for smaller game.” A listener at one of his presentations reminded him that more people are killed by moose in Alaska than by bears. He agreed.
He encouraged pilots to go online and familiarize themselves with the Electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS) from Homeland Security . He noted that eAPIS is only for the U.S. authorities and that you still must call 888-CANPASS to comply with Canadian regulations before crossing the border. He suggested pilots also begin informing themselves by checking the Canada Border Services Agency CANPASS information.
For first-timers he recommended excursions down to Skagway from Whitehorse and north to Dawson City where you can see the cabins of Robert Service and Jack London while visiting one of the most famous gold rush towns on the Yukon River.
“And Fairbanks is a great city,” Turinsky said. “I recommend Cheena Hot Springs north of Fairbanks. If you come south, stop at Talkeetna, where five or six flying services carry people to Mt. Denali and the other mountains.”
“At least a month is an ideal time to plan for on your Alaska flying trip,” Turinsky advises. “And if you come to Anchorage you can fly from my place. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 907-229-2932.”