Dino Karagozian, a Bonanza owner, fulfilled a dream in 2011 when he flew his 1964 Bonanza from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Fairbanks, Alaska, over 35 days.
Joining him on the trip was Juan Carlos Bisi, also known as JB, a professional pilot.
Dino put together a daily report on his adventure, as well as took many photos.
We’re running his report in three separate installments. (Read Part I here).
This installment takes our intrepid travelers from Oshkosh to Alaska. The final installment will follow them home, including a stop at the Grand Canyon and a visit to the Beechcraft factory in Wichita.
Day 14: Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Today we are really tired.
Tomorrow we will fly direct from Oshkosh to Canada (Richardson, Winnipeg state).
Even if you do not believe it, here in the USA you can leave (but not reach) the outside from ANY airport or country track, completing a series of data online (it is the passenger declaration called eAPIS), without showing any paper, or passport, nor pass through customs, nor that you review the fungi of the feet, nor suitcases have to go through the scan, or anything. The nail clipper can also be carried on board the plane itself!When we take off tomorrow, we will test the operation of the undercarriage a couple of times. Remember it failed me when we got here? If it works well, we’ll head north. But we will go to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to an excellent mechanic recommended by George Deeter and Diego Aristegui. They are insisting that I have it reviewed. Very good friends, no doubt.
I think that this is the fault of the fuse and that it is nothing serious. At my request, the system had been reviewed by the workshop where I kept the plane before coming and found nothing.
Day 15: Thursday, July 28, 2011
There was fog and low ceilings, although it did not rain or storm. We would take off VFR when the fog rose. It was predicted that this would happen at 10 a.m.
We called customs and migrations to warn Canada of our arrival, according to the provisions.
Last night I emailed the eAPIS. It is an advanced electronic passenger declaration system. And with this I take off without showing my passport, or anything to anyone as I said before. Later, in Canada, I also found out how one leaves the country. One simply goes away, no one has to be notified by phone or mail, and one can go anywhere, anywhere!
It seems that the weather is also disciplined, because at 10:20 we took off and flew low. As we flew away we did one or two tests of “cycling” the landing gear and it ran smoothly, so we decided to go ahead.
As the clouds left us, we were ascending to 4,500 feet. We flew from Wisconsin (where Oshkosh is) to Michigan and we passed through the vertical of the last US airport before the border (Warroad Intl-KRRT) and then we crossed into Canada.
Our course was 320° and the speed did not exceed 140 knots. Generally we fly VFR with Flight Following, controlled by radar. However in this area we were told that in some areas and at certain heights we would not receive Flight Following due to the lack of radar.
The Flight Following is not mandatory, but it is very good, because they help separate you from the rest of the planes, they warn you when you are going to enter a restricted area and if something happens they know where to start looking.
At 3:55 p.m. we arrived in Winnipeg in the state of Manitoba in Canada with a good crosswind with 22 knots. Here there was a lot of activity from large commercial aircraft.
We went to an FBO. Luckily the guy who took care of us warned us not to get out of the plane until the customs people come because we could have a fine of $ 3,000 if we did it. For that money I stay where they tell me!
We phoned to advise that we had arrived and were told to wait. We had no idea how long we would have to stay inside the plane. It sounded ridiculous.
Ten or 15 minutes later they appeared and I told them that it was all my fault and I apologized. They seemed to have a great vibe from that.
With a seal in our passport, we climbed again into the flying machine and headed to Saskatoon (CYXE) in the state of Saskatchewan (do not laugh, they are the real names!).
We had a lot of wind from the front and a slight turbulence from the heat. Our speed was 128 to 138 knots, at 75% of power. Nothing for a real thoroughbred like the Bonanza.
We went up to 8,500 feet to see if it was better up there.
During the journey there were several cumulus armies and some tall cumulus towers already formed but without electrical activity and with little rain. All this we dodged smoothly.
It is one of the ways I like to fly. Dodge the clouds and see them closely, even as they form and grow. They really look like they are getting fat and increasing in height. And the rains are seen as opaque curtains that fall from the clouds and through the rain, you can often see the sunshine on the other side. How beautiful it is to fly.
Around here the terrain is very beautiful. Many rivers. Much water. Many lakes. Lots of puddles. Bathed everywhere and fields planted all around. Someone did a good job here in landscaping.
We arrived in Saskatoon, a city with 250,000 inhabitants, after three very slow hours of flight.
To give you an idea, we are at the same latitude as the southern part of England. With Argentina we have three hours of difference. In addition to moving away in distance, we move away in time.
Tomorrow we will continue to Fort Nelson, Canada, and we will approach the mountains, heading for Alaska.
Day 16: Friday, July 29, 2011
We depart from Saskatoon at 9:30 a.m. Initially we flew 4,500 feet to 154 knots. But during the trip we varied between 6,500 and 2,500 depending on the turbulence, clouds or winds. We arrived at Fort Nelson (CYYE) at 5:20 pm.
In this country, because it is so large and many distances are not completely covered by radar, not all tracks are served by air control towers, there is a radio frequency (126.7) so that each pilot makes his transmission “on the air” indicating their position, height, destination and other information to inform other airplanes of their location without intervention of control centers or towers.
As time went on we had to get around several nimbus cumulus towers, all spectacular. In general they did not have much electrical activity, at least detected by the Stormscope.
Yet in a moment I saw a tremendous and beautiful ray of heaven to earth about 20 miles from our location and ahead of us. Many of these clouds had rain and several of them with much water. We dodge them all, we just get a little wet.
It is the first time in the whole trip up here that we feel a bit of turbulence during a more or less long stretch. Even one of those “taps” woke me up from a siesta. I spent a good time there just to get dizzy by the typical oscillating movement of the Bonanza with V-tail. Besides being much prettier and attractive, it has a sexy movement that causes turbulence to move in the shape of an oval.
After two hours to reach Fort Nelson (5,500 souls), we began to see the mountains to the left of the plane, well away. Tomorrow we’ll see them very closely when we enter Alaska. We also saw on the ground many oil wells and a very large refinery.
In Fort Nelson we are more or less about four or five hours from the border with Alaska. From the border to the coast (Anchorage) are about five additional hours. Everything between is mountains, valleys and rivers. This is getting better and better.
In winter the normal temperature here is minus 20°C. And the minimum temperatures reach minus 40° and sometimes for weeks!
As I write this it is 10 in the evening and there is still plenty of light.
Day 17: Saturday, July 30, 2011
This will be another good day in heaven.
At 8:40 a.m. we take off from Fort Nelson in Canada. The most beautiful thing the town has is its name.
It’s a very nice day to fly and cool. Destination: Whitehorse Airport, the last point in this country.
For a long time both the artificial horizon and the HSI were totally lost or asleep. When we started flying they were “frozen.” After a while the main artificial horizon (I have two more) started to loosen up and work properly, the other one (of which I have only one and is the one that “sends” some signals to the autopilot) started working intermittently. After several hours it began to work properly, another thing that was solved “alone”.
The flight started at 4,500 and then climbed to 6,500 feet (4° outside temperature) and heading 270°.
The rivers are spectacular and wind up with beautiful curves. Banks of what appears to be sand form islands and beaches on the sides of rivers that carry waters of different colors, such as turquoise, green and gray to lower lands. One of these rivers was the one we had to follow. At this moment is when one prays for not having to go down right there, between the clouds, in case of engine failure.
We did not always fly with the same altitude, but we went down to fly in some parts between 500 and 1,000 feet on the ground to enjoy the serene air and the views to be able to have them closer. After all, that’s why we came! It is true that we also had to do it for the “roof” of the clouds and not get inside them. The flight was spectacular and without any turbulence.
We arrived at “Caballoblanco” (actually Whitehorse) after three beautiful hours of flight. Here we fill the tanks of the plane with fuel in a self service (my first experience of this type). We made a flight plan, checked the weather, completed the eAPIS to enter the USA and called a Customs telephone in the USA to notify them of our arrival in Fairbanks.
The customs man who took care of me in Fairbanks told me that they work until 4 p.m. local (it’s an hour less from where we are now), but as I told him we would arrive at 4:30 p.m. he said he would wait. So we would have to hurry, because they are very strict and it seems that overtime is not paid…
We estimate the flight in three hours and take off at 2 p.m. local time, 1 p.m. for Fairbanks. It is worth mentioning that in 24 hours we were in three different time zones.
At first we fly 140 knots with rainfall in different sectors and with good visibility. Then the sky seemed to open up along our path, and both colors and visibility improved markedly. Later on it also improved the speed a little to 160 knots, helped by an increase of power.
At some point, at 6,500 feet, we crossed the border between Canada and the state of Alaska. We took two bottles of water and toasted.
The weather improved and was still very good. In the USA we ask for Flight Following so we do not feel so alone.
We landed in Fairbanks, obviously very excited. Here we were going to spend the night … until we changed our minds and began to think about the possibility of going on to Anchorage on the west coast. We had flown six hours and we were only an hour and a half away from Anchorage. We had time to eat something, rest a little, and continue. The daylight here is long.
We went to the Flight Services Station to find out the weather to Anchorage, which was heading south. For the first time we would fly a different course north or west.
We already noticed that the weather would not be the same. We were told that the first part and half way would be with relatively low ceilings and rains (there were no storms) and winds of about 20 knots in front. Oops!
The issue is that we had to fly by a step between several hills with more height than we would fly (we could not ascend so as not to fly blindly in the clouds). That was the place with the worst prognosis, but it did not look anything serious. We decided to go and see. We would be very close for a 180° turn and back to Fairbanks.
In this part of the trip we would not see the mountain tips or the snow of the high peaks, but we would distill adrenaline.
We flew under the shadow of the clouds with some rain, visibility reduced but not scarce and when arriving at the famous step the thing did not seem as ugly as we had been painted. After this place we would have to turn to the right (we are following the route of the cars, just in case) and there we had no idea how it was, but it seemed obscure.
At the bottom we turned to the right and suddenly the climate became more and more open. We passed through an immense valley with rivers and pools of water. Awesome.
I realized that it is also the first time that I am flying to the Pacific. That’s nice!
It took us 1:42 hours to get to Anchorage. The landing was filmed and the happiness was tremendous.
Second landing in Alaska!
Day 18: Sunday July 31, 2011
Today we will not fly, but we will travel around the area a little. And to start we went to another airport with the car. This airfield is very close to our Holiday Inn Express. It has the peculiarity that it is only for seaplanes (although it has a small cement track for STOL capability). It has two tracks to land on the water and one of them is prepared to do it at night and also with ILS (by instruments). Half of the world’s seaplanes are here in Alaska.
Alaska is known among aviators for the number of seaplanes there are. They are everywhere. It is impossible not to see them. There are also small planes (Pipers, Huskies, Maules, etc.) with extra large wheels (tundra tires) to land in totally inhospitable and inaccessible places, reserved perhaps for helicopters. These places can be glaciers, sand banks in the middle of the rivers, or beaches.
Tomorrow we intend to change the oil, but we have to find out where we can do that.
Day 19: Monday, Aug. 1, 2011
In the morning we went to change the oil. This is done every 50 hours. JB found a workshop and did it in just over two hours. It was drizzling at times, but the weather looked good.
Our next destination is Homer. It is about 120 nautical miles and the flight would be very short, but then we would find it extremely fun. Before arriving at Homer we saw a giant glacier in Kinai.
We were very impressed by what we saw. We also wanted to have four hands each to film with the iPhone, cameras and camcorder. We also had to fly the plane and try not to hit any rocks and be sure that we had an escape route without being locked in a “dead end.”
When we reached the place where this huge glacier opened and there was plenty of room to turn around, we made a 180° turn to return the same way. At this point JB suggested flying very low over the glaciers.
That’s what we did. It was indescribable.
It is something that has its risk. That is, in case of engine failure there is only one alternative, go to the top of the glacier and forward. That is not exactly a flat ski run. But it is hard as stone and not flat. This we do not do all the time, obviously, and the risk is super dimensioned.
Arriving at Homer Airport took almost nothing. It was just there. From Anchorage to Homer we flew just over an hour and a half. The place is beautiful.
The hotel is called Land’s End. It is at the end of a path with water on both sides of the Kachemak Bay. It is very nice and there are many people. At the airport there are lots of small planes (like everywhere else here) and there are also many people with their motor homes.
There is also a port with many sports boats of all kinds, several are to go fishing. It is the sport of the place.
Alaska is not only far and extreme, it is giant. What a beautiful world we have and how beautiful life is!
And not. So far we have not seen bears, but they say there are.
Day 20: Tuesday Aug. 2, 2011
Dawn was cloudy and rainy. Although to the north it seemed good to fly, we could not leave here because we go to the south. For about 300 nautical miles the forecast was rains, with low visibility and low ceilings (700 feet). Some airports along the way were operating instrumental and this is not our idea. We want to appreciate the route. This whole area is very nice and worth it. However the forecast is not good until Thursday morning.
Around noon, despite the drizzle, we went flying in this area. Crossing the water of Kachemak Bay, there is a glacier and a little more south a small town of about 300 people called Seldovia. It is reached only by boat or small plane and with capacity to land and take off in 600 meters. It’s not too short.
The runway is in an area that from the top seems a bit confined and is gravel. We can land and take off at that distance normally and much less. But we preferred not to do it because we were very heavy with all the fuel we had on board — 350 liters — and more packages and we did not want to scare us, at least today.
All this took us only 50 minutes and in some places we had a bit of annoying turbulence. This was when we passed before the canyons that opened between the mountains and the wind squeezed through the openings that formed. This flight we did on the water. The more we flew over the sea, the less turbulent it was. It was not much fun for me. Do not mess around here, this is not the Caribbean and the lifeboat we have is not heated.
Below us, there were heaps of boats and ships sailing in all directions leaving Homer.
This is very nice, for those who like this type of landscape: The ones that I call “strong, intense landscapes and great changes.” Nothing to do with photos hanging in the kitchen.
In parts of the coasts, and in unique places, there are some spectacular private houses away from everything. Very far from everything and everyone.
Here people feel very happy where they live and most seem to have chosen it, because when asked where they are from, they have always responded to us from anywhere except Alaska. They speak of this place with much pride and with a smile.
Something striking: Everyone in these homes knows where our country is. We also met three young people — in different places — who had recently been in Argentina.
During the afternoon, the weather was getting worse, visibility going down and wind rising. After having lunch in a very nice place, we decided to enter all the shops of the place, which are not many. Everyone is very cool, as is Alaska.
Tomorrow will be another day. We’ll see what kind of day it will be, because the forecast for tomorrow is still not good.
Day 21: Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011
This morning dawned with the sky covered with high ceilings, although towards the northeast was more beautiful. We had breakfast and went to look for the Bonanza where we had left it yesterday. With full tanks we plan to go to Juneau (PAJN). It is a flight of 685 nautical miles or almost five hours, whichever comes first.
From Homer to Juneau we would go along the extremely irregular coastline, with high mountains very close to the coast itself and with islands that also have medium elevations.
We flew over the village of Seldovia again (I love the name, right?) and about 15 miles away we made a turn along a large peninsula full of rocks that surpassed us in height, but they did not fly and went into the clouds.
The ship was moving at times by the mechanical turbulence produced by the winds as it passed through the mountains that were on all sides and sizes. Down below I saw waves in the sea and the foam of the crests breaking everywhere. It was getting interesting …
The turbulence developed from mild to intermediate and then to severe. At times very severe.
What does this mean? That all the things that were in some pockets under the seats came out. The antenna with the cable of the GPS began to “fly” and at times was suspended in the air. At times it felt like zero gravity.
To give you an idea, when I got on the plane I put my hat up on heavy bags behind my seat, when we landed I had to take it down from all the bags. I saw my glasses fly suspended in front of my nose twice. We hit our heads on the ceiling of the airplane in two opportunities, one hurt. We had to tighten our belts tightly. When we landed, nothing was in place.
At one point, before this big dance, and flying with the autopilot on in Altitude Hold mode, JB and I realized at the same time that the speed was decreasing (We were at 90 knots indicated, when it should have been over 140). It was when we realized that we were in a dynamic descending product of the rotors of the mountains and the autopilot was looking not to lose that height so it raised the bow of the plane and was losing more and more speed.
I disconnected the autopilot and I flew it by hand, and we started descending at least 1,500 feet per minute. JB gave me precise and correct instructions to keep the nose up to lose less height and between the two of us we handled the situation.
The dance was very strong and there is nothing good to remember. Except that the coordination between the two was optimal and we went ahead and there were no discussions on board during or after.
Our height varied between 1,500 and 3,500 feet. The G meter marked +2.3 and -1.0 (I checked it later on the ground).
To top it all off, the electronic flowmeter of the airplane that measures the consumption of fuel in liters per hour became totally crazy and caught my attention. It had never done anything like this before (nor did it do it all the way back) and it was obvious that the instrument was failing and not the engine. Nor was it to do with flight safety.
When we were able to communicate with the Anchorage Control Center, JB opened an instrument flight plan for Cordova (we came with a VFR plan to Juneau).
Anchorage Control brought us up to 6,000 feet and there we were better, now the dance was calming enough.
We were third to land. Before us there was a 737 and something smaller. My anxiety was tremendous, it was not that the ship was moving so much now, but we were watching it in case it started to “twist” back and we were just around.
We made two waits at a nearby notification point and then did the GPS approach, descending until at one point, I think about 1,500 feet, the visibility increased to something very safe and comfortable. We saw the airport and landed normally in a light rain.
Better to be on the ground wanting to fly, than to be flying and begging to be on the ground.
This flight was 2:40 hours (including the wait) and 306 nautical miles. That is, our speed was only 118 knots. Very, very slow for the Bonanza. We had a very strong wind from the front.
We parked and I stayed a little to sort a little everything that had flown through the air. I took a bottle of water and I relaxed a little.
JB got accommodations in a bed and breakfast (but without breakfast) and from there they came to pick us up in a van. There were not two rooms in this very nice little house and he moved to a little hotel more than a block away. My room was phenomenal. It’s like being in an old house with the typical old North American wood construction.
We ate at a very small Mexican restaurant with a good vibe, where the kitchen was inside a painted red bus.
The rain continued in this place where only 2,500 people live and access is only by sea or by plane.
They have a large port where 95% of the boats are commercial fishing.
For now we are not behind schedule according to the initial plan. But I doubt we can continue tomorrow.
The ferry that usually comes to Cordova did not do it because of the prevailing bad weather. And the people who had to leave here did not leave.
So we are all together, those who live here, those who never thought to be here like us, and those who wanted to leave here and now can not.
Day 22: Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011
How nice it is to wake up after a day like yesterday. I slept in this old room with a huge bed with springs, the ones that make noise as they move. Just past 10 a.m., I got out of bed. The day seemed unhealthy to fly, so JB and your scribe decided to stay here.
The owner of this “inn” also rents cars and I took a pickup truck.
First we went to the plane and we took some things from the inside and continued our journey towards the bottom of a route that took us to a glacier.
The road is very nice, with lots of vegetation. Here all roads have an end. Remember you can only arrive by plane or by sea. The sky was covered by clouds and intermittent rain.
Before we returned to the village we stopped at the shore of a lake and approached a dock that had two planes tied up. Obviously we had to stop to see.
One was a Cessna 206 and the other a Beaver with a 1956 rotary engine (450 hp). Both were in very good condition and both seaplanes. These were part of the four machines that the owner of this “very nice spot” uses as aerial taxis. He lives in a very nice house to the right of the pier. He also owns a fishing lodge somewhere near the area and takes fishermen there on his flying machines.
While we were on the pier looking at the landscape, we saw lots of huge salmon swimming around the pier. The taxi driver told us that they come to die at this place, the place where they were born.
At some point in the afternoon, we went to lunch at the same place as yesterday (there are not many places to eat here, but this one is very good!).
I think we can continue to the south tomorrow.
If we can fly, we will go and see bears.
Day 23: Friday, Aug. 5, 2011
Our forecast for today was that the weather was going to improve enough to be able to fly visual.
Today we have been able to verify that as forecasters we could not make a living, at least not in Alaska and that we should not mix technical knowledge with positive wishes about the climate. During the night it did not stop raining, and in the morning water was flowing. The gulls did not fly on these coasts. Now we know why Alaska is so “green” on the coast.
We did not have many reasons to get up this morning, that’s why we did it late and from there all the movements were in slow motion, so that the time passes faster.
I talked on Skype with my family and then went to the grocery store to buy groceries for a picnic somewhere.
We had the picnic in front of a very nice river, where boats went down to go fishing, despite the rain.
Then we walked along a path that ran through the forest, through open landscapes, streams and a lake. We got soaked, but it was very good.
I know everyone is asking if we saw a bear.
We’ve seen three. One that had a head and the rest of the skin but was empty and dry inside because the front had a cut that began under the chin to where it would have had the coccyx. Another one that is in the hotel where we are now, but only the head and part of the neck and it is hung from the wall, and one with his mouth open showing his teeth like the real wild beasts do, and with hands outstretched ready for attack, at the Holiday Inn Express in Anchorage. This specimen was inside a display case and did not move (I think it was embalmed).
However the locals claim that there are bears, and I believe them.
Day 24: Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011
The weather seems good to fly and a few miles will improve even more.
While JB was talking to the Flight Service Station to get his head full of information about restrictions, weather, and other things, I went to review the Bonanza and prepare it for the flight. The FSS is impeccable. They make sure you have all the information so you can make a healthy trip. They are really good and give exceptional service.
Before we got into our transport we put on life jackets. We will fly over water for a long time. The idea is to load fuel in Juneau (PAJN). Then fly over Canada and re-enter the U.S.A and land in Bellingham (KBLI).
The cockpit of the plane was very wet and part of the seats very wet. Bad sign. Water had entered. This is very annoying to certain instruments and they express it by doing what they feel like and it never coincides with what one needs them to do.
In this case the most notable was the Stormscope (storm detector, which was not necessary for this stage). The other instrument that does not like water is the autopilot. In general it worked well, except the “way” you have to maintain the altitude. This was wrong. Very bad.
After a while, already in flight, we put the heat to dry and everything more or less slowly returned to normal, especially when we went very high.
We were flying with a formidable carpet of clouds under the wings of our beloved Bonanza. The view to the left was glorious. It really was. Above the horizon is a sky-blue sky and jutting happily above the clouds the mountain range of Alaska with eternal snow.
Hundreds of glaciers descended from the mountains to lakes and even to the coast of the sea. These coasts with endless gray beaches and curves that form bays and peninsulas everywhere. The sea was calm today, like pond water. The atmosphere was very calm. It seemed to apologize for the bad time that it gave us a few days ago.
All this seems very poetic, but it does not pretend to be. I try to tell what we saw from the cockpit.
Imagine that we both talk a lot on the plane, commenting on what each one sees and wants the other to look at, at a certain moment and after a spectacular visual moment, we both remain silent. As if wondering if what we live is true. It is certainly a privilege we have and we realize it.
After a two and half hour flight we landed in Juneau (PAJN). We needed fuel and we also had to eat something and then we would follow the next leg, which would be about five hours. The landing here was very beautiful.
There are two parallel runways. One of concrete, where we would stop. And the other one of water.
As we approached the runway, next to us there was a plane at the same height landing in the water.
In the FBO we were loaded with fuel and they lent us a car. Yes! In some places they lend you a car to use it. Why they did it is because you bought fuel from them and not the competition! We went to eat.
Then we came back and took off again, now on our way to Bellingham (KBLI). For this we would have to fly over Canada, which separates Alaska from Washington State.
We continued flying along the coasts and at some moments very close to the mountains. From Juneau to the south, we saw many ships sailing this enormous immensity.
Arriving in Canada, we no longer see glaciers, but follow the mountain chain, which is now very wooded.
The coasts are extremely irregular, with estuaries, fjords, thousands and thousands of islands and islets and lakes at different levels of altitude that connect with each other. By this time we were flying at 7,500 feet.
The sky still served us well, without shaking our riveted aluminum container. There were fewer and fewer clouds around. We also begin to feel the heat more and more.
We saw how Canadians transport logs that log in the woods. They do it by the sea. They are grouped and towed in great quantities. There is a lot of this too. From above you can see the patches that are left in the woods. Not nice.
Suddenly, we were over Vancouver, then Bellingham, which is between Seattle and Vancouver. Certainly for us another milestone in our trip.
George Deeter recommended we land in Bellingham, rent a car (he booked it), and sleep at the Hampton Inn (he also booked it and got a very good discount!)
He also asked a cousin to give us a tour of Vancouver.
Today we flew 1,165 nautical miles (2,100 kilometers).
It was another great day in heaven.
Sunday: Part III of the epic adventure.