Category Archives: Flying

Cessna 172 Rear Seat Removal


Removing the rear seat significantly increases the cargo space, which opens up new mission possibilities. For example, I can normally fit 1 bicycle in the back of the plane, but with the rear seat removed I can fit 2 bicycles. This makes it possible to take a friend and make cross-country trips to explore some of the best bicycling across the pacific northwest.


For my 1980 172 (built in 1979), the POH equipment list does not mark the rear seat as required, so the airplane is airworthy with, or without, the rear seat. But can a pilot remove the rear seat himself? FAA regulations part 91 section 43 governs the maintenance pilots can perform. Appendix A, (c) says:

(c) Preventive maintenance. Preventive maintenance is limited to the following work, provided it does not involve complex assembly operations: 
(15) Replacing seats or seat parts with replacement parts approved for the aircraft, not involving disassembly of any primary structure or operating system.

The rear seat comes out with 4 simple bolts and nothing has to be disassembled. To get the rear seat out of the airplane one of the front seats has to be removed, then reinstalled. This can be done without any tools at all.

Conclusion: it is legal to fly the airplane without the rear seat, and it is legal for a pilot to remove and install it.

Of course, this changes the weight & balance. So the pilot removing/replacing the seat must note the removal/replacement in the airframe logs, citing the above paragraph as his authority and the maintenance manual as his reference. Also use the weight/arm info from the equipment list to make appropriate modifications to the empty weight/arm of the aircraft in his W&B computations for flights with the seat removed. And, of course, the pilot would have to be sure that at most only two people were in the plane when it is being operated.


So now that we know it’s legal, how do we actually do it? It turns out to be quick and easy.

Before you start it looks like this:

Step 1: remove one of the front seats

This makes room to remove the rear seat from the airplane, and you can reinstall it afterward. I removed the right / co-pilot seat.


Aviation, Lycoming, Mixture, Efficiency, Cruise Flight

Flying my Lycoming O-360-A4M powered Cessna 172-N, I learned through experience something that should be in the POH, but is not. It’s about fuel efficiency during cruise.

These engines are conservatively rated (180 HP from 360 cubic inch displacement), designed to operate continuously at or near full power, and their 2700 RPM redline is a prop limitation, not an engine limitation. Also, at cruise altitude full power is a smaller fraction of their rated power; for example, at 10,000′ the air is so thin, a normally aspirated engine can only produce about 70% power. All this is to say, when cruising above 5,000′ MSL, you can run the engine at WOT. This is considered normal operation; the POH cruise tables support this configuration. It is not hard on the engine, in fact, these engines are designed to run best at or near WOT properly leaned.

However, you shouldn’t run it at WOT, but slightly less. Here’s why, based on 2 reasons:

The carburetor for this engine (and for the O-320-D2J it had before) has an enrichment circuit that mechanically engages at WOT. This adds a margin of safety against detonation, with a minimal loss of power since the power vs. mixture curve is asymmetric, tapering slowly on the rich side, steeply on the lean side.

The intake manifold for this engine is immediately downstream of (fed from) the carburetor. On any engine having a single carb upstream from an intake manifold, the A/F ratio to each of the cylinders will never be exactly the same. There will always be one cylinder that is slightly richer or another slightly leaner, than the others. This A/F balance across the cylinders is “mostly even” but exactly how even varies depending on the throttle position & mixture.

These 2 factors combine to form an important aspect of engine operation that should be (but isn’t in) in the POH. The carburetor’s WOT enrichment circuit impairs the distribution of mixture to the cylinders. When it engages, it increases the difference between the richest & leanest cylinder. This means, in order to avoid roughness (the leanest cylinder running rough), you must set the mixture richer than it otherwise would be when this circuit is not engaged.

You might wonder, why not apply WOT, then lean the mixture to compensate for the enrichment circuit? You certainly can do this. The problem is, the mixture setting will be richer than it would be, if the enrichment circuit weren’t engaged.

Put differently: when you pull the throttle back from WOT just enough to disengage the enrichment circuit, the mixture distribution across the cylinder is more even. There is less of a difference between the richest and leanest cylinder. Thus, the mixture setting for any equivalent power level (peak, 50 RPM below peak, or whatever) is leaner.

The difference is significant: about 15%. That is, if you fly at WOT and lean the engine properly, you will burn about 15% more fuel than if you pull the throttle back from WOT just enough to disengage the enrichment circuit. The POH tables reflect non-WOT operation, so at WOT you will burn 15% more fuel than the POH indicates. That is, if the POH says 8 gph, you will actually burn about 9 gph.

Procedure: High Speed High Altitude Cruise

So what is the best procedure for high speed high altitude (above 5,000′) cruise?

  1. Apply WOT.
  2. Gradually lean until slightly rough.
  3. Very slowly pull the throttle back.
  4. Since the engine is already lean, when the enrichment circuit disengages the engine will suddenly get much leaner, and you will get a sudden drop in RPM and increase in roughness.
  5. Leave the throttle in this position, then enrich mixture to desired setting, typically peak RPM, or 50 RPM below peak.

Typically, step (4) happens about 1/2″ back from WOT.

Miro Quartet at Orcas Island

Michelle and I flew in for the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival this year and caught the Miro Quartet playing with Aloysia & Jon on Tue Aug 13. Our last-minute decision afforded stage seating, stage right behind the musicians. We really liked this. The experience and sound is different and quite wonderful, reminding me of my own weekly chamber music rehearsals years ago.

Miro opened with the Mozart quartet K 458 The Hunt. Their sound struck me like a velvet hammer: big, round, smooth, rich and fat yet detailed. A huge grin spread across my face and the back of my neck tingled. I especially noticed their dynamics, micro and macro, and their tight timing playing off each other handing the lead back & forth every few bars like a great jazz ensemble, yet with all the musical refinement that Mozart demands. The menuette bounced and the adagio soared, breaking tradition as they came in that order. The allegro set it on fire and summed it up.

Kevin Puts entered the stage and introduced his piece, Arcana for solo cello and string quartet. He described how watching the sun rise over a volcano on Maui inspired him to write this impressionistic piece. Julian Schwarz (son of Gerard Schwarz, prior conductor for Seattle Symphony, who was also visiting the OICMF this year) and Aloysia Friedmann joined Miro to play the lead cello and supporting violin, respectively.

The guest musicians left the stage and Miro played Schubert’s Death and the Maiden. More specifically, the andante which is an absolute classic of the chamber music repertoire and structured as a theme and variations. It ranges widely from lyricism to flaming virtuosity giving each musician a showcase and the Miro quartet just nailed it. The piece had a few moments in the lyrical sections when Ching (lead violin) sounded just slightly off in timing or intonation, but it could have been my own ears.  That’s part of the character and expressive joy of live music performance: every piece is unique rather than perfect in the robotically sterile way that recordings sometimes can be, and this enhances the experience. A robust standing ovation delayed the intermission.

Upon returning, Jon Kimura-Parker was scheduled to play a Clara Schumann piece, but instead played Schubert Impromptu Op. 90 # 3, one of my favorites of the solo piano repertoire. He played with a depth, delicacy and refined power that perfectly suits this piece. The performance reminded me of Radu Lupu’s style, but Jon made it his own. For me, this piece was the highlight of the concert in terms of emotional intimacy.

Last yet certainly not least, Miro joined Kimura-Parker on stage to perform the famous Brahms piano quintet in F minor Op. 34. A few years ago when Michelle and I last attended an OICMF concert they also played this piece, so I knew we were in for a treat. We were not disappointed. We were sitting just behind Kimura-Parker so close we could have reached out and touched him. I was reading his tattered and heavily annotated (in different colors!) sheet music as he played and his daughter turned pages for him. We could hear and feel the power and wonderful woody resonance of the Steinway Model D in the FFF sections. The strings were no less in the game as they brought the piece to its fiery and satisfying conclusion.

Headwinds & Tailwinds

It seems obvious that head and tail winds are equally likely. That is, assuming the direction of the wind and your flight are both random, head and tail winds should be equally likely. But it’s wrong.

Of course, even if head and tail winds were equally likely, you would spend more time flying in headwinds, simply because they slow you down. But that’s not the reason I’m talking about here.

The reason is simple. When the wind is 90* to your direction of flight, you have to turn toward it slightly to maintain your desired direction of flight, so it slows you down. Visualize the entire 360* circle that the angle of the wind can have relative to your direction of flight. If wind at exactly 90* slows you down, then more than half of the range of the circle slows you down. A wind from the side must be slightly behind you in order for the loss of speed turning toward it, to be countered by the gain in speed it adds pushing you along. In other words, when the wind is from the side, it must be slightly behind you to break even.

Of course, the same applies to boats. But not cars, because you don’t need to steer into a crosswind when driving (well you do, but it requires so much less correction as to be insignificant).


Spins can be a contentious topic among some pilots because not all airplanes are approved for intentional spins, the maneuver is no longer required for any pilot certification except becoming a CFI, and the reason the FAA removed the spin requirement was because spin training was causing more deaths than than the training was preventing.

However, I believe spins still make valuable flight training, when approached from a careful perspective. Entering & recovering from spins is quite simple, not requiring the kind of stick and rudder finesse of other maneuvers like chandelles. But spins do something that those maneuvers don’t: they familiarize the pilot with aggressive airplane behavior under unusual attitudes, and reinforce a methodical response rather than panicked reaction.

Review: what is a spin? It’s when an aircraft is stalled, and one wing is more stalled than the other. You can’t spin unless you first stall, and for a stall to become a spin, the angle of attack must be different on each wing. That means your flight must be uncoordinated. Conversely, if you maintain coordination you will never spin, even if you stall the airplane while banked in a turn. Spins are sometimes confused with a tight spiral dive, especially in airplanes like the 172 that are spin resistant. That is, the pilot attempts to spin the airplane, but he fails to overcome the airplane’s spin resistance and the stall becomes a tight spiral. Videos like this are common on youtube (“Hey, watch this spin!” “That’s not a spin, it’s only a spiral dive. Looks like you don’t really know what a spin is.”).

Before spinning an airplane, here are some regs to consider:

  • Aerobatic flight: FAR 91.303
    • Away from congested areas, assembly of people, airways, controlled airspace
    • Above 1500′ AGL
    • At least 3 miles visibility
  • Parachutes: FAR 91.307
    • Never required unless you have passengers (non crewmembers)
    • Bank > 60*, pitch > 30*
    • Exception for maneuvers required for certification, including spins, when given by a CFI
    • For more detail, see PS at the bottom of this page.
  • Airplane limitations: the POH
    • Airplane must be approved for intentional spins
    • The POH may specify W&B necessary for spins: follow it

Further thoughts on parachutes. A chute is not a magic talisman that wards off danger. It doesn’t help you if you can’t get out of the airplane. And it’s difficult nigh impossible to get out of an airplane in flight. Even at slow airspeeds there’s so much air pressure on the doors it’s hard to open them enough to depart the airplane (especially if said airplane is not in straight & level flight, but spinning or otherwise flailing around the sky). That’s why skydiving airplanes have a door entirely removed, or a special door designed to open in flight. Also, a chute doesn’t help you if you don’t know how to use it. Woe betides you if the first time you ever have to use a chute for real, is a bona fide emergency. So if you’re doing aerobatics and wearing a chute, believing you’re both legal and safe, you may be deluding yourself. Ensure you have a way to depart the aircraft while in flight, and do a few jumps to familiarize yourself with the chute.

Here’s how I interpret this flying my 1980 C-172 Superhawk.

  • Spins are approved only in utility class, which means GW < 2100# and CG < 40.5″.
    • With 180# solo pilot, fuel must be 35 gals or less (full fuel is 40 gals).
    • With 2 people up front, any amount of fuel can be used so long as total weight < 2100#. With full fuel, that’s up to 380# in front seats.
  • Empty back seat, baggage, tail; clean airplane with no FOD.
    • Last thing you want is loose items flying around the cabin, possibly obstructing the controls or lodging in the tail cone, moving the CG rearward.
  • If you’re doing spins solo or with a CFI, you don’t need parachutes (and they wouldn’t be much help in a 172, unless you removed a door before flight). If you have a passenger, you do need them.
  • Altitude: at least 6,000 AGL for spins up to 2-turns (higher for more).
  • Spin entry: Cessna 172 L and later models don’t like to spin and will only spiral unless the spin is entered with an aggressive stall. So:
    • Start with a partial power-on stall, so you have a higher nose angle and a crisp breaking stall.
    • Just as the stall breaks (not before), briskly pull the yoke all the way back and stomp full rudder in the direction you want to spin.
      • NOTE: it will spin L easier than R due to engine torque, but you can spin it in either direction.
    • If the airplane goes into a spiral instead of a spin, immediately release the pro-spin inputs, level the wings, climb back to altitude and try again.
      • NOTE: how to tell if you’re in a spin, or just a tight spiral?
      • A spin is a low-G maneuver: the airplane is mostly unloaded and you don’t feel much G force (even though you’re spinning around). If you feel significant Gs, you’re probably in a spiral not a spin.
      • In a spin, the stall horn squeals loud and hard constantly. If the stall horn is silent, or is just barely squealing, you’re probably in a spiral not a spin.
      • In a spin, the airplane rotates quickly: it literally spins. If the airplane is “flying” around in tight circles, you’re in a spiral not a spin.
    • While spinning, hold these pro-spin control inputs at full maximum.
  • Spin recovery: Cessna 172s follow the standard PARE (power, aileron, rudder, elevator) recovery. They are spin-resistant and will recover instantly as soon as you reduce pressure on pro-spin controls. However, best practice is to firmly apply proper anti-spin controls:
    • Throttle to idle (pull all the way back)
    • Ailerons neutral
    • Briskly stomp and hold full opposite rudder
      • If you’re not sure which way you’re spinning, look through the windshield at how the Earth is rotating:
        • If CW, stomp R rudder (you’re spinning to the L)
        • If CCW, stomp L rudder (you’re spinning to the R)
    • Just after the rudder hits the opposite stop, briskly push the yoke forward
    • Hold these anti-spin inputs until rotation stops
      • NOTE: as soon as rotation stops, the spin becomes a steep dive. You must take the next step quickly to avoid over-speeding or over-stressing the airframe.
    • Neutralize rudder and smoothly pull out of the dive
      • If you pull too hard, you may exceed airframe G limits
      • If you pull too gently, you may exceed airframe Vno speed

PS: The regulations may allow more than just a CFI as an exception to parachutes rule. This postscript develops this topic.

FAR 91.307 requires parachutes for aerobatic flight only when there are non-crewmembers on board. Specifically:  no pilot of a civil aircraft carrying any person (other than a crewmember) may execute any intentional maneuver that exceeds…

Here’s how 14 CFR 1.1 defines a crewmember: Crewmember means a person assigned to perform duty in an aircraft during flight time.

Note that 14 CFR 1.1 does not specify what that duty must be. And FAR 91.307 does not say “required crewmember”. By this definition, a crewmember is anyone the PIC (pilot in command) says is a crewmember. As PIC, I can say to the right front seat passenger, “Please look out the window and tell me when you see other airplanes.” If she agrees, she’s been assigned a duty during flight making her a crewmember.

Having done this, we can legally do spins and other aerobatic maneuvers without wearing parachutes because everyone on board the airplane (other than the pilot)  is a crewmember, which complies with the exception in FAR 91.307.

Now, whether this is a good idea, or whether you want to test this interpretation with the FAA, is entirely up to you. I mention it only out of academic interest in studying the regulations.

Alaska 2018: Day 14 (12 of 12)

This is the last day of a trip to Alaska, part 12 of 12. Click here for the prior entry, here for the introduction.

I wanted a good meal so Dave and I hit the local W for breakfast. The don’t have a website, but they did make a good vegetarian omelette with great crispy cubed taters even if the coffee was weak.

Back at the hotel, I used their office space to get a weather briefing. Bad weather was still covering the Trench, but it was clearing out in parts so I would check again around 11am. Meanwhile, I read Yukon Wings, the book Bernd got me for my birthday. It’s a great book, and mine is signed by the author.

At 11, the weather looked better. We could definitely get to Prince George, and maybe Quesnel and Williams Lake. If not, we’d at least get over the mountains separating us from the Trench, and one step closer to home. I filed a flight plan to Williams Lake with an alternate for Quesnel. We checked out of the hotel, drove to the airport, and Bernd returned the car while I preflighted the plane and called the FBO to fuel us up.

Approaching mtn pass SW of Ft. St. John

We departed at 12:30 local time heading SW. Skies were mostly scattered, broken in isolated areas, at about 8,000′. This is enough for good VFR through the passes to Prince George.

Hills in the trench NE of Prince George

The flight over the mountains, into the trench and past Prince George was scenic though uneventful. As we turned S toward Quesnel we could see small isolated thunderstorms in the distance ahead. I wasn’t going to fly into that so as we flew over Quesnel I called their MF and reported I’d land there.

Here, I encountered a difference between US and Canadian procedures. Quesnel (CYQZ) is a non-towered airport at elevation 1,800′, so pattern altitude is 2,800′. They have a class E airspace that goes up to 4,800′. I flew over and announced mid-field at 4,500′. This is a safe, legal way to approach a non-towered airport in the US. Midfield, you don’t conflict with arriving or departing traffic, and 1,700′ above pattern altitude puts you high enough to avoid conflicts with anyone in the pattern. And approaching from that height and direction, you have great visibility for any other planes in the area so you can smoothly merge into the pattern. However, in response to my radio call, the Canadian RCO berated me, saying I violated their airspace and should announce at least 5 miles out. They asked did I have a CFS on board? I assumed they meant a Canadian Flight Supplement and replied “affirmative”. Then the RCO said there were no other airplanes in the area so it did not cause any separation issues, don’t worry about it. I resisted the urge to reply that was obvious because from mid-field, 1,700′ above pattern at a non-towered airport, I was looking out for myself and could see that. Instead, I kept my mouth shut. “Nothing” is often a wise thing to say.


After I landed a local Canadian pilot walked up to my airplane, said he was listening on his radio, that I did nothing wrong, that RCO had been chewing out pilots for no good reason. He was going to call the RCO and complain about their poor service. I told him I was a visitor in their country and despite having studied the differences in US-Canada flight procedures, I could have missed something. I don’t know who was right: this friendly pilot or the RCO, so I’ll consider it a lesson learned: in Canada, the RCOs want you to announce before entering the class E area of an airport, even when the airport is non-towered.

After landing, we refueled and parked. About 30 minutes later, one of those scattered t-storms came through and dumped an amount of heavy rain that belied its small size.

Flight time: H 89.6 – 91.6 = 2.0 hrs
Flight track:

I called NavCanada to get a briefing. Wiliams Lake was socked in, MVFR, but if we could get past there, we’d have clear conditions through Hope, Abbotsford and to Seattle. We decided to wait a couple of hours in Quesnel and check again. They have a nice pilot lounge so worst case, we could stay there for the night. We ordered a pizza and charged our devices while waiting.

The second weather briefing for Williams Lake looked better; the weather was moving to the E. And, 2 pilots entered the lounge on their way to Atlin. They had flown N from where we were going. They were older guys, experienced with the area. The pilot was a former FAA inspector. They said conditions were OK and we’d pass by just fine.

Armed with this knowledge, I filed an international flight plan from Quesnel to Williams Lake, Hope, Abbotsford, then Seattle. The prior day I had filed the EAPIS. I called Seattle customs for our arrival notification. Then we departed at 5:30pm expecting to arrive in Seattle at 9:30pm. We’d be early if I could cut the corner and skip Hope. Seemed like we’d been gone a long time, felt strange to imagine being back in Seattle.

Over the phone, the NavCanada briefer gave me a discrete squawk code to cross the border. After takeoff, the RCO gave me a different squawk code. I told him the briefer had given me another one. The RCO said that is unusual, they usually don’t do that. He couldn’t find the other code in the system so I went with his code 0022.

Fraser River Valley
Cut the corner for clear skies
Mt. Baker from NE of Abbotsford

Once again, the flight was scenic yet uneventful. Since the leg was over 3 hours, I slowed down to medium power cruise for efficiency (2400 RPM) which gives over 5 hours of flight.

The long way is to follow the Fraser river all the way around to Hope then back to the W. This avoids the high altitudes needed to cross the northern Rockies. The short way is to cut the corner. On this day the SE end of the Fraser river was socked in with bad weather so we cut the corner through clear skies.

I called Abbotsford tower as we approached; they cleared us through their class C airspace (same female controller we had on Day 1, with the great sounding Australian accent) and handed us off to Victoria Approach to cross the border.

Harrison Lake, NE of Abbotsford

Then we transferred to Whidbey Approach, after that cancelled flight following and continued direct to Boeing Field. We landed a few minutes ahead of schedule. Customs met us and the processing was quick and efficient. Taxi-ing back to NE parking, BFI ground didn’t reply to my radio call. Then the ground controller got grouchy with myself and several other aircraft and made several mistakes, mixing up our tail numbers and locations. Seems like he fell behind in whatever he was doing and was frustrated trying to catch up. No problem, we got our taxi clearance, tied down, unloaded and ended our 2-week adventure.

Flight time: H 91.6 – 94.8 = 3.2 hours
Flight tracks:

Total flight time: H 59.7 – 94.8 = 35.1 hours

Alaska 2018: Day 13 (11 of 12)

This is day 13 of a trip to Alaska, part 11 of 12. Click here for the prior and next entries.

We breakfasted at the hotel then took a cab back to the airport to rent a car.  The bad weather that came in the prior night was fully upon us today. The airport was IFR. While there, I checked my airplane. It wasn’t tied down because I was on the grass, and the grass was a thin layer over hard concrete-like Earth so my screw-down grass stakes wouldn’t dig in. It was fine.

We drove to the local rodeo, but there was hardly anyone there except for the participants, and we didn’t want to sit outdoors in the rain to watch it. We’d come back tomorrow if we were still stuck here in Ft. St. John with better weather.

Not many hotels have a pool slide!

The hotel had a pool with a big spiral slide, so we stopped at the local Walmart to get swim trunks. I also replaced the charger I had left in Gulkana. We lunched at the Canadian Brewhouse, which was a decent place. Then returned to the hotel, went swimming, sliding and hot-tubbing for a couple of hours. We ate dinner at a local Greek place, the Olive Tree. Bernd called his old friend Pete the Greek from Sebastopol who spoke with the restaurant owner. Both grew up in nearby towns in Greece.

That evening we finished what little whisky we had left and hoped for good weather the next day. If we were lucky, we’d make it all the way home.


Alaska 2018: Day 12 (10 of 12)

This is day 12 of a trip to Alaska, part 10 of 12. Click here for the prior and next entries.

At the Takhini hostel, up at 7:30am, breakfasted on our groceries: coffee, Cheerios with bananas and toast with peanut butter. Skies looked clear but it was cold with low lying fog in the valleys. Optimistically, we checked out of the hostel and drove to the airport, which was IFR with a thin layer of fog. I used the pilot office to get a weather briefing: bad weather to the SE, a huge pile of cold moist air was socking in everything to the SE of us. Chances were, enough sun to burn it off would also be enough to make thunderstorms.

Chipmunk buddies at the hostel

We drove into Whitehorse to Starbucks. I planned an alternate route down the trench, Whitehorse to Dease Lake to Prince George, using paper charts and my tablet. Calculating this with the leg distances, headings, and fuel calculations took over an hour. Then I used the Starbucks WiFi to get an updated briefing. Conditions were improving.

We lunched at the local Vietnamese place, then back to the airport. At the pilot lounge I got an updated briefing. The center of the bad weather was over the trench, hammering it with big thunderstorms. No way were we getting through that, whether direct or via Dease Lake. But it looked like we could make it to Watson Lake, Nelson Lake, and maybe down to Ft. St. John. I filed a flight plan to Ft. Nelson, 2 legs, with enough time for a fuel stop at Watson Lake. If upon arriving Ft. St. John looked good, we’d fly that leg. Either way, we’d be a step or two further along our way.

Departing Whitehorse for the last time
Few above, scattered to broken below
Watson Lake

We flew above the layers at first, then the layers got thicker and higher. When we got to 12,000′ and the layers were still rising, we descended below them and followed the valleys, dodging scattered rain showers that would develop into thunderstorms later in the afternoon.

Flight time: H 83.9 – 86.0 = 2.1 hrs
Flight track:

Fueling at Ft. Nelson

At Watson Lake we refueled and departed for Ft. Nelson. Since we came up the trench on our way out, this would be a new destination, further E along the AlCan highway.

Flight time: H 86.0 – H88.0 = 2.0 hrs
Flight tracks:

After arriving at Ft. St. Nelson, we refueled again and I got a briefing for the flight S to Ft. St. John. The bad weather was closing in, but the forecast was we could beat it there since it is only a 90 minute flight.

Between Ft. Nelson and Ft. St. John

We departed and I ran the airplane at high speed cruise (2600 RPM, 120 kts TAS). As we headed S we had clear VFR under a high layer at 7,000′ to 8,000′, but we could see dim grey and rain in the distance, where we were heading.

The weather got to Ft. St. John ahead of schedule and beat us there. As we arrived the airport was reporting VFR, but we had to fly through MVFR heavy rain and limited visibility to get there. Fortunately, I always record the position of my destination airport with a VOR radial and distance. Without this, I would not have found the airport in these conditions, and would have had to turn around and head back to Ft. Nelson. VFR minimums (3 miles visibility) are sufficient for keeping the shiny side up, but not for navigation. My tablet app (Naviator) crashed just as we approached the worst of the poor visibility and had to find the airport, reminding me why I use VORs. We flew direct to the VOR, made a single left turn and the airport appeared right in front of us, spot-on the 100° radial at 6 miles. Winds favored runway 12, which was right in front of me. We landed, taxied to the grass, and unloaded, all in heavy rain as the ceilings lowered and weather worsened around us. Soon after, the airport went to IFR.

Flight time: H 88.0 – 89.6  = 1.6 hrs
Flight track:

The FBO let us inside. We called around and found a hotel that sent a shuttle to pick us up. While waiting we met a security lady who told us about the local rodeo. From her appearance and demeanor, I suspect she was a cowgirl herself. We shuttled to the hotel, walked to Boston Pizza for dinner, then hit the sack.

Alaska 2018: Days 10-11 (9 of 12)

These are days 10-11 of a trip to Alaska, part 9 of 11. Click here for the prior and next entries.

Bernd got a rental car delivered to the hotel and we drove to Starbucks for br20180717_094858_DROeakfast. We met the owner and also spotted a flyer for free guided nature hikes, one at 2pm. We checked out of the family hotel and into the hostel on Takhini hot springs road next to the public hot pools. Lunch at Whisky Jacks and saw David again. Stopped by the airport to get our sleeping bags out of the plane, then went to the float plane base S of town for the nature hike.


Ingrid and Janie led the hike. They were friendly and knowledgable, and we had a nice group of about 10 people. We hiked out & back the scenic Miles Canyon trail, learned about local history, saw a bear swim across the river and climb up on our side about 1/4 mile away.

Your travelers at Miles Canyon Trail
Yukon flowing through Miles Canyon
Why did the bear cross the river?
To climb up the other bank
Beavers around here somewhere…

After the hike we returned to the Takhini springs hot pools and spent over an hour in the water. We emerged completely enervated yet relaxed.

Bad weather was coming in and we’d be stuck in Whitehorse for another day or two.

At the hostel, another family checked in. They were a Swiss family of 5 and had spent the past 5 days hiking the pass from Skagway to Whitehorse.

Day 11, the bad weather had arrived. No way we’d be getting out today. We breakfasted at Bean North, lunched at the pizza place, and spent a few hours visiting the Yukon Transportation Museum.

We returned to the hot pools and met a Canadian couple, who recommended Ft. St. John as the best place to get stuck, of all the towns we’d hit along the way home. Back to town for grocery shopping, then back to the hostel. Met another arriving family, the parents were both teachers with 2 teenage daughters. We watched another movie and hit the sack.

Alaska 2018: Day 9 (8 of 12)

This is day 9 of a trip to Alaska, part 8 of 11. Click here for the prior and next entries.

Loading the mail
Packed tight, but weighed & balanced

We got up early, and Rebecca & Jody were already at work. We helped Jody load the 185 for the mail flight. It was stuffed to the gills, even so we took care to ensure it was within weight and CG.

Flying with Rebecca

I got a weather briefing and things looked better. Rebecca was learning to fly, so we took her along in the right front seat for a local flight to see the sights, assess the mountain pass to the East, and give her some stick time.

Rebecca practised gentle un-coordinated turns (rudder only and aileron only) to get a feel for how too much rudder pulls you to the outside, too much aileron pulls you to the inside, and properly coordinated balances these forces, so it pulls you straight back into your seat. She also practised using a light fingertips touch on controls during cruise, trim it so the airplane’s inherent stability does the work. This enables you to better feel the airplane’s control forces talking back to you, reduces pilot workload and smooths the transition to instrument flight.

Flight time: H 78.8 – 80.3 = 1.5 hrs
Flight track:

The pass was MVFR at best, but clearing, so we landed back in Gulkana and prepared to depart. Meanwhile, Rebecca showed us a mini-projector she used to watch movies from her phone. It was unusable with a broken power adapter. We found some solder in the aviation shop, a soldering iron, and I fixed it. The fix wasn’t the cleanest, but functional if fragile, and the best I could under the circumstances.

Mentasta Lake up ahead

We said our good-byes and departed Gulkana for Tok, then Whitehorse. Due to the overcast, we followed the river through the mountains to Tok instead of taking Mentasta pass

This worked great. We landed in Tok, refueled, got a new weather briefing, filed EAPIS and called Customs for the flight to Whitehorse.

IFR (I Follow Rivers) to Tok
A rainbow between scattered showers

We departed Tok at 3pm and flew to Whitehorse via Northway, Beaver Creek, Silver Springs, then E to Whitehorse. Along the way we flew over some scattered cloud layers around Kluane Lake, then descended to fly under others. At one point we encountered small scattered thunderstorms, wide enough apart to slip between them. This put us in true old-school VFR flying through valleys following rivers and roads. We approached Whitehorse from the W through the mountain pass.

Tower gave us L downwind for 34R. We landed and tied down under the tower (not at the north ramp this time).

Flight time: H80.3 – 83.9 = 3.6 hrs (Gulkana to Whitehorse)
Flight track to Tok:
Flight track to Whitehorse:

Just behind us landed Scott in his Piper Cub. We met while fueling up. He was ferrying the airplane from Texas to Alaska for an owner. We walked to the terminal together and looked for a hotel and a place to eat. Whitehorse gets booked in the popular summer travel/cruise season. After several calls we couldn’t get a rental car but we got a room at the Family Hotel and took a taxi there. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but they have nice staff (family owned) and great showers – incredible pressure and flow rate like standing under a waterfall! We walked to the local Boston Pizza for a hearty dinner, then hit the sack. Scott planned to get up early and on his way, so we would not see him again, at least not on this trip.