During a recent trip to
Alaska leading a group of Argentinean pilots to the 49th State
(Argies to Alaska) I met a fine group Alaskan Bush Pilots in the Anchorage area. After
suffering with repeated temptations from their periodic glowing reports
about too much fun during their back country flying I returned to do some local flying with them.
Don owns a PA-14 Piper Super Cruiser
Jerry flies a PA-12 Piper Super Cub
Kent pilots also a PA-12 Piper Super Cub, and
Amy has an Aeronca Champ
These planes are fitted with VERY LARGE "Tundra" tires and can be
outfitted with skis or floats also.
We flew from Hood Strip, adjacent to Anchorage International and Lake
Hood Seaplane base.
This is the summary of adventures with them...
I met Don (PA-14 SuperCruiser), Ken (SuperCub,
Jerry (Super Cub), Tony "the Vet" (Super Cub) and Amy (Ken's
girlfriend who is an Alaska 737 pilot) at Lake Hood "Strip" for
a flight. Temps were around 55 degrees and partly cloudy skies
with a few cumulus clouds creating some isolated precipitation
in the form of rain shafts.
Heading Eastward across the Cook Inlet at
the mandatory 700' msl till reaching the shoreline on the other
side by the sunken ship. At that time we descended below 300'
which was our altitude for the rest of the flight until
returning to land again.
We intercepted the Yentna River and flew at
or below tree top level seeing a large number of bald eagles who
gathered along side to feast on the run of "Hooligan" fish which
happens at this time of the year.
||The leaves had just started to come out this
week on the trees. Ken flew alongside us in his green Super
Cruiser executing a series of maneuvers.
We then landed at a
river bar frequented by the group in the past.
After a short time there while Abby (Don's
85% wolf/dog) and Ken's dog got into a bad fight, we lifted off
again and proceeded upstream. Everyone reported the unusual
large amount of bald eagles and we saw a Moose cow and newly
born calf along the shoreline.
Soon we reached another bar and after
circling it to assess its suitability for landing, one by one we
took our turn to touch down here. The very large "tundra" tires
helped smooth out the gravel rolling beneath us. I was notified
that this particular river bar has never been given a name and
we christened it Deeter Bar!!
While here Abby got to run around free with
a long rope tied to her neck. Don found in the past that her
wild instinct takes over in places like this and she doesn't
want to return back to civilization and get back on the plane
when is time to go. So he ties the long rope to her enabling him
to grab her when is time to depart. She actually loves to fly in
the plane (probably doesn't know any better!)
While at Deeter Bar we ate our sandwiches
and saw some HUGE bear paw prints.
Soon again it was time to move on. Amy left
before the rest of us since she had to command a 737-200 plane
departing at 6 AM from Anchorage for Kodiak and back and then to
Nome and back by 1 PM (she has a house on Lake Hood Strip next
to Anchorage International).
Then one by one everyone took off. Don and
I were the last ones to go and as we prepared to start Jerry
made a LOW pass over us realizing that Super Cubs can create
significant wake turbulence!! We then proceed downstream for a
bit. Always at or below treetop level (no pressurized high
performance plane needed for this type of flying).
Again along the way (river) we saw the
moose calf and cow still wading in the shallow shore. Don and
the rest theorized that they were hiding from a grizzly bear who are
excellent trackers by smell.
||We flew at low altitude over boggy swamps and soon reached
Cook Inlet again and called Lake Hood tower for landing
instructions. We were cleared for landing to the East and
touched down around 10:30 PM in broad daylight. Then Ken, Don
and I went to eat some pie at a nearby coffee shop.
||After a leisure morning start Don de Voe and I
drove to Lake Hood Strip, which is adjacent to Anchorage
International and Lake Hood Seaplane base, to meet Jerry Imm.
Today I flew in Jerry's Super Cub with 26" Tundra tires. Take
off was brisk into the 12 knot westerly winds with a wonderful
view of the adjacent Seaplane base and KANC.
Headed west on downwind we immediately
crossed the Cook Inlet and then followed its western shoreline
staying out of KANC's Class C airspace and Elmendorf Air Force
Base. We flew over the mud flats observing the ocean ebbing to
sea and soon came within a short distance of Palmer where we
headed up Knik Valley turning East just south of Palmer. I flew the Super Cub most of the time and
found it to be extraordinarily well behaving confirming Jerry's
statements that it could fly "handsfree" for long periods of
time - a steady platform indeed. After a short while we reached
the base of Knik Glacier and since we were the first of the
group we took our time leisurely sightseeing. We decided to land
at "Glastar" strip, an unmarked runway on the glacial "moraine"
which was so named after a Glastar pilot (light experimental
composite kit airplane) in the past almost killed himself taking
off. Of course our landing was severely cushioned by Jerry's
giant balloon tires and the roll out did not exceed 100 feet.
Jerry is a graduate Geologist and has held
many positions of responsibility in the past among them the head
of the State of Alaska Natural Resources Division in Juneau. He
explained the forces of glaciers and how they leave behind
At this site (frequented by the group in
the past) even a picnic table was in place. After waiting for
the other planes for a while we took off again to sightsee some
more and observed many ice floes which recently calved from the
face of Knik Glacier.
||We then approached another face of the glacier where it
meets the steep face of Mount Palmer and creates a "Gorge" like.
We descended lower until we fitted (barely) in the narrow span
of its confines and our wing tips almost touched the face of the
glacier on one side and steep Palmer Mountain on the other. We
flew its length...
We landed at another preferred spot where
two bear hunters had set up tent and were intensely looking for
a large boar and sow which they've pursued earlier on.
After a short chat with these men we lifted
off again and flew over Upper Lake George created by the melting
glacier and its ice floes trapped by a huge earlier berm of
moraine. Jerry explained that every so often the ice backs up
soo much and breaks the dam (berm) releasing a great flood
||The colors were spectacular including a deep
indigo, aquamarine and turquoise. I wish that the enclosed
pictures could truly represent these. Soon we reached the
moraine left over from Lake George glacier at its moraine Valley
and saw another frequented "airstrip" by the group.
This plateau had parts of the receding glacier. In
parts the gigantic forces of the glacier had polished the uncovered
We could see the end of this valley in the distance
and entered the narrow gorge of STEEP Whiteout Glacier. Jerry claims to
have started at its base and his Super Cub outclimbed it in the past. He
was expecting it to be only 2000' high back then but did not reach its
crest until 7,500'!! These airplanes can surely maintain a steep climb
||Out from these glacier we overflew another landing
strip and saw yet another face of Knik Glacier. The leaves of deciduous
trees were coming out here also and the bright verdant glow of these
created a mystical effect. Unfortunately we also witnessed the
devastation caused by the spruce bark beetle on conifers.
Wondering what had happened to the rest of our
troops we headed towards the mouth of Knik Valley and landed at "Two
Islands" airstrip hoping to find a break from the strong cold wind for
our picnic behind the two hills protruding from the glacial gravel.
Suddenly we heard Don's chat on the Air to Air
advisory frequency overhead and conferred about trying yet another
landing spot that may be more guarded from the wind for our picnic.
He was going to land at another preferred spot past
Knik glacier and Lake George on the valley floor of Lake George Glacier.
Rapidly we got in the plane and took off in the direction where they
were going. We arrived a short minutes later overhead and made a low
pass, observing Don and his wife Mary walking the strip and assessing
The word from the ground via radio was not
satisfactory and we proceeded to land at our first spot (Glastar strip)
now in touch with the entire fleet overhead.
On the ground we all gathered wood from dead
branches and with AvGas quickly started a fire.
The planes and its passengers here were:
Andy and Celia in their yellow Citabria who park
adjacent to Don at Lake Hood Strip.
Kent and his dog Astro in his Super Cub (PA-18-150)
Amy (Kent's girlfriend and Alaska Airlines 737
pilot) and her 90 hp Champ
Jerry and I in his Super Cub
Ted who joined us (dropped in) from his private
airstrip near Palmer in his Super Cub and, of course,
Don, Mary and Abby (their 85% wolf dog) in their
PA-14 Super Cub.
We unloaded chairs, food and drinks from the planes
and enjoyed a fine picnic in mostly still air conditions and
temperatures in the high 40s.The ground was covered by a thick carpet of
lichen and moss cushioning our footsteps from the sharp rocks.
We enjoyed bar-b-qued halibut, Polska Kielbasa,
corn on the cob and roasted Vidalia onions and a variety of snacks and
By then we realized it was approaching 10 PM and
Amy's Stinson did not have night lights. Therefore we packed the planes
and one by one took off into the setting sun back to Anchorage.
On the way back Jerry and I flew a low altitude
following the meandering stream of "glacial milk" (whitish melting water
heavy with suspended minerals from glacial erosion of the rock base
below). On the way we flew over greatly increased mud flats signaling a
peaking low tide. Tides in this part of the world can exceed 30 feet. We
landed back at Lake Hood strip just before the setting sun and it was
close to midnight.
Little Johnstone and Kenai
||This morning Don De Voe and I met with Jerry Imm
and his daughter Susan for a flight to the West side of the Kenai
Peninsula near Seward.
We departed Lake Hood Strip as a flight of two with
Jerry's Super Cub handling the communications because Don's PA-14 Super
Cruiser radio gets too much interference from a local FM station, on an
Easterly departure. The formation take off was executed flawlessly and
soon we were released by Anchorage tower over Turnagain Arm which leads
to Portage glacier where Captain Cook had to "Turn again" as he was
looking for a way to the Northwest Passage.
Soon we were flying over the small town of Hope
(pop. 50) on the northernmost part of the Kenai Peninsula.
||Jerry was flying alongside us in the perfectly
still clear air. At our 4,500 feet cruising altitude we flew over Summit
Lake and the valley leading to Moose Pass. We saw many valleys covered
still in snow. Don explained that at this time of the year avalanches are
common as overhang cornices fall, specially those facing south.
flew over Mills Creek Valley and then right alongside many sheer peaks.
Approaching an area of glaciers we then followed
Blying Sound headed towards the Gulf of Alaska with Ellsworth
Glacier and Day Harbor observing the many creases and
crevasses on its surface.
||This lead us to Johnstone Bay a
large secluded beach area that contains the glacial lake behind
Don explained that this area also, like most others
sometimes releases its fury of ice floes and backed up melted water if
its only outlet to sea gets plugged up. Don acquired 4 1/2 acres in
1982 during the last Land Rush where the State of Alaska authorized
individuals to stake land for ownership (they still do that now and
then). As a result Don obtained ownership of that acreage in Little Johnstone and some additional acreage at a more remote little lake a
short hike up the mountain.
Jerry had already landed ahead of us on the beach
and after a couple of passes so did we..
He wanted to teach me a "water landing" where the
large tires touch down in water and the craft aquaplanes while speed is
kept above 30 mph. In this case we touch down on the lake's outlet
stream and as the tires began to sink in our decreasing speed, we
reached the gravel beach ahead for a safe conclusion to our landing.
This is actually a lot easier and safer than it
appears because this planes touch down at only 45 miles per hour and at
that speed is almost impossible to "sink" in the water due to the high
pressure created by the aquaplaning action.
The beach here is composed of mostly rolling stones
which are mostly 6" in diameter or less with an occasional large one.
||Logs and other debris including buoys, tennis
shoes, bottles and even a computer brand new computer monitor are
deposited by the sea waves. Not too occasionally a container full of
goods falls off a ship in the Pacific Ocean and sea currents carry the
floating debris depositing it on the Alaska coast.. Weather conditions
were great here with temperatures in the low 50s and little wind.
Therefore we first went for a stroll to the outlet stream since we saw
half a dozen of bald eagles there just prior landing. We found many
small fishes trying to go to sea and we helped them along before the
eagles return to feast on them. Jerry and Don felt that these were Dolly
Varden Trout fry headed in the wrong direction... With the planes
happily parked on the beach Don and I headed inland to see the lake and
his cabin. I had noticed a dual tree line as if someone had planted a
new row of spruce trees in front of the mature ones and learned from Don
that this was the result of the 9.2 magnitude earthquake that occurred
in 1964 in Prince William Sound near here. At that time the valley floor
went up 14 feet in elevation!! This created the double tree line which I
Don told me the story of his previous plane, a
PA-12 from which these wings are leftover from.. He and another plane
had landed a few years back and they were working on his cabin when they
saw smoke and flames coming from the beach. As they rushed they found
the Super Cruiser engulfed in flames and it was too late to combat the
destruction. His friend proceeded to Anchorage intending to return for
Don and happened to mention at the airport about the accident. This
conversation was overhead by an overzealous FAA inspector who notified
the Coast guard and in the next morning Don was awakened in his tent by
the roar of a large helicopter overhead who came to "rescue" him. He'd
refused to be picked up knowing well that his friend would be back later
that day but they insisted on them coming along to Kodiak Island (a long
ways away) where their Station is located. Adding misery to insult they
had to then purchase expensive one way tickets to get back to Anchorage
and face a mountain of paperwork...
During our hike in the woods I saw his cabin in the
woods constructed mostly of Cedar.
This is Rain Forest and gets an estimated 100
inches of annual precipitation. Therefore everything is covered with a
luscious moss and there are some ferns too.
Unfortunately we also saw plenty of evidence of
bears trying to enter and damage to its siding.
We continued following a bear trail in the dense
forest cutting our way in the thick brush to the lake and eventually
reaching its outlet stream which we followed back to the beach.
We then hiked to the other extreme end of the shore
line and returned to the plane.
The tide was low and we decided to take off on the
wet exposed sand and follow the coastline westward towards Seward..
After a short flight over Big Johnstone (next bay
over) and abeam steep cliffs dropping to sea we encountered a sea lion
rookery we reached Resurrection Bay and followed it to its end where the
small town of Seward is located to refuel.
One of the cruise ships was in port.
Don was not happy to have to land at a developed
(uncontrolled) airport and elected to land alongside the runway on the
dirt which is better for the plane's balloon tires. We encountered Dr.
Keith Echlemeyer, glaciologist from the University of Alaska at
Fairbanks, who was unloading sophisticated survey equipment from his 180
hp PA-12. His plane had wheel/skis mounted and he'd just returned from
landing at Bear glacier nearby.
Shortly we took off again flying over town and the
cruise ship docked there. Seward is a deep water port and the end of the
Cruise ships' passengers disembark here their fare
who usually then ride the train to Anchorage, Denali National Park and
We proceeded over the mountains and glacier
encircling the Sound on our way to Harris bay. We saw many glacial lakes
and immense glaciers with steep sheer faces and, of course, many
mountain goats and dall sheep in the sheer mountain cliffs. Soon we
reached Harris Bay and leisurely circled sightseeing the scenery.
We approached the beach here landing just inland of
the waterline at a "strip" made in this Indian reservation land by the
group in the past.
To our amazement, while in short final, we saw a
group of young people in the nude who obviously came from a two nearby
sailing boats. They waved at us as we flew low overhead but we could not
understand their hardiness bearing the cold temperature of the air and
water... (pix not included for obvious reasons.., sorry).
We went for a short stroll on the sandy beach and
Don and Susan collected rocks and shells.
Susan had reported seeing a large
black something near our landing spot and we cautiously headed in that
direction where we found a large male black bear.
He never noticed us thanks to our stealthines
and being downwind from him.
This morning we first went to Anchorage
International Airport around mid-morning to attend the Alaska Airmen's
Conference and Exposition at the large Federal Express hangar.
This is a growing annual event held by the
Association of pilots, owners and operators of aircraft in Alaska and
included indoor and outdoor displays. I've met several of my
acquaintances here (suppliers exhibiting) and saw many interesting
displays and airplanes including:
A Grumman Albatros, Widgeon, Goose and even a
single engine Duck. The Duck was just restored after 20 years of work
and is similar to the one used in the movie "Murphy's War"
The Albatross is one of only two in existence that
is tri-surface capable (can land in water, land and, with its reinforced
keel, in snow). Of course there were many smaller bush planes offered
including displays by Husky, Super Cubs (rebuilt), etc.. FedEx opened up
one of their cargo MD-11s and an Airbus 310 and the USAF brought in a
F-15 Eagle. There was also a DC-3 and C-46 Commando which had briefly
stopped hauling freight to attend the show.
I joined up with Kent in his Super Cub and flew
across Cook Inlet then northward towards Palmer and witnessed a dust
devil (small tornado like).
I turned around and saw a great view of Knik river
downstream just prior to joining the Cook Inlet's mud flats.
We entered Knik Valley facing a strong headwind and
great clouds of dust. Kent measured a headwind component of 35 knots at
Knik Glacier's Lake looked fantastic in the clear
air and we were relieved that the winds abated as we turned southbound
headed towards the Gorge.
Soon we reached Lake George and found that the
strong winds had pushed the ice floes against its large moraine.
It is conditions like this that create an "ice dam"
at its outflow and restrict the exit of waters, Kent explained.
Suddenly this jam releases creating a great flood.
Colony Glacier looked magnificient in the now
mostly still conditions.
We flew real close to its face enjoying the
We then flew over the polished bedrock at low
altitude just prior to landing at "Colony Point", the informal
"airstrip" used to land at the valley floor.
Some of the other planes were already there
including Jerry, Amy and Don.
After landing I examined the surface of the
valley's material and found it to be very solid but "spongy" retaining a
lot of water, very strange! We had a tail-table party on Kent's
Then we hiked across the many streams coming from
Lake George Glacier and Kent and Amy had to scout ahead and lay some
large rocks for our crossing.
We saw some natural springs with totally clear
water bubbling from the bottom through the talcum like material.
Hiking up the mountain we encountered some heavy
brush with leaves barely coming out.
Jerry explained that the enormous glacial forces
had polished this large piece of the mountain and along the way turned
This shale like material is over 500 feet in
||Some "Jacob's Ladder" wildflowers were just coming out.
Suddenly Ken signaled us from the edge of a nearby
cliff to approach hurriedly and quietly.. It was a moose in a pond down
The pond has been created by a laborious beaver
which constructed a large dam across the narrow valley leading to Colony
The group then practiced some "trundling" of large rocks down the steep
cliff side to see who could reach the pond below...
By then we realized that it was past 7 PM and
decided to head downhill back to the planes. On the way we found some
moose droppings and tracks.
||We returned to Anchorage via the "Gorge"...
We have produced a great educational video based on this and other
Alaskan journeys (30 minutes in length) which teaches about Glaciers.
You can preview some theatrical trailers of productions based on these
Note: All theatrical trailers are on
This report concludes my adventure flying Bush
Planes in Alaska... I sincerely want to thank Don De Voe, Jerry Imm and
Kent Kohlhase for this fantastic opportunity to experience true Alaskan
Bush Flying. Hope you enjoyed it.
Comments, questions, suggestions?
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