Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Catching Up

Wow, first day at this and I already have serious writer's block. I guess I should start by getting everyone caught up, and for that I'll go back to October of last year. That's when I started the job I'm currently at now, with Wolverine Air.


Fortunately for me, this job is in the same town I've been living in for the past 2 and a half years (Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories) so I didn't have to pick up and move somewhere new, not that I don't enjoy that. The job also has me flying 5 different types of airplanes, 3 of which I already have significant experience with, and has me working with a great group of guys that I have gotten to know and become really good friends with since moving to Fort Simpson. All in all, it has been a very easy, seamless transition to the new circumstances. I do really miss flying the Beaver (airplane I was flying at my previous job); it is the most enjoyable airplane to fly, but for right now, this job is in my best interest.

Before I could take this job, however, I had to do some further flight training. Over my 10 years of flying (it doesn't really seem like it has been that long), I had only flown single engine airplanes prior to October. Wolverine Air operates 2 different types of multi-engine airplanes, and they were hiring me to fly every airplane they have in the fleet. So, I had to go back to school, so to speak, to learn how to handle a multi-engine airplane. Of course, it's really not all that different than a single engine airplane: pull back, go up; push forward, go down. Basically it just teaches you the proper way to handle an engine failure, as it could be a very dangerous situation if not handled correctly. So, after a few days of training in beautiful Vancouver, it was back to Fort Simpson to do yet more training, this time, specifically on the Piper Navajo. It was quite a change for me to switch to flying the Navajo, coming from flying a Beaver on floats. The Beaver is a simple, big, old rugged bush plane; the Navajo is a refined, fast and comparitively complicated airplane. To give you an idea of the difference, the speed at which the Navajo approaches to land is faster than the speed at which the Beaver cruises in straight and level flight!

Shortly after my Navajo training, I got re-acquainted with my old friend the Cessna 185. It is the airplane that I essentially started my bush flying career on, and it is the one aircraft that I have the more time on than any other. In November, I spent two weeks flying the 185 on a wildlife survey doing randomly computer selected survey grid blocks within about a 150 mile radius of here. Our primary objective was to count moose, of which we found nearly 100, and we also counted a couple small herds of woodland caribou totalling about 40, as well as about 25 wovles split between 3 separate packs. I must say, that is one of the types of flying I live for: flying around just a couple hundred feet off the ground, no worries about being on time, just enjoying nature. There is nothing like circling over a herd of caribou running through the snow on a crisp winter late afternoon, or watching a pack of huge wolves watching you, completely and totally fearless, just curiously observing this noisy little plane circling over them as they guard a fresh kill. I tried to get some pictures of the critters we saw, but unfortunately none of them turned out well. Apparently maneuvering an airplane around at treetop level and taking pictures at the same time, is too much multi-tasking for me to handle. One or the other is bound to be poor quality. But at least I can take a picture while not flying; this is a shot of the 185 in Nahanni Butte, a little Native community of about 90 people, one of the locations that we did surveying out of.

After the wildlife survey, things at work settled down to what I would call the "pre-ice-road" normal. The village of Fort Simpson is located on an island in the Mackenzie River, west of the confluence of the Liard and Mackenzie Rivers. While there is a highway into town, there is no bridge across the Liard River. In the summer, a small ferry boat shuttles cars and trucks across the river and in the winter, once the river freezes sufficiently, cars and trucks drive over the frozen river to reach the town or the highway, depending on whether they are headed into or out of town. Of course there is a period of time both in the spring and fall, when the ferry cannot operate because of the amount of ice on the river, but the river is unsafe to drive on. At that point, airplanes and helicopters are the only way in and out of town. The fall freeze-up period is our last big push before a slow winter. In addition to our ice bridge across the Liard river, all the surrounding communities that don't have regular road access usually have ice roads established by mid to late December. So, the locals who normally rely on air transportation for everything 8 or 9 months of the year, have a brief window of road access, and business gets pretty slow for us in aviation.

But, it's just in time for Christmas and New Years! And who wants to be working hard over the holidays anyway? During my first couple New Years in Simpson, there were big bashes held, but this year was pretty uneventful. Lots of people were out of town, leaving just a few of us to celebrate Fort Simpson style: a poker party instead of a new years party and firearms instead of fireworks.

Susie was the eventual winner but while Tim was dealing, I was busy trying to use my powers to get a good hand all while Morgan officially officiated. This was, of course, before Tim and Morgan led the New Years parade outside for the "fireworks." Talk about something you could never get away with in a more civilized place.

Well that brings us up to New Years, which is enough for me for one day. In the coming days I'll get some more pictures lined up and ready to go, and hopefully get a better handle on the formatting so I can get things to look and flow a little better.

1 comment:

  1. hey Dan, good blog. Nice to hear your still doing what you love to do. Been flying for ten years now, hard to believe. I seem to remember the first time you flew solo way back in Thunder Bay.I also like the picture of you and the moosehead, though I have seen you with a moosehead in your hands before only it was a moosehead of a different kind.Nordman