lundi 12 juin 2017

Mount Rainier photo flight and friendship

On the morning of the 12th Paul and I discussed our day plan. It was quite simple. Go to the airport, continue cleaning the beautiful plane that brought us here and then, at the end of the day, weather permitting (and it was promising!), fly in formation with Paul Briede and John Parker next to their Bonanza around Mount Rainier! Before going in the air we made a careful briefing with everyone involved. Especially making sure we have the correct frequency air to air, the airspace available for the pictures and a backup plan in case we need to abort.

Our photographer and friend Gregory Lemoigne was also on board and the results are speechless. To get this result Paul Bazeley made an incredible job keeping up the DC-3 as close as possible to the Bonanza and while I was dealing with radios and some propeller adjustments, the Big Boss was him! I bet you want to see those pictures so enough writing, here is what you want.

After this memorable flight, still with sparkles in my eyes and not really realising what we just did, we fuelled the airplane and made it ready for its next day as we had finally our journalists on board. By the time we came back on the ground, my friend and author Eric Auxier (remember the famous book "The Last Bush Pilots"??!) was landing at SeaTac on the second jumpseat of an Alaskan Boeing 737! Francisco was very nice to invite Eric to join us on the journalist flight and also letting him ride to Aurora for the last flight before the maintenance program! Eric was delighted, he is so enthusiastic about everything that flies that he asked Airways Magazine for a possible article on HB-IRJ! And he was here for this! We met at Boeing Field and Eric stayed at the same hotel as us. 

There I Wuz!

Riding the small jumpseat of the 737

dimanche 11 juin 2017

Boeing Plant 1

When people talk about airliners the most common word which comes to their mouth is "Boeing"! So when I tell people what my job is, too often they think I am flying a big Boeing. Well, I am sorry folks, I only fly a European designed wonderful piece of machinery called Airbus A320! But yes, if I could choose, I would also fly a Boeing. It seems those airplanes fly better, are aimed towards Pilots, just like the DC-3 is!
And today Ladies and Gentlemen, we are going to the place where it all begun for The Boeing Company. Not landing at Seattle Tacoma nor Everett, rather choose KBFI or Boeing Field! Carefully planning our route today as going towards such a congested airspace needs some study of charts. And since our lovely DC-3 started to get angry with its transponder altitude encoding, we might be facing with a no-go from air traffic control. So here come the question, should we be honest and tell them or...?
We were in between then. I filed a flight plan stating our transponder works fine and Paul called the flight services in order to advise them of the erratic functioning of mode C (the altitude mode of the transponder). They were fine with it, as long as we make sure to stick to our assigned altitudes! This is what we normally plan on doing anyway!
But before reaching Seattle, we still had to fly south and without any or very few contacts with ATC. Also like always in those areas, the weather to get out of the fjords wasn't perfect at all. Low clouds were present in the morning of our departure. Checking windyty this is what we had

Rain and low clouds. The good thing is that the forecast showed us an improvement for the later stage of the day. As we had more than 5 hours of flight time planned for the day everything could change. Fortunately it did! 

Precipitations near Seattle

Cloud layers and winds along the route

We saw an opportunity at 10 am and took the air for some beautiful sceneries along the way. Here are some nice pictures

Francisco, Peter and myself
Because we are cool people! Francisco, Greg and I
Happy flying alone (guess they trust me!)
Not far from Vancouver!
And then we approached our destination, Seattle, with a lot of chatter on the frequency today, basically flying from north you have to cross Everett and Seattle Tacoma airspaces and to say busy isn't any euphemism! We could see airplanes flying everywhere in every directions, landing lights ON!
Arriving into Seattle Boeing Field was a dream of mine, just like was Anchorage. We arrived via Victoria VOR (YYJ) west of Vancouver and avoiding Paine Field (Everett), we made our way towards Elliott Bay pointing towards the Space Needle for a right downwind to runway 32L at Boeing Field. A very precise flight path needs to be flown in order to keep away from Renton (another Boeing factory) which stands south south east of Boeing Field. The fact is, when you fly on the left and you make a right hand downwind, you are pretty unsure of when you should turn. For instance I had the chance of having Paul sitting right next to me to guide us for the approach. This place is his play field in the end!
On downwind you find yourself on a small ridge and finally very low compared to the ground but high regarding final approach. Together with a pretty bumpy ride it was interesting to say the least.  We made a couple of my signature "s" on the runway, still unsure of my landing technique on the Gooney Bird!!! 

Welcome to the USA! Just landed and the Ford Mustang awaited us! However to fit 5 people plus bags inside it wasn't possible! Nice touch from Signature but we unfortunately had to change the model!
That night we ate a very good steak at one of the best steakhouse downtown Seattle. Such a nice city! 

The next day, on the 11th June, I spent most of my day at the Museum of Flight located right across our DC-3 on the ramp. This is a pretty big museum and houses many many airplanes all of them  having made history in aviation. First of all the Boeing Plant 1 still sits were it was built and one can see interesting features of early Boeing models. Then you have the first 747 that took flight on the 9th February 1969. The 747 changed the way we travel today, just like the DC-3 changed it more than 30 years before the 747!
If you ever find yourself in the Seattle area then don't hesitate to take time and go to the museum. Peter and Alex enjoyed it like crazy. Paul went also with his two kids!

The DC-2, the precursor of the DC-3
Trying to get the same smile

It was also necessary to clean the airplane a bit before our flight on the 13th with journalists. So Paul and I went the afternoon until late to bring a new look at the airplane. Of course we hadn't cleaned anything since Japan!
The day ended with some good talk about aviation around a nice cold beer. 

jeudi 8 juin 2017

Going from Adventurers to Tour Guides!

Our stop in Anchorage also meant to visit around a little bit. Sure our plans got screwed and we were already back at the FBO the next morning, having had only very few moment to place a call with my tender love. Marie, if you read me, please forgive me. I know, out of sight and lost in the Pacific Ocean for 3 days and the only call we did was in the hotel lobby, full of people around. Though life!

The good thing about meeting civilization again is that we also were able to get a couple passengers with us! First of all we met Greg again who was joining us from Europe in order to make his  video shootings and also Céline, Francisco's girlfriend. Alex, an aviation passionate, enthusiast and sim fan who also helps for the DC-3 operation joined us. Our star du jour is nevertheless Peter H. Peter being tied to aviation for ever, having climbed up the ladder to his actual position as CEO of TAAG Angola! He is the one who started it all at Emirates. A truly great Gentleman who knows so much about the aviation World and who can manage an airline. Wow! 
So there we are, standing again at PANC in the early morning hours  glued to our iPhones and iPads checking weather and routing possibilities for our flight to Juneau (PAJN). 
Juneau is the capital city of Alaska since 1906, located in the Gastineau Channel at the bottom of the Mendenhall Glacier which is, by the way and by every mean very sad, retreating. To get there you have very few options. The first is by boat and the second, well, by air! No roads link this state Capital to any road system, and this makes it for a very particular city.
The airport of Juneau is also a particular one, ask every Alaskan pilot and they will tell you how many hours they've spent waiting in the lounge for better weather, both to get in and out of this place! The approach itself is a crooked one that lingers through fjords and meander up to the Decision Point where you either go around or continue your descent to land. Look at this approach chart and for those of you who can read IFR charts you'll get the idea. It is also pretty self explanatory for the others who have no aviation clue, but what would you read this blog then? Haha!

So this is for the runway 08 approach that passes over a hill on finals. The other side is a circling approach that is flown by visual means all the way and Paul Bazeley who was the PF for this leg did a beautiful job. More of this later as now you probably want to see all these incredibles pictures from our PANC-PAJN flight. 
We departed Anchorage towards Homer and Port Graham at the very end of the Cook Inlet, exactly the routing we flew the day before. Some low clouds were floating below us and from Port Graham we even had some rain showers on the way. To avoid most of them we made our way closer towards the coast and its gigantic glaciers! There are some amazing pictures.

Homer airport near Port Graham

Getting closer to the glaciers

These Glaciers come down to the sea

As we were flying towards the south, we could feel the heat getting up inside the aircraft, also our performances were clearly less than before. As pictures speak better than words, here are a few more.

Only a few houses along the way, with a grass runway!

Not getting low on ice today

paul being really concentrated

Finally flying higher ;-)

Floating ice on a huge wash out bassin from nearby glaciers

Trying to get up
Once approaching Juneau, Paul made his briefing for the arrival. We carefully checked the weather for the Gastineau Inlet once still on the ground in Anchorage so it should be fine for the whole day. Surely it was. Look at this 

Glacier Bay National Park, north of Juneau

Entering Gastineau Channel

Once we landed I felt what the real Alaskan Aviation was like. Planes on floats! At Juneau, there isn't only one runway, the water runway is adjacent to the main concrete runway however they purposely dig a channel like water runway! How cool is this? 

This totally reminded me of Eric Auxier's famous novel, "The Last Bush Pilots". Eric is an American Airline Captain who is a famous blog writer and who published many books also. You probably have heard or even read the books "There I Wuz" (many many volumes!)  and I'll keep a surprise for the future blog stories because, oh, well, I shut up otherwise you'll know everything! If you want to check Eric's blog, please follow this link Cap'n Aux and you'll find many interesting stories and articles about Aviation. A must for every serious pilot out there!
A big part of Eric experience was made just about here in Juneau and in the whole area as he was himself a Bush Pilot for many years, gaining valuable experience in these places that have weather that changes every 5 minutes! You could be going on a clear day out 50 miles and be not able to come back as when the wind changes, the cold air from nearby glaciers can make the air condensate rapidly and fog then reduces the visibility drastically. You deserve to be a real cheechacko!
As we were anyway facing a cold front overnight, it was time for a good rest before heading downtown Juneau for a well deserved dinner! And where did we go? To the Red Dog Saloon of course!! If you ever read the book "The Last Bush Pilots" you'll know why we went there!

The interior is fitted with what seems like bush style pole and tables, there is even a fake man (is he really fake?) climbing a tree followed by a bear!

The surroundings of Juneau small city center is very nice actually, so as the next day was spent recovering from the previous exhausting days, we went for some beers and walk through it. As you can see it wasn't a day for flying VFR through the fjords anyway.

Too soon it was time to pack again and fly to our next destination, Seattle, the Boeing City, the Mecca of every Aviation fan.