Category Archives: Aviation

Alaska Warbird in Smithsonian

A friend of ours lives down in Florida,  who’s grandfather served in Alaska during WWII with the RCAF.  She has a great blog that honors her granddad as well as the other men who fought and served during the Aleutian campaign.  Her link has been on the right side of my blog for several years under the “WWII Web Sites” box titled “Florida Beaches to the Bering Sea“…

This morning,  Karen e-mailed to say she had helped to find the true identity of the P-40 hanging in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum…  It was her grandfather’s plane!

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The Smithsonian just posted a story about the plane and its history on their website:

https://airandspace.si.edu/stories/editorial/unknown-history-curtiss-p-40e-lopes-hope

All I can really add is that I hope they repaint it someday to her original colors,  to honor the men who actually flew her instead of someone who didn’t…

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Overcoming Reputations

Yakutat is a truly incredible place.  Incredible fishing,  incredible mountains,  incredible glaciers…  even incredible surfing and many other “incredibles”.  But it is far from perfect.  One of our shortfalls has been in aviation and the services available here at the Yakutat Airport.

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Teen and I started Yakutat Aviation Services as a means to change our local reputation as being a black hole for services.  We have a reputation within the aviation community as a place to avoid and we have been lugging this rep around for decades. It isn’t any one business’ or person’s blame,  but a build-up of a lot of horror stories and dissatisfied pilot visitors.

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That said…  tonight we had a “Queen Air” stop in for fuel.  The pilot said he was planning to fly non-stop from Ketchikan to Homer without refueling,  but another pilot in Ketch told him what we are trying to do here and he decided to stop in and support us.  Bought 140 gallons of fuel that would not have been sold here had we not started YAS.

A year ago,  there was an article in AOPA Pilot magazine about flying the coast from Anchorage to Juneau.  They did NOT stop here,  but most of the photos illustrating their article were taken within the Borough.  OK,  they definitely stopped several times in Yakutat,  but they avoided the airport and didn’t spend a dime here.  In the “letters to the editor” in the following issue,  someone wrote that he understood how they wanted to avoid buying fuel in Yakutat…

I don’t want to point fingers at the old traditional supplier,  but they are principally a wholesaler and not a retailer.  They don’t provide retail “service”.  But that is what we are doing now.

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On my flight down to Juneau for my heart test,  the Alaska Airlines pilot came back to our row and handed me a magazine that featured a cover article he wrote.  Burke Mees is a neat guy,  although I don’t know him well.  He flies the CAF BT-13 up in Anchorage most weekends for tours in their great old WWII trainer.  I first met Burke a few years ago when he and another pilot burned through some of their ground time and walked over to the hangar from the AS jet.  I told them about what we were planning to do with the hangar and museum,  etc.

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This past spring,  Burke flew with the owners of an experimental “Gweduck” up to the Anchorage Airmen’s Show.  They stopped in at Yakutat for fuel briefly.  The Gweduck is basically a modernized kit Grumman Widgeon with all composite parts,  so landing in saltwater doesn’t corrode the hull.  Really neat plane.  Their stop in Juneau was featured as the headline front cover story on the Juneau Empire at the time.

Burke said he mentioned us in the article,  but to my surprise,  he does a LOT more than mere mention…

“YAKUTAT

For those of you who have made this trip,  you’ve probably avoided landing at Yakutat because of the imposing Mount Fairweather-sized gas prices that loom large on the horizon and cast a long shadow on the coast route.  I can report that this is no longer a problem.  Bob Miller recently started Yakutat Aviation Services,  and now prices are considerably lower for both 100LL and Jet A.  Bob is a local entrepreneur who lives with his family in the old WWII hangar on the field,  and he also owns the 1941 DC-3 in the hangar.

This airplane is a piece of history;  it started out as a military C-47 and saw wartime service in North Africa,  Sicily,  and over Normandy on D-Day.  After the war,  it spent a lot of time flying commercially in Alaska,  including with Cordova Airlines,  which later merged with Alaska Airlines.  The airplane’s story is written on its airframe in patched German bullet holes and corrosion from making Alaska beach landings.  Bob plans to use proceeds from the fuel sales to get the plane flying again.  If you’re in Yakutat you should make a point to check it out.”

How’s that for cool?!?!  Granted most of you have probably never seen or read Water Flying magazine (I know I hadn’t…),  but it is the bimonthly publication of the Seaplane Pilots Association and a really nice/interesting magazine.

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Nice to see we’re starting to make a difference.  Yet another weird risky thing Teen and I are doing in little ol’ Yakutat.

Here we Go Again

Although our 10 inches of rain from Monday to Wednesday didn’t happen,  we did get between 4-5 inches in the first round,  had a gorgeous sunny day today and now we have a new front moving in to dump another inch or more overnight.  They are calling for the rains to subside by mid-morning,  but we’ll see what actually happens.  It just started raining a few minutes ago,  to match the driving blustery winds we have had for several hours.  Here is the front moving in about an hour ago:

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We had 70+ degree temperatures all day today,  with a heavy muggy feeling.  The hangar bay dripped and sweated all day,  making everything drenched inside,  while it was gorgeous outside.  The tile in the bathrooms were sweating.  Tonight about 8pm,  the temp began dropping and we went outside to watch the front move in quickly.

The 9 Mile Gage stopped broadcasting at 830p tonight,  with a flow level still way up at 970 CFS,  down from over 1,200 this morning.  One sunny day doesn’t dry the ground out,  so tonight’s rain will definitely bring the rivers up high.  The (not good news,  but) better news is that it will dry out tomorrow and we’ll just have showers for the rest of the week.  If the forecasts are right and what are the odds…?

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It was a weird,  uncomfortable and anxious feeling day today.  If this was the mid-west,  it would have seemed like tornadoes were on their way.  Well,  at least we don’t have to deal with that stuff up here…

In the meantime,  I was supposed to send my mom some fish last month for her to take to my grandmother. They were planning to have salmon for lunch and I…  forgot.  OOPS!  So in honor of them and their missed lunch,  I made myself a fresh roasted sockeye fillet sandwich with my pesto sauce on it.  Yum!

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This is what they missed…  Extra sharp white cheddar and avocado slices topped it off.

And a little over a week ago,  we came back from Juneau in the 206,  with a DC-3 parked on the ramp.  Tanis kept asking me if he could take ours out of the hangar over and over and I told him NO.  What did he do???  OK,  just Trans Northern with a passenger flight.  He got to fuel it though and pull our DC-3 tow bar out and put it to use.  Here it is leaving the next morning:

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Trans Northern parked on the ramp with their similar color scheme to our N91314

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Waiting to taxi out,  with the Alaska Jet coming off at Alpha

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Ours is safe and sound in her bed

 

Well,  need to be up at 330am as usual,  so that’s all for tonight.  Stay warm and dry tonight.

Rockin’ and a Rollin’

Over 20 earthquakes just rocked us here at the hangar in the past 10 minutes.  They are centered in Canada about half-way between Yakutat and Skagway.  Started with a 6.2,  with a bunch of 2’s and 3’s,  another big shake at 5.2,  ending with the last one at 6.4.  Looks like the aftershocks are still going on,  but not quite strong enough for us to feel them…

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The second floor of this old steel-framed building can definitely accentuate the swaying of an earthquake too.  Good enough to get our butts out of bed and check the earthquake center website.  I still wasn’t asleep after working the ACE mail flight.  Teen just checked the Anchorage Daily News and they are already reporting the power knocked out in Whitehorse.

An interesting morning!  Light rain through the early AM has given us a flow of 181 CFS on the Situk.  As of 630am,  the rain has stopped.  Just dark clouds and showers scattered across the horizon.

And last night as I came back to the airport after hitting the gym,  we had a visitor on the ramp…  An old 1947 DC3A Ozark Air Lines,  on her way to her new home in Anchorage.  Beautiful passenger config 3 with 32 seats and a lav!

This plane has the cowl flaps that wrap around the entire engine (mine just has them on the bottom cowl) and some really cool radio antennas along the belly.

A Busy Week at the Airport

Most of you know that I have been pretty distracted this season as we work toward getting the new airport fuel facility up and running.  This weekend,  we did just that!  We’re officially functional and we sold our first AVGAS!

This project has been 4 years in the making.  The main reason for the delays has been the financing.  No traditional banks were willing or interested in funding the project,  no matter how promising it is as a business because of the remote location and poopy economy.  Add the usual slow pace of getting anything done in Yakutat and we’re 4 years behind schedule.

Our electrician came into town (again) about 2 weeks ago and went to work pulling the final wires and getting everything connected.  We discovered some extra wiring problems with the hangar in the process,  but those have also been remedied now,  till we find something else to worry about.  I can not say enough wonderful things about Smokey Point Electric.  They have been such a pleasure to work with.  Also,  our local power company guys were a huge help in getting things hooked up and functioning too.

The tech guy from Mascott Equipment arrived last Wednesday night to do the final hook-up and system testing.  He discovered some of the pipes had been hooked up backwards on the AVGAS dispenser,  so it was a bit of a challenge to get that fixed with Yakutat’s limited access to parts.  He was able to piece it all together and get it running.  We are still operating manually though because the credit card system is having some challenges connecting through our limited phone system.  Hopefully that’ll be solved today though,  so people can swipe and fuel without me having to be there the whole time.

Our first customer was the perfect guy!  A non-local who comes through a couple times a year.  He has been pestering me for two years every time he passes through about getting AVGAS and we finally had the ability to meet his needs!  We’re far from done though.  Signs should be arriving this week and in the spring,  we will landscape around the pumps to make it all look nice.

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I need my plane back,  so I can update this photo with the facility showing.  The tanks are where the snow blob is immediately below the hangar

 

All the profits from the fuel facility will go to finishing the hangar renovation and to buying artifacts and aircraft for the museum.  It’ll take us a little time to recover financially,  but once we do,  the museum will grow pretty dramatically over the next couple years.  Nice to finally see some real progress on something!

Progress!

Yesterday was a good day around here.  Besides having overcast and dry weather for fishing,  business through the fly shop was brisk and…  we finally got the fuel tanks moved!  The city’s Bull was repaired and they brought it out to the airport to lift the tanks into place.

 

This was a stressful event,  but all went well.  Just a few scratches on the paint.  That’s all.  Electricians arrive next weekend with final install middle of next week.

For such a big beast with no brakes on rough lumpy ground,  they did an amazing job of placing them on the spot!  Huge thanks to Ron and Sampson for their work as well as a big thank you to Sonny for getting the Bull fixed before the rains hit and turned the ground into much.

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In another week and a half,  we should be ready to pump fuel.

A Crowded Week

If you have felt I’m a bit distracted this year,  you’d be right…  We’re finally moving forward with the “new business” and it has been a long-time coming.  We rolled the hangar storage and renovation into the Yakutat Aviation Services,  LLC moniker a couple years ago and separated it from the fly shop.  It took us 4 years to piece together the financing for the project,  but that finally came through last fall.  We took delivery of our shiny new tanks in April,  but we’ve had delay after delay this summer.

Yesterday,  we finally poured concrete.  Three more days and we should be able to set the new tanks on their foundations.  We are building a brand-new state-of-the-art airport fuel facility to service the airplanes that pass through Yakutat airport.  The location is the empty field between the northeast side of the hangar and the approach end of runway 11.  It is a good open location,  where we were able to put the Jet-A tank about 80 feet from the 100LL AVGAS tank,  so a helicopter can land on the site far enough away from the Super Cub fueling at the other dispenser not to flip it.

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Fuel tanks will go where that snowpile is immediately below the hangar in this photo…

 

Always great with timing…  starting a new business in the heart of an economic crisis meant no banks wanted to loan us money for fuel tanks in a remote Alaskan village.  4 years later,  we had the Frankenstein of a financing package together.  In the meantime,  we also bought a Jet-A truck and have been fueling turbine aircraft since January.

All profits from fuel sales will go toward the Alaska Warbird Museum and for finishing the renovation of the hangar.  There should be enough cash flow from this to eventually finish the hangar properly with 8 retail shops (including the fly shop),  a year-round restaurant,  “War Department” movie theater,  two lane bowling alley and buy artifacts and (hopefully) airplanes for the museum.  All this,  while lowering the cost of aviation fuel in Yakutat by $2.99 from what it was last year…  Yakutat now has the cheapest Jet-A in all of southeast Alaska…

So…  here are some photos from the summer’s progress:

They were delivered in mid-April right in the throws of steelhead season.  We had KNIK Construction offload the tanks from the trailers,  since they are here resurfacing the runway this summer.  Each tank weighs on at about 30,000lbs empty.  Double-wall Fireguard tanks,  which means two layers of steel with concrete between them.  Double-walled,  so they qualify as their own secondary containment.  Plus both tanks are also epoxy lined doe added protection.

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Peaking inside the Jet-A dispenser,  with a weather-proof housing and roll-up door.  Side doors to access the filtration and do maintenance.

 

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Tanis playing with the Bobcat,  burying the conduit trench for the electricians.  All the trenching photos are on Tanis’ camera…

 

Leaning on a shovel handle as the first of 5 truckloads arrived yesterday morning…  Rebar every 12 inches,  Tanis adding some extra shovels of concrete to the low spots,  smoothing the top,  on to another foundation,  I’m no concrete finisher and it shows – but it’ll hold these heavy 12,000 gallon tanks even if it is ugly…

It lightly sprinkled through most of the pour,  then the sun came out in the afternoon.  So did the bugs,  but we were done by then.  And here are the photos off Tanis’ camera…

Trenching and building the forms

Because no job goes as planned…  we took a day “off” to have the sewer pumped and snaked.  Toilets may flush,  but that doesn’t guarantee the poop makes it to the septic tank.  Wherever that may be…  This is one of three manholes in and around the hangar that were full to the brim…

Teen and Tony on the first load,  second load and final load in the 5th foundation…

Now back to fishing…