registered: Jan. 2006
last visit: 10.12.18
Yukon Excitement 2
In my first Yukon Excitement post (Yukon Excitement 1), I described my Ketchikan Econ flight from Ketchikan (PAKT) to Terrace (CYXT) (920365CB) in pretty sloppy weather. This was an IFR flight for which I used the "native" FSX ATC. While ATC successfully vectored me to an ILS approach at CYXT), it was a less than optimal process because it did not adhere closely to the actual IAP for the ILS approach. As a result, although I was following ATC commands as scrupulously as I could, the resulting terrain clearances at points along my flight path were more than a bit sketchy. This is one thing in clear weather, when the pilot can see the terrain, but something else completely when visibility is severely limited, as it was in that case.
My next flight (920366CB) from Terrace (CYXT) to Bella Coola (CYBD) was alike in many ways. Once again, the destination weather was poor (270/4, 4 SM, BR, FEW 600, SCT 1000, BKN 2600, ceiling OVC 6400), after all this is Alaska in the winter. Once again, the destination airstrip was at low elevation (114') in a narrow valley surrounded on all sides by mountainous terrain 7000' higher than the airstrip. This time, however, there was no ILS approach, nor radio navaid of any sort near CYBD and no published IAP. So, like it or not it was going to have to be an IFR flight, followed by a VFR approach and landing.
I have a little insight into how this is done in the "real world" (hereafter "RW"). This is derived from being a passenger on four (count-em four) completely separate "VFR" bush flights in bad weather in Alaska back in the early 90s (before GPS) and from a number of discussions with experienced bush pilots. The basic strategy is to get under the weather to make the approach to your destination. This requires that the clouds not extend to the ground near your destination, since this would require flying underground, which is not recommended. In my case, with a "FEW" clouds extending down to 600 AGL, this condition was marginally met. It's true that the cloud coverage was "FEW", but one always seem to enter one of those few clouds on short final, so you pretty much have to act like you will have a 600' ceiling. There are several techniques available to accomplish this: (1) You can look for a hole in the cloud cover through which you can see the ground and large enough to allow you to make a descent to near ground level and also large enough to allow you climb back to a safe altitude in case there is no exit near ground level, or (2) You can use some navaid to give you RELIABLE knowledge of the terrain altitude beneath your aircraft and use that knowledge (and some faith) to allow you to descend through the cloud cover to an altitude below the ceiling, but above the terrain. In the 90's the only generally available navaid in Alaska was Loran. I know something about GPS, but next to nothing about Loran, so I can't comment on how well this worked. Experienced pilots have told me that they look for a large lake whose surface altitude is known and make their descent over that lake to an altitude above the lake level, have a look and, if they find no exit, ascend again, staying over the lake on the ascent.
So, in my case I had an advantage. CYBD lies on the Bella Coola river, which drains into the North Bentinck Arm, which connects to the Burke and Dean Channels coming in from the Pacific. You will not be surprised to learn that the surface altitude of these channels is approximately 0' MSL. They are our "lake" in this instance. So, my plan was to descend into the Dean Channel, use the LeBuchere Channel to connect to the Burke Channel, and then fly up the Burke Channel to the North Bentinck Arm and thence up the Bella Coola River to CYBD. Of course, this strategy requires that I have something like a 600' ceiling above all of these channel arms. As it turned out this was nearly the case.
Fortunately the Burke and Dean Channels are sufficiently long that it was possible to use my GPS to make a reasonable rate (-2000 fpm) descent from my 10,700'crusing altitude to about 1200' over the Dean Channel.
I was aided in this by having used Plan G to set a user waypoint at the junction of the Labouchere and Burke Channels and then to embed that in my GPS flight plan. That way, I could be certain I had found the right Channel leading to the North Bentinck Arm.
While the actual ceiling was variable over the Ocean Channels, it seldom dropped below about 400' MSL, so I was able to navigate up to the mouth of the Bella Coola River under the ceiling. The Canadian Kitmat Sectional shows some sort of suspension bridge near the mouthg of the Bella Coola, but fortunately that was not replicated in my scenery and I had a relatively uneventful passage up the Bella Coola and was able to maintain visual contact with the ground and surrounding canyon wall s most of the time.
Nonetheless, as I neared CYBD, my grip on the yoke tightened perceptibly as I realized that my (nearly) pristine Econ Flight record was on the line and any unanticipated glitch could end my flight adversely without leaving me a chance to abort the approach. Sure enough, there was that inconveniently placed stand of high timber uncomfortably close to the approach end of the runway. Why can't these people get out there with chain saws and get rid of these pesky trees?
This required me to make my patented "dying swan" approach, which involves coming in with nearly full flaps at a steep decent angle over the trees and then simultaneously flaring the aircraft while I pull up the flaps a notch to stall the aircraft right above the runway threshold. As I approached the runway, I realized that my descent rate was a tad high and flared a little too abruptly.
Though I set her down at a sedate -281 fpm, the abrupt flare caused a near panic back in the cheap seats and I got docked $165.26.
So, while my passengers should have broken out in a well-deserved round of applause for having been safely transported to their destination in terrible weather, instead these wimps made me look bad to management. Really, there is nothing wrong with these Econ flights that couldn't be cured by a better caliber passenger.