Saturday, March 17, 2012

Trip Summary: Flying ALAR to Alaska

We (Brian Stirm and Paul Shepson) began our journey on Tuesday morning, March 6.  Brian is the A&P “aviation maintenance technician” for the Airborne Laboratory for Atmospheric Research (ALAR), and so much more than that!  He did all the complex installations of the equipment on the aircraft, and he is also a multi-engine rated pilot.  He makes ALAR go.  Brian is also a partner in Swift Enterprises, which is working on development of biofuels for aviation that are lead-free.  Did you know that general aviation fuels have between 1-2 grams per gallon of tetraethylead?  This is not good.  We need to fix that!  Hopefully Swift will provide the answer; their fuel is already FAA-approved.  

We had mostly great weather on the way up to Barrow.  This was for me the trip of a lifetime.  We have been preparing for this for roughly the past year and a half.  It takes a lot of preparation, in terms of approval to fly our Experimental Category airplane across Canada, getting the airplane ready (Brian installed Tanis heaters for the engines), buying survival equipment, planning the route, etc.  From my time as a York University (in Toronto) professor, I have seen lots of Canada, but never like this!  The trip was spectacular!  The first day, we flew from West Lafayette, IN (Go Boilers!) to Bismarck, ND, staying at the “Ramkota Hotel”.  On Wednesday we flew to Saskatoon, for the border crossing and customs check, which happened outside on the ramp, by cell phone.  “Are you going to behave yourself?”, she said.  I said “Yes.”  Then on to Ft. McMurray, Alberta (home of the oil sands…).  Flying into Ft. McMurray it was a low ceiling, and we did an ILS (instrument landing system) approach, which was “fun”.  There we stayed overnight in the Mackenzie Hotel, nice place!  Very strange, but there I ran into my first Ph.D. student, Pierrette Blanchard, who is now a star in Environment Canada.  That was weird!  Ft. McMurray is filled with men in big trucks!  On Thursday, we flew first to Ft. Simpson, where we had a quick refueling.  Good thing Brian installed those heaters!  There isn’t much at the Ft. Simpson airport, one nice young woman working the radio at the airport.  From there, we flew up along the Mackenzie River basin, all the way to Inuvik!  That was just beautiful, as you can see in the pictures!  On Friday we flew from Inuvik all the way to Barrow.  The weather was perfect, and we got to see lots of North Slope sights; especially interesting and cool was Prudhoe Bay.  I was very surprised by how many separate oil and gas pumping installations are there.  You can see in the pictures below.  It was a wonderful feeling to finally land in Barrow, only three and a half days after departure, and to see Kerri and Kyle standing there on the ramp to greet us!  We did it!

Brian Stirm and Prof. Paul Shepson
Keeping the engines warm during refueling at the Ft. Simpson airport
On the way to Inuvik from Ft. Simpson
Looking up the Mackenzie River Basin!  Lots of places to land, just in case...  I liked this route, because it is low elevation terrain all the way to Barrow.  I'm not crazy about the idea of mountain flying in the Arctic!  No people down there!
Runway at Inuvik
Prudhoe Bay
Cake Eater Lab outside Barrow!
Looks like "home"!  (Barrow, Alaska)
We did it! (Barrow airport runway)
Hey, there's Kerri and Kyle!
Thank you to Prof. Paul Shepson (Purdue Univ.) for this great post!

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