I’m on my way to Kenai, Alaska on Alaska Airlines flight 85 from Seattle. A few years ago when I was a ferry pilot for hire, risking life and limb to build up flight time, I ferried a Piper Tri-Pacer from Tehachapi, CA to Soldotna, AK in late August. The weather was starting to turn and my co-pilot, Amanda, and I ran into several rain showers and had to make unplanned stops due to low ceilings along our route.
The tri-pacer did a great job for the most part, only after being soaked in a cold shower would it display small tantrums akin to a sleepy toddler having been awakened from its afternoon slumber. Mostly it used the electrical systems to torment it’s pilots by making the radio garbled and barely readable, or blowing the master fuse that sits below the pilot’s seat. The standby fuse would usually work quite well until the landing at the next fuel stop.
The airplane had been re-skinned with aluminum skin and painted a deep turquoise. I fell in love with it at first sight. Throughout our trip, it caught everyone’s attention as they complimented such a “pretty airplane”. I even started wearing clothes to match.
As we flew further and further into the wild moose country of Canada and Alaska, the stark beauty of the airplane against the turquoise waters of alpine lakes was too much for Amanda and I to bear and we just had to give the airplane a name. ”Moose” seemed the perfect fit and from that moment on, like a couple of crazy animal ladies, we would talk to Moose as if he really, not only heard us, but understood us.
One particular instance when I almost believed Moose could hear and understand us was after having made an unplanned stop at Bob Quinn airport. It’s a tiny gravel strip alongside the Alaska-Canada Highway. Dropping ceilings along the valley had mandated a 180deg turn and the gravel strip was a welcomed sight. After waiting out the weather for a couple of hours, we started the engine and were taxiing out.
After applying the brakes, I found the brake effectiveness had diminished somewhat and Moose kept rolling, seemingly ignoring my commands for him to stop. ”Moose! Moose! Stop!” I yelled, as I pulled harder on the brake handle, which sits in the middle of the instrument panel. I don’t know what worked better, my increase in force on the handle, or my yelling, but finally the airplane came to a stop a couple of feet shy of entering the runway. Amanda just laughed as a stranger might laugh at a frustrated parent trying to reign in an unruly kid.
Three years after that ferry flight I had finally built up enough flight time to qualify for the job I had been pursuing for years. I am now a full time pilot flying Boeing 737s and Bombardier Challengers and it all seems worthwhile. But, a few weeks ago when Moose’s owner asked me to ferry Moose back south again…I hesitated. I remembered all the painstaking planning and the thousands of decisions a ferry pilot faces, mostly without support of a parent company, such as pilots in other professions enjoy. It’s the ferry pilot, the airplane….and the wild blue yonder, especially when ferrying into or out of places like Alaska or Central and South America.
Nate, Moose’s owner, knew just the right button to push. ”I may need you to keep Moose for a while before you bring him down south.”
Keep Moose! And fly him around my own home turf, not as a ferry pilot, but just for the joy of it! ”Absolutely!” I responded.
So, here I am at 36,000ft on my way to pick up Moose and head back South. I have no co-pilot this time, it’ll just be Moose and me.
I dug out some of the equipment I once thought I would never have to use again, at least not during a ferry flight – a survival kit, a SPOT GPS tracker (along with the $179 annual subscription), camping equipment, freeze dried food. I even purchased a handheld Garmin 496, since the one I used to use when I was ferrying was a borrowed one and no longer available to me.
I remembered how expensive Canadian VFR charts are at almost $17 per chart, and how big the Canadian Supplement is taking up almost half of my entire flight bag.
Today, I plan on getting re-aquainted with Moose and starting the trip with an easy leg from Soldotna to Gulkana. I hear the motels there aren’t the best, but as long as I can stay warm and get some shut-eye for tomorrow’s adventure, they’ll do just fine.
NOTE: The names of some individuals have been changed for privacy purposes