Aviation for Women

JAN-FEB 2018

Aviation for Women is the flagship member publication of Women in Aviation International. Articles feature women who have made aviation history, professional development ideas, and current-topic articles.

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J A N U A R Y / F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 8 AviationforWomen 33 right weather conditions to access this location can be a bit of a battle with nature in command. The remoteness of t he Swift sure Glacier, which sits at the base of Mt. Sovereign, is part of the attraction. The closest civilization is over 40 miles away from each direction, and the only ac- cess is by aircraft. Don has over three decades of mountain and glacier flying and his iconic status comes from his labor of love, bush flight instruc- tion. He specializes in the most difficult of small craft flight training that attract those looking for flying adventure uniquely Alaskan. Some 12 years ago, I was eager to learn the ropes of glacier flying. A pilot/friend climbed in the back of my Super Cub on skis and was willing to teach me the basics of approach speeds, sight pic- tures, landing, and taxiing to the proper spot for a successful takeoff. We did one landing togeth- er, parked the plane, and then went ski touring. That was the extent of my training before heading out on my own. I was instructed that with a gla- cier landing there is no go-around option. Because when you are on final, that's it—you are landing. The other key point is be prepared to be stuck. Survival gear on board has a whole new mean- ing in this mountain environment where condi- tions change rapidly, temperatures can plummet below zero, and an extended stay can last for days upon days. Thus, you need an expensive sleeping bag, stove, snowshoes or skis, food for one week for each person on board, plus a sturdy metal shov- el. It's necessary to know essential Arctic survival skills, and how to build a snow cave. We headed to the Tokositna Range, which sits at the base of the Alaska Range for a day of ski touring. I did not have the ski flight training, and I remembered it was like being lured into a back- country ski trip without the basic safety skills, beacon, and rescue tools. There I was, eager to learn, but missing some fundamental training, like how to read the slope angle as well the com- mitment of final approach. When I made my ap- proach, I felt like I was too fast. I applied full pow- er and managed a go-around because the hillside had descending terrain to the left providing my safe way out. I had plenty of altitude and good visibility to make the turn, but I recognized the danger of dipping a wing into the snow. Yet, the favorable terrain gave me a second chance that day. Within a couple minutes, I approached with a better understanding of landing uphill—and though it was not perfect. I landed and managed to taxi in the deep snow and park in a favorable spot for takeoff. Immediately, my friends scolded me to never make that mistake. There is no end to f light training, and for many of us pilots who own airplanes and fly rec- reationally, the biannual flight review (BFR) is the closest we get to a checkride. Although years of flying around Alaska has fine-tuned my float flying skills, my ski flying skills were limited to frozen lakes. Motherhood had taken top priority in my life, and my time in the cockpit was not as much as I would have liked. Some 10 years had passed and I had not sought out flight instruction for gla- cier landings. Had a sliver of fear hidden in my subconscious festered over the years about gla- cier landings? With straight skis, the window of time for ski flying is limited. In February of 2016, I asked my former employer, Don Lee, to go up to the Swift- sure Glacier to check it out and perform a BFR. He was happy to agree, as he wanted to check out a potential site to build a cabin. Along our route to the Swiftsure Glacier, we talked about carburetor heat, mixture settings, and emergency landing options in mountainous terrain, and shared a few laughs from the days I had worked for Alaska Floats and Skis as a flight instructor. As we f lew deeper into the moun- tains, I felt like a kayaker dropping into a can- yon of rapids from a High Sierra spring thaw. My focus narrowed, and we crossed over the final ridge line before making our downwind to final approach onto the glacier. Don has a comforting demeanor that comes from extensive flight experience. Yet even that day, the words, "Remember, there is no go- around on a glacier landing," tweaked that sliver of fear that was still present in my being from the day long ago when I was flying with my friends. We checked the windsock and made the decision I was instructed that with a glacier landing there is no go-around option. Because when you are on final, that's it—you are landing. The other key point is be prepared to be stuck. It's all smiles for Katie at the Talkeetna Mountains where a pilot can learn the art of glacier landing. BROOKE ROMAN

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