Wednesday, July 06, 2011
Sometimes you hear that the mosquito is Alaska's State bird - I think it should be the de Havilland beaver floatplane (it's actually the willow ptarmigan). Anywhere you go in rural Alaska you will hear the deep-throated, rotary engine roar of beavers flying overhead. As distinctive as it is ubiquitous. In Alaska there are not a lot of roads so if you want to go some place you generally have to fly, or take a boat. As far as floatplanes go, beavers are pretty slow but they can carry a lot of awkward cargo and can take off and land on really short lakes. They have been flying since the 1940s and no new ones have been built for the last 45 years, and yet, nothing has been made that can replace them. They remain the workhorse of rural Alaska taking care of our transportation needs.
After our weekend camping on Afognak it struck me that people living in the lower 48 would find it kind of weird that we took a floatplane to get to our camping spot. No one does this in the lower 48. But really, we had only 2 options. There are no roads to Afognak so we had to go by either boat or floatplane. And we don't own a boat. So we went by floatplane and made our kid's summer. Also, if you only need to go to remote places a few times a year, going by float plane is FAR cheaper than owning a boat.
Every day beavers fly over our house and the kids always go 'floatplane'. And then I have to tell them if it is the floatplane I usually fly in. We know all the planes - the USFWS plane is red and white, Kingfisher flies bushhawks, Andrew Air has orange beavers, the Island Air beaver is light blue, and the Seahawk beaver (the one I usually fly in) is blue and white. This weekend the kids finally got to fly in it too.
Our pilot was Willy and I've been flying with him for well over 10 years. He's a great pilot, and knew right where we were going. On the way we flew over our house and the kids all got to look down on our neighborhood from the air. In Marmot Bay we flew over some humpback whales feeding on the surface. You could see their outlines even when they were under water. Near Afognak we saw sea otters lounging on the bay surface. We landed and Willy carried both kids off of the plane and to the beach. Our camping trip had begun. Patrick