Today’s Flight Plan
Airshows come in different degrees of magnitudes and orchestration. Having been to Airventure, Sun ’N Fun, and various huge airshows, I more or less know the drill. These are all fantastic events, well planned and executed, and offer some amazing experiences for pilots and enthusiasts alike.
One event has eluded me: the Valdez Fly-in in my home state of Alaska. This year, I was determined to go. Having just got back a few days ago, I can tell you that I’m still on a major high from this event.
In this podcast, I go over the unique experience that is the Valdez Fly-In and STOL Competition. Let’s just say I have a new favorite at the top of my list.
Poker Run Flights on CloudAhoy.com
Flight Segment 1: Leaving Valdez, Landing on Beach
Flight Segment 2: Beach Takeoff, Copper River Flats, Cordova, Glaciers, Arrival in Valdez
Major thanks to the amazing Angle of Attack Crew for all their hard work over the years. Our team works incredibly hard, and they’re very passionate about what they do.
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Flight it like you STOL it. This is AviatorCast episode 87!
Calling all aviators, pilots, flight sim enthusiasts and aviation lovers, you’ve landed at AviatorCast! Join us weekly in our efforts to become better masters of the air through interviews, refreshers, lessons, training topics, simulator set-up, hangar talk, news and more! Buckle up and prepare yourself for this week’s episode of AviatorCast! Preflight complete, fuel on board and flight plan filed. Let’s kick the tires and light the fires! Here’s your humble host, Chris Palmer!
Chris: Welcome, welcome, welcome aviators, you’ve landed at AviatorCast. My name is Chris Palmer, from low and slow to high and fast and the range in between. Flying machines are part of my everyday life. Perhaps like you when I’m not flying I’m thinking about flying. When I am flying I’m thinking about when I can fly again. And when I get done flying I’m planning the next flight. You could say I’m a little obsessed maybe you are the same and I’m guessing that’s why you’re here. So welcome to this the 87th episode of AviatorCast, it is my absolute pleasure to welcome you here. AviatorCast is brought to you by Angle of Attack a flight training media production company which is bringing you this podcast today.
If you’ve never been to AviatorCast before, again welcome, AviatorCast is all about aviation passion, our passion for flying things. We try to get inspiring aviators here on the show and we interview them about their careers and their paths and how that may relate to you and what you are trying to do we. We give you insight into the community and into training and into getting back into flying or reigniting a flame or even getting the courage to fly for the first time. You may think there are many barriers between you and becoming a pilot but I can tell you right now that there is a way and we totally want to see you achieve that dream.
And we talk about it a whole lot and hope that our resources here, those interviews, those topics, those things that we discuss here on AviatorCast help you achieve that dream and help you stay in that dream state in that aviation realm if you will, so that’s what we do here.
Each week I bring you a podcast, a different variety, so this week we have a really cool topic, I’ll tell you about that in a couple seconds here. We always get a review from either iTunes or stitcher. This week we have a review that comes to us from Adam Asmar from the USA and he says, title, Keep them coming Chris, gives us five stars. “I truly sense the passion in Chris’s voice every time I listen to an episode. As a private pilot myself I do envy the passion and knowledge Chris displays every show. At the same time many aspects of this podcast have inspired me to keep learning and strive more and more for proficiency in safety in my own aviation endeavors. AviatorCast is the perfect podcast for those interested in learning and knowing more about flying.
But more importantly it is the perfect podcast for those who have the passion about learning and knowing more about flying”. Adam from Dallas, Texas so Adam huge thanks it’s so awesome to hear that you are trying to become a more proficient pilot. You’ve already gained your private pilot license I hope you’re moving forward to maybe cloudier skies. So hopefully you’re getting into your IFR rating or something else that you’re working on. But I hope that you’re enjoying the journey and I hope you continue forward. As a thank you for you leaving a review on the show I’m going to send you a Fly or Die AviatorCast T-shirt. So make sure to get a hold of me firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll make sure to send one of those to you.
So awesome keep up the good work and if you want to leave review for the show you want to nab one of those AviatorCast T-shirts feel free to leave a review on iTunes or stitcher or another podcast program that you may have, another a lot of apps out there. Leave a review and I will find your review and if I read it on the show then I will send you a T-shirt. That’s what I do as a thank you for promoting the show and helping out and telling others just how great it is much, much appreciated.
On today’s episode of AviatorCast I’m just so excited about this still. I’m going to be talking about the Valdez Fly-in and STOL competition that I went to this last weekend in Valdez, Alaska. Which is quite a far drive from where I am but not a very far flight. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to fly there so I took a long drive but it was such a great time so I can’t wait to tell you guys all about it, this is the airshow of airshows as far as I’m concerned. So let’s get right into it here is my take on the 2016 Valdez Fly-in and STOL competition.
For the last several years that I’ve been living in Alaska and I’ve been here for about six years now I’ve always been aware of this little airshow that has been going on north of me in Valdez. Now, like I said it is a pretty short flight but a long drive and year after year for one reason or another the time that this airshow happens it just so happens to be on a date where I can’t make it. But this year was different, I had my eyes focused on the prize and I knew that I needed to be there so that was the plan.
I didn’t go alone, I had some friends come into town, I mentioned one of these friends in the last episode of AviatorCast his name is Deon Mitton. I met him as Sun ‘N Fun and he and I have become quick friends. Sun ‘N Fun was only several weeks ago but he and I just that is really hit it off. So I said, hey you should really come up here we should do this. You’re a great photographer this is going to be the best opportunity and I know you’ll love Alaska so let’s do this. And then Deon brought up his friend Jen as well and we just ended up having a whale of a time.
I’ll be sharing some of our experiences with you guys but ended up just being really coo. So we met up in Anchorage and the night before we were meant to drive to be airshow. So late at night I think it was 10 or 11 PM we got together and we had a couple drinks together. And then we walked around Lakewood, Lakewood is the biggest the busiest floatplane lake in the world. There are just float planes as far as the eye can see and it is just that time of year right now where all the float planes are being uncovered. They’re getting out of their annuals or their maintenance or whatever they need to get ready for the flying season and they are dipping their toes, their floats if you will into the water and getting ready for the wonderful summers that Alaska has to offer.
So we walked around the lake late at night and then of course like that night the next morning we got up and walked around the lake again. This time the pictures that we took were a little better and we just really enjoyed the sites and started to take pictures of everything. And there are airplanes as far as the eye can see it is pretty mind-boggling. And I’m not just talking about airliners, this isn’t an international airport. We’re talking about float planes and bush planes and all sorts of cool airplanes everywhere. When you’re in a place where you can see a hundred Piper Cubs, Super Cubs within your view and you can see a dozen beavers within your view wherever you’re standing you know you’re in the right place. So that’s Lakehood.
We actually saw a bunch of people leaving for Valdez from Lakehood, Lakehood has an attached gravel strip where we saw some people departing. And one guy in particular who flew a Pilatus Porter actually in the STOL competition we saw leave from Anchorage so that was pretty cool. But at the same time we were kind of bombed because we saw these airplanes leaving and we knew that we weren’t going to be able to fly there and it was such a beautiful day. The clouds had kind of parted and we knew that it was going to be a good drive and probably an even better flight there.
With that said we had what we had and we needed to take the drive so we started our drive we looked for some authentic Alaskan jerky never found anything. We found some salmon jerky but I that was about it, we got our snacks ready, we got prepared for this long drive and we started our journey. Took a beautiful drive through the Glenn Highway which goes up through on north of Anchorage through Palmer and near Wasilla and then on the Glenn Highway toward Glennallen and the Copper River Delta from what I understand. Or the Copper River area and the Wrangell St. Elias area.
Alaska’s huge but that’s the general area there but when I’m talking general I’m talking a very large general area. The drive was excellent we saw some moose, Jen saw her first moose so we quickly pulled around and saw two of them. We had a wagon train if you will I was in my own car and they were in their own car. It kind of bombed I wish we could’ve drove together. But anyway we saw some moose, one cool thing along the road on the Glennallen Highway is you see a lot of airplanes that are parked in people’s front yards.
Now there are a lot of front yards, not a lot of people live out here in the middle of nowhere. But there are several airplanes parked in people’s front yards but what’s missing is something very important and that is a runway. So there are basically no runways in this area but what’s really interesting, well there are some runways. But what’s really interesting about these particular houses and airplanes is they take off and land on the highway just right there. They use that Highway as their runway and it’s something that Alaskan pilots use quite a bit and that’s just one of the options here that we have for safety and that sort of thing.
In fact, I had to fill up this one gas station, kind of at the crest of this high plateau and I recognized that gas station from a video I saw where an airplane had pulled in filled up with gas and then departed on that same Highway. At the time I thought it was really cool but what I realize now is that they probably do that quite often and it’s not that uncommon for an airplane to pull in there and get some gas. So thought that was really interesting, we also passed the oil pipeline which comes down from the north slope down through all of Alaska and terminates in Valdez actually but we saw that through the mountain passes we were going through there and I thought that was really cool.
Also through the Pass in Valdez which is called Thompson Pass, there was so much snow. Now the snow here is melting quite a bit now it’s May and so most of the snow I see around except on some of the peaks around home here it’s gone. But in this area it was still 10 feet tall on the sides of the roads and not only that it was snowing a little bit as we were going through there. So once we had Glennallen the weather was kind of getting worse and it wasn’t really conducive to flying. And we later found out that a lot of pilots were having trouble getting into the airshow because of that.
So we arrived at the airport our goal was to be there for that day and of course the airshow did start that day on Friday. But we had to miss some of it just because our travel arrangements and things like that. So we arrived at the Valdez airport and we started taking pictures right away that’s what we do we were really excited about that. So we started taking some pictures right away we started meeting some awesome people and just in general getting into the mood of what was here and finding out when things were happening and where we were supposed to be and where we were supposed to eat and stay and all that sort of stuff. Just really great lots a hospitable people just really kind, ended up meeting the president of the air show I believe his official title is his name is Joe Prax, he was kind enough to invite us to a barbecue I’ll talk about that here in a few minutes.
I met a pilot there named Shawn, introduced myself, asked him where he was from and then asked him if he was going to be flying in the competition he said yeah I’ve won it for five years. I’m like, oh, I’m an idiot I’m just going to leave now. Shawn Holly very cool guy ended up spending some good time around him with the different activities that we are doing. Super cool guy and in fact, yeah had won the light touring division for five years in a row. So he was there, he was pumped, he was ready for the competition. But he was also there with his friends and his comrades and just kind of mingling into the crowd.
And that’s really what these pilots are around here, they’re all just lots of excellent pilots that aren’t anything special, they aren’t trying to promote themselves or anything and they just are here and love to fly and this is what they do every year is they come together and do this sort of thing. So it was really great to meet Shawn, I asked him at the time if I could go with him on the poker run the next day if he had an open seat and he said maybe it depended on the weather. So had that going for me, you’ll hear about that here in a few more seconds. Another cool thing that I saw they had forums this day so they’re mostly going through a lot of just topics from different people. And a guy named Cole Ellis was sat down and Joe was asking him a lot of questions about his career. Now, Cole comes from a family of aviators he had stories about his father and his brother and them as a family hunting polar bear back in the day in North Alaska and what that was like. And about his father being in an accident and Cole is a 20,000-hour cub pilot, backcountry Bush pilot that just has an incredible amount of experience. And Joe had some really great questions I wish I had as good interviewing skills as he does. But Joe just had some excellent questions for Cole that really brought out a lot of cool topics about what kind of stuff he would take in the backcountry for survival.
And what his personal minimums in his decision-making process what that was like even after all these years and all this experience. And it was really cool listening to this guy that had really been there and done that almost all of that. He’s definitely an expert in in the area and one of more accomplished aviators in the State in all of aviation I’m sure that at least in this particular niche. Hear him talk about safety and his decision-making and he was saying that he just doesn’t chance anything anymore. He doesn’t let external pressures push him to do things he knows there a lot of hunters that he flies in for things.
He knows these hunters are generally guys that are well-to-do and they have business meetings and things and they need to be places sometimes. But he doesn’t let that push him into situations that are dangerous. He is very careful his airplane and methodical about little things about bending something and checking it out. Or taking certain clothing and concerns supplies in the backcountry every time even if the location you left from was warm weather.
I just saw, I just felt like he really invigorated in me to have the courage to always make the right decisions. And that my experience did not give me the right or the privilege to do stupid things or take extra risk. That if anything he after all these years is taking less risk and doing fewer things and just being really careful. So I thought that was really interesting, you hear stories all the time about these accidents that happen to these really experienced pilots and you ask yourself how does that happen to a guy like that’s been around for so long. And while you can’t pin anything on them and say oh well they did this they did that.
That’s kind of the interesting part about this situation is they’re so experienced how can you really say that they were a bad pilot or an inexperienced pilot. You can’t pin that on them and so there’s this question mark about how do guys like that get in a situation where something goes wrong. And the truth is that sometimes things just happen and you have to build things in your favor. So I really liked that quick 30 minute whatever it was sit-down whatever it was with Cole to talk about those things. The interesting thing is his brother and one of his colleagues or another aviator in Alaska were supposed to be there. They were supposed to be there on this panel if you will of people talking about these subjects.
But it ended up being Cole alone in the front of his room and his brother and a colleague didn’t let those external pressures push them to be there to maybe make it so his brother wasn’t as embarrassed to be in front of a crowd alone. But rather they saw the weather wasn’t good and they didn’t take a chance, they just knew that it wasn’t going to be good enough for them right then. So they decided to come in the morning instead, leaving their brother on the hook to do this thing on his own. So that’s some real pressure, that’s some real example of some pressure that could push you to maybe do some things that you wouldn’t. It was really great to listen to that and really that was indicative of a lot of the experience that I had here at the airshow. It was just great to be around these type of guys they had done a lot of this. I’ll talk a little bit more about that as I get into the first cool thing we did on the next day which is the poker run and I’ll tell you more about that in a little bit.
So fast forwarding to that night we had a wonderful barbecue at Joe Prax’s hangar, a lot of people from all around were there. We got to meet new friends, make new contacts, eat some good hot dogs and have some good solid and stuff like that. Had just a great meal with a bonfire and a dog walking around and a little, folk band they’re playing their music with the cello and mandolin and guitar and singing. It was just really great and down to earth just some typical Alaskan hospitality something that I just really love about Alaska.
So kind of a funny story I was planning on sleeping in my car but then I ended up finding this lady. She asked me if I had somewhere to stay and I said, well I’m actually planning on just sleeping in my car. And she said, I have a B&B do you want to stay with me and I said, okay how much. She said, $20 a night, I’m like, okay if you’re going to twist my arm I’ll do it for $20 a night. Just a really affordable price obviously and I said yes right away. My friends Deon and Jen who had also come in town were planning on staying at another hotel but that kind of fell through. So it turns out that they ended up coming and sharing my room with me.
We had a couple, we had some sleeping arrangements in there where we could all be in there so that was good and we just had a blast. We stayed up all night we’re just giggling our heads off, we got really goofy because we were pretty tired after that long drive in and a great initial first half or at least half a day of the airshow. We got some cool pictures and we wanted to work on those. Of course Deon has an excellent Instagram and if you haven’t checked out his Instagram check out Deon Mitton, D-E-O-N M-I-T-T-O-N. And Jen has a great Instagram as well many of which the pictures are from are from Deon. But hers is _expedition girl so you can check her out on Instagram as well.
She’s actually wing walker too so if you want to see a pretty lady wing walking here in our modern day go to _expedition girl on Instagram and you’ll see her there really cool. Her nickname is now Wing Walker. So alright, so sleeping arrangements handled, we got some sleep big day the next day. So we wake up and it is the exact opposite of what it was the night before. So the night before obviously the weather had kind of deteriorated to the point in that area where pilots couldn’t get in.
It just wasn’t good it was snowing through the Pass all that. We woke up clear blue sky these beautiful snowcapped peaks all around me just surrounding this airport, this picturesque airport right next to the Bay. And just the perfect, perfect day you couldn’t ask for a better day in this small town at this relatively small airshow. But we were just so excited about the weather. So we wanted to get there early because we planned on getting to the poker run. So we got there and had a list of people that were pilots that were willing to take someone and I went down the list and found someone. Texted him, called him, Terry Godes was his name pretty local to me, he lives in Soldotna, Alaska which is just an hour from where I am in Homer. And Terry and I met and he said is cool if I came with them so I was really excited about that.
So having already asked Shawn the night before if you remember I asked him about the poker run obviously since I already aligned with Terry in the morning I said, hey Shawn, do you have an empty spot? Can you take Deon, can Deon go with you? It turns out the Deon got to go with Shawn which was a great thing and I know that they had a fantastic time. You can see some of those pictures again on Deon’s Instagram just really, really cool. It turns out also that Shawn and Terry, Shawn Holly and Terry Godes they are good friends.
They fly together quite a bit in the backcountry they both have Cessna 170 Bs and you can check them out. They have some pretty good and Instagrams as well. Shawn’s is A-K-A-V-8-N so those are all letters and a number so A-K-A-V-8-N. And then Terry’s is TJ Godes TJ, or tango, Juliet, golf, oscar, delta, echo, sierra. Both cool channels to look at some actual Bush pilots in Alaska. Or actually these guys are probably, probably shake their heads to that a little bit. They are, they’re just kind of everyday guys, they love flying, they’re good buddies and they love their airplanes and they have their careers. But they love this backcountry wild stuff as well and they love Alaska.
So, cool stuff to just look at that. Poker run time to go on the poker run. We had a briefing and a planning session in the main common area there were they went through the map and the plan and some of the intricacies of the flight. Not too complexed they mostly talked about the beach conditions where we were going to land. Yes, we actually landed on a beach so that was very, very cool for them to talk about. The darker sand being the harder sand and if it’s lighter sand you’re probably going to get stuck. If you get stuck don’t try to pull your airplane out and tweak it some other guys will come around and help you out and they will get it going right.
That was the plan and you had a sheet of paper that had all the details on it that you could take on your flight and Terry and I had that to reference throughout our flight although it was fairly simple at the end of the day. So I’m going to tell you first about Terry’s airplane not too much information about it but has a Cessna 170 B, it’s a very classic paint scheme with tan and blue or brown accents and an orange accent in there as well. Very cool looking retro paint scheme I think it’s one of the original paint schemes although he’s done some work to it to make sure that it looks bright and vibrant. He’s upgraded it quite a bit so he’s upgraded the engine, has lots of character, he’s put in a lot of attention to detail on things like these cool paracord handles that you can grab on to as you’re jumping up into the airplane which is a big deal because you’ve got these long Cessna 180 gear extensions on there for these big tundra tires.
So it’s quite hard to get up into the airplane but you can grab onto those paracord handles. He has some cool electronics in there, he has an iPad to fly with and the strata X which is the open source version of the Stratus. And of course the tundra tires, that’s one of the biggest things that stands out about these airplanes is those big fat huge tundra tires that you can just imagine landing about anywhere. So now that we’ve talked about Terry’s airplane let’s talk about the more important thing and let’s talk about Terry himself.
I got to know Terry a little bit as we are going throughout our flight. Terry works in the oil industry and he’s a tech/electrician. From what I understood he deals more on the technology side as an electrician and does a lot of work there in the oil field. There are a lot of jobs in Alaska that have to do with oil and Terry is one of those. He bought this 170 B from a local guy so he knew the airplane already he didn’t have the go outside of Alaska to get it or anything it was just right there. He’s already known the airplane, seen it around all that sort of stuff and then after having purchased it obviously with some of the details that I shared he was able upgrade it over the years.
Terry is private pilot he doesn’t have an instrument and what I realize is as I processed that I was thinking this weather is really bad and even the way you got here was in conditions that a lot of people would consider instrument conditions. I was thinking through it myself, I was thinking well if you’re a pilot with an airplane that doesn’t have anti-ice or de-ice and you’re flying in those conditions and you’re in Alaska then you’re basically almost an icing potential the entire time. The point is you either avoid the clouds and don’t fly in them or you’re going to be in them anyway in instrument conditions and having potential for ice almost year-round.
So I thought well that’s a pretty interesting strategy that a lot of these guys don’t even really bother with that because they just can’t. And the other interesting thing is that the 170 especially the way he has a set up the tundra tires and everything as long as he’s obviously working with land he can almost land this thing anywhere. If he gets in a situation where he’s bottled in and he just has to put down the airplane, forced into a situation where wherever he’s going to go he’s going to get into instrument conditions and dealing with mountains and things I just thought it was interesting that he could put his plane down anywhere he wanted.
Whether it be a road or a beach or some rocks or whatever. He would have a lot of options to put down and wait out a storm or whatever it was. So that kind of was a paradigm shift for me in thinking through that on how he’s high time, no instrument, but a very experienced pilot. And obviously dealing with the actual conditions he’s not just doing pattern work he’s going out with Shawn Holly and flying in the backcountry quite a bit and doing his own flights as well. So that was really interesting. He started out flying in a Cessna 150 which was a tail wheel 150 that he fixed up to make really nice and he ended up learning in that.
So I thought it was really cool that all of his experience was tail wheel experience whereas someone like me, here I am at 700 hours-ish right now and I don’t even have my tail wheel endorsement yet. But if there was an endorsement for tricycle gear then Terry may not have it so I just thought that was kind of interesting but very cool I always respect tail wheel airplanes and the versatility that they offer and the maneuverability that they offer. And that was on display at this competition.
Like I said he flies around with Shawn Holly a bit, they’re very good friends and Terry would end up competing in the STOL competition for the first time this year so that’s coming up later. He is an excellent pilot, I just had a blast with him, a lover of aviation and he’s just really cool and he loves sharing it and a perfect example is him offering a flight to a stranger like me to go up with him and have a good time for a few hours. Let me run you through the experience of this poker run really quick. I know I’m being long-winded about this great experience in Valdez but is was just such a blast. So, I’m flying with Terry we’re in his 170 B, you know a little bit more about Terry now so here we are. We’re going to go on this poker run, the plan is to fly down south about 60 nautica miles, land on this beach, take scenic route on the way back to Valdez over some glaciers and things so that’s the plan.
So we fuel up, we load up we’re ready to go. I’m excited, this is my first flight with my Stratus which I had bought at Sun ‘N Fun, I also got a new headset so I was excited use that and hear how that went. I had a nice camera with me, I was filming the whole time, I’ll have something to share their very soon and it was just the perfect day. Again, snow-capped peaks, beautiful blue sky and perfect temperatures, warm if I can say that about Alaska but just a beautiful day.
We we take off out of Valdez, took off in a short distance on these tundra tires my first tundra tire takeoff. And as soon as we start climbing and the terrain and the areas revealed to us I noticed that there is the big pipeline area where the pipeline ends. I thought that was pretty cool that that’s where all the ships come in and get oil from the pipeline. So we start heading toward the beach, just a direct route and we have these high snowy peaks, passes that we’re going to slip through. I’m just in awe the entire time almost never hitting stop on the record button on my camera just really enjoying the view.
And all the while getting to know Terry a little better and more about his airplane and more about him and things. What I shared to you, I learned about Terry throughout the flight so just absolutely. All these different colors these blues that you’ve never seen these reds and greens you never seen. It’s a really interesting time of year in Alaska because there’s so much snow still but you’re also getting at the lower altitudes a lot of that the springtime growth. So there’s a lot of beautiful greens contrasted by the whites and of course the blues of the water in the amazing vibrant sun it was just a perfect day. So we approached the beach area where we thought it was, he and I were deliberating back and forth on where we thought it was.
Of course we had a moving map if you will with the iPad and eventually both of us figured out where it was and where we were to approach. It’s not like you can just spot an airport, you’re not going to see a clearing for an airport there. This is a beach on a very large area of more beaches. So we eventually found it, set up for downwind, landed and just a beautiful landing, interesting to land on the beach. Let me just say that, life’s a beach. So that was really cool landed on the beach, pulled up next to Shawn Holly he and Deon had already gotten there. And we get out, it’s this, again, beautiful, the waves are coming in. Not big waves but just some gentle waves coming in on the beach. This beach is really long it’s about 2 miles long and they had a little makeshift runway set up with some orange sandbags or whatever that they had set up to create a runway where they thought people should land. And then they had a bonfire out to the side, some donuts and coffee for those that wanted it, just really beautiful.
We didn’t spend too much time there but we took time enough to take some great pictures. I have an awesome picture of Terry on the beach in front of his Cessna 170 that you’ve got to check out on Instagram. If you haven’t seen our Instagram it’s just Angle of Attack, you can check it out there. So I got a great picture of Terry in front of his 170 and it’s kind of interesting because Terry was just standing there and I pulled out my camera and just started like taking a picture of him. And this was just, this was it, this was a candid moment, Terry in front of his airplane and this is what it was. And when you see the picture you’ll say, okay you guys planned that, you set up the airplane perfect and Terry posed and all that stuff.
But I can tell you that’s not how it happened this. This was just how was it was it was one of those moments where it was just picturesque and perfect and you didn’t want to leave and you didn’t want it to end but there were great things ahead. So Shawn Holly wanted to get back for the STOL competition to prepare his airplane so he was in a bit of a hurry. So we spent about 10 minutes there and then we took off and we didn’t necessarily fly formation but were kind of on the same timeframe to get back to Valdez. Terry and I headed toward Córdoba, Alaska which is in Prince William Sound all of this is in Prince William Sound by the way. And if you haven’t heard of that just look it up on Google and see some of the pictures.
So Terry and I headed toward Córdoba we landed on this little gravel strip there and then Terry saw a guy that he wanted to say hi to. Just randomly saw this guy that he had known from the Internet that they’d talk to little with her talk back and forth a little bit. So Terry shut down the airplane, jumped out, talked to him and I just stayed in the airplane and fiddled with some of my equipment and camera and stuff like that to make sure I was good to go for the next route.
So we took off out of Córdoba and here we are going toward the glacier peaks and the wide expanse of ice and snow. But man was it beautiful, I just saw some of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to explain but I saw these lower valleys and rivers with these red stripes running through the water and these clear blue turquoise and teal colored waters which was pretty clear with the terrain underneath it you could see and just absolutely beautiful.
Terry tried to point out to me a whale actually right after we had taken off from the beach which I didn’t end up seeing but this was just what we are experiencing. Things that were common to Terry but not necessarily to me. I’m relatively new to Alaska and I’m trying to transition my flight experience from outside Alaska to being flight experienced inside Alaska. So this is all new and just amazing to me. We’re flying over all these beautiful areas we end up flying over this wide expanse of sharp peaks, glaciers, icefields. Icefields are like a glacier that’s on top in a very large, large area which feed into the glaciers or feed the glaciers rather. And it’s just as long as you can see as far as you can see there are these beautiful peaks and glaciers and snow. And so Terry and I are working our way toward Valdez getting back to Valdez spiraling down getting closer to these peaks, getting down his valleys and you start to see these strips of blue water on top of the glaciers and you’ve just never seen a blue color like this before.
Terry and I were talking about it. I can take pictures and video and of course I did and I tried but you do not know what that color blue is until you see in real life. It was just unbelievable and amazing and it was just such the perfect flight. I just can’t imagine anything better I can’t wait to be doing it myself I’m so looking forward to experiencing Alaska more through the air. We came back in to Valdez and it was quite busy. I should mention that along with all of this I actually tracked these flights with CloudAhoy in my Stratus so you guys can actually check this stuff out on AviatorCasts.com just go to this episode and check out what I’m talking about.
It will give you a feel and an idea of what these flights were and where we went and what we experienced because you can actually see the 3-D terrain in in those debriefs from CloudAhoy so go ahead and go check those out. Anyway Terry and I come back into Valdez it was quite busy because a lot of guys were A. coming back from the poker run B. coming in because the weather had improved for that day and they’re getting in for the STOL competition. So we came in and what I thought was really interesting was Terry landed on the gravel before the runway even started. So before the taxi lights, the runway edge lights, everything, he landed the airplane on the gravel there which is apparently legal and we pulled off on the first taxiway.
So I don’t think any of you can say that you’ve ever done that before unless you’ve done this exact thing. We landed on these big bush wheels and then we pulled off on the first taxiway which is the taxiway that people typically use when they enter the runway at the end of the runway. So I thought I was really interesting, we stopped in just a couple hundred feet and made the left turn so that was cool. Just capped off what was one of the most amazing flight experiences I’ve ever had.
We pull in and Terry and Shawn were stripping down their airplanes and removing their extra fuel and getting ready for the airshow. You don’t have a lot of extra weight as you’re trying to stop your airplane in a short distance and obviously a heavier airplane takes longer to take off and has a longer landing distance and all that sort of thing. So they were preparing their airplanes for the show. Terry has a pretty stripped-down airplane without a lot of extra things going on so he had a couple things he took out. Like the passenger seat where I was sitting, didn’t have any backseats but he took out a lot of his equipment.
But Shawn man, Shawn get serious about it. He had his whole family and Deon working on this thing taking out the fuel and doing all sorts of crazy stuff, making sure that he reduces much load as he possibly could. So that was pretty cool to witness them getting ready for the STOL competition. Now, if you guys don’t know what STOL means, I’ve been saying that a lot but I don’t think I’ve told you what the acronym is. STOL, S-T-O-L stands for short takeoff and landing, so short takeoff and landing, that’s what the stole competition is. The idea is, is that you take off in the shortest distance possible and you land in the shortest distance possible. So after some lunch and after going through some preparations, the actual pilots doing their preparations for the competition just like Shawn and Terry were doing and me getting all my camera stuff ready because I ended up being right next to the STOL competition runway to film this.
We were all ready for the airshow and him and all locked and loaded. How it works is they have different categories, so they have, obviously they don’t want like a little Piper cub or a really powerful cub competing against something like a 170 or a 180 that has a longer takeoff roll. So they have everyone in different categories. Terry and Shawn obviously being in the same category were in there with some other 170s, a 172 on tricycle gear which was really interesting and they did really well. They were the first ones up and I was standing right next to the runway.
Joe Prax was kind enough to pull some strings and get me over there where I could film all this stuff of which you can see some of this really, really awesome footage on Instagram at Angle of Attack, really cool stuff. So Terry and Shawn were in the first heat which was light touring, Shawn ended up losing his title so he didn’t win for a 6th year in a row because there was this 172 that tricycle gear 172 that just tore it up. Everyone was so amazed at this little 172 that just did amazing. It’s just this teal and black color, old looking, definitely a 172 and he did so good barely beat out Shawn. Terry did fantastic for his first time and his first time I was very impressed but at the same time it’s exactly what I expected just because of my wonderful experience with Terry.
He was obviously a well capable pilot to be competing in this competition. That’s just one category that those guys went through. Of course there were many pilots that did this, they had a cub category, an experimental category, they even had a Pilatus Porter that did a short takeoff and landing. They also had an Otter do a short takeoff and landing that was really impressive and then they had the unlimited category at the end were Bobby Breeden does his whole thing. So overall this entire process took about 5 to 6 hours, it was a long time standing next to that runway just filming these airplanes coming in but it was incredibly entertaining. And you know what? This was not so much an airshow as it was a rodeo.
This was a full on Bush pilot rodeo this was awesome and everyone was just having such a good time. Hooting and hollering and cheering people on. And these pilots just did a great job and it was one of the funnest things to watch I’ve ever seen in an airshow. So Bobby Breeden, I mentioned him, he’s one of the highlights for me just because he’s a younger guy. I have a little back story with him. So my father-in-law was kayaking in Prince William Sound which is a pretty remote and wild area just a very big area but a beautiful place to kayak because you can go down these canyons these deep canyons that were cut out by glaciers. And you can basically pull your kayak next up to the glacier, not really next up it has the little bit away.
But just a really beautiful place to be enjoying nature and paddling around and I myself enjoy kayaking a whole lot. So my father-in-law was pulled up on a sandbar in Prince William Sound and here come these two Piper Cubs, this is several years ago. Here comes these two Piper Cubs, they’re rocketing down this canyon, it’s really loud because obviously the glacier and the canyon walls are just echoing the engine noise back and forth. And here come these two guys and Piper Cubs and they land on this sandbar where my father-in-law had pulled over his kayak. So these guys get out it turns out it’s a father and son duo, they’re just out bombing Prince William Sound in her airplanes having a good time.
And he was just, my father-in-law was just so impressed with how short they landed and where they landed and just
that they were father and son how cool this entire situation was. So they ended up talking for a few minutes and this was actually Bobby Breeden and his father. So Bobby was 18 at the time I think he is now 22 I could be mistaken there but right around that age and I just thought that was really cool. So when I ended up talking to Bobby he knew my father-in-law he has remembered this experience.
So I may even be doing some tail wheel training with Bobby soon because he just became an instructor, he goes to Embry-Riddle. Bobby has an awesome what they call a glacier cub which if you’ve seen Valdez STOL competition videos before on YouTube you’ve probably seen Bobby Breeden’s airplane because it takes off on a dime, it just boom, done. He’s up and out of there and when he lands it’s like he just touches down his wheels and stops. Really impressive short landings and takeoffs just really, really cool. It was cool to meet up with Bobby and see him there for a few minutes although he’s a pretty popular guy.
That was the airshow at least the STOL competition. I didn’t do it justice it was a really long, cool, experience lots of great performances by the pilots. There was an 18-year-old woman there she was in a 150 competing that was really cool her dad was cheering her on. Still a lot of cool stories lots of the cool stories there. So we had a fantastic evening, that night there was an awards banquet where people that had won their categories and classes got an award and some other people got awards too. So it was just, it was really great and funny and personal and easy-going and just a bunch of people getting together having a fun time.
Again going back to the barbecue the night before it just felt like the hospitality and cool Alaskan spirit that I love and one of the reasons I love living here it was just such a fun time. We all left there absolutely elated about the wonderful day we had had between the poker run, the beautiful weather, the STOL competition, the new people we had met, the great food, the great friends, the funny laughs, all the experiences that we had we were just so excited and just on this major aviation high. So we went back to the hotel room like, or not the hotel room, the B&B like the night we had before and we were excited to process some pictures or video that we had the night before but man we were tired.
It was really funny because Deon was on his laptop trying to process some pictures for Instagram and he fell asleep at his keyboard that’s how tired he was. He was just like full on asleep with his head on his hand, asleep in front of his computer. We were exhausted, we had had such a wonderful day. Deon of course got to go with Shawn, I got to go with Terry on the poker run and Jen ended up finding a ride as well. So we were so happy that she got to experience that as well.
So fast forwarding to the next morning we had similar weather, the activities for the day were going to be awesome. Not as big of activities because there wouldn’t be the poker run and the STOL competition is about the biggest thing and the most public cool thing about this airshow but there was still some cool stuff. So they were going to do flour bombing, they did some balsa wood airplane flying for the kids and just more collectivity some airshows stuff. A couple aerobatic performers were doing some cool stuff. So some great things, the flour bombing was hilarious. It’s a bunch of pilots getting up and they both had two shots, like with the STOL competition you have two shots for your takeoff and landing and they record the shortest of both. With the flour bombing they record your shortest distance to the center so they put this kiddie pool in the middle of the taxiway with a cone in the middle and some other cones to tell you where it’s at.
And then the person that gets the closest to that cone, that target wins the competition. So just a bunch of people flying up their airplanes, coming over this thing, having to judge themselves what’s going on. You got a pilot that flies airplane and a bombardier that is in charge of dropping the bag of flour and again the person that hits the closest wins. So there were some that were just way off not even in the ballpark and it just really funny. It’s like, yeah don’t even measure that one that’s terrible. And then some that actually got pretty close.
Now the really cool thing is that Deon went up with Shawn Holly and they ended up winning the competition. I was so excited for those guys, they got within 11 feet of that target and they were just so, at least Deon was so excited about it. Shawn didn’t even know they had one and they actually both got a plaque for winning the flour bombing competition, 11 feet that’s pretty impressive. Especially considering how far off most of those pilots were just really, really cool.
So Jen actually got to do it too but I’m not even sure what her measurement is because I think she and her team, I’ll blame it on her entire team, they missed it by a little bit. Anyway that flour bombing was a really, really funny and just another cool fun experience. The weather started to deteriorate throughout the afternoon, the wind kicked up, the clouds started coming in. It was less of a crowd but still really fun, had some good food there. We ended up polishing off the entire show that afternoon, lots of rain and everything. They have this group picture they do at the end in front of the airplanes there and we were some of the last people there.
I think there were 20 of us ended up taking the picture but I wouldn’t be surprised if at the peak of the airshow there were a couple thousand. That could be wrong with that number but couple thousand people, so the diehards, the other 20 mostly people that helped organize the airshow. Everyone else had gone home especially those pilots trying to beat the weather out of there so it was really cool. A great wrap up to the airshow and such a great time. So couple takeaways I had from this entire experience. First off this is a pilots’ airshow, the pilots were the airshow. And they are just regular everyday guys they didn’t hire, well there’s one guy they hired to do an aerobatic show maybe a couple guys. But they weren’t the main event, the main event was regular everyday pilots off the street performing their skills and having a good time. So that goes for the STOL competition where you have professional bush pilots that fly in the back country facing off against guys that are weekend warriors like Shawn and Terry. And just really cool to see that competition going on and then that even goes down to the flour bombing. So this was just a lot of pilots, regular everyday pilots like you and me from off the street competing and having fun and they are the airshow this is the airshow.
So I just thought it was so cool and one of the coolest things about it is real fluid and fun and just real experiences. So that the organizers, they ebb back-and-forth as far as what they need. The wind’s too high or the weather’s not going well or they need to wait a little bit for more pilots to get in or whatever it is. It moves around pretty well and so the airshow just works out great, I mean a lot of things work out great. It’s not this rigid schedule, I know you can’t do that for every airshow but it just ends up working out really well. Although it was very well organized and Joe and the team everyone I’m not mentioning all the wonderful people that did a great job it. But the entire team that organized it just did such a great job and it was organized. It was laid-back too it was just fun and no pressure and you got to know people and you got to talk to the top people and the performers and the pilots and everything.
There wasn’t this exclusive class system there it was everyone there for the same reason having the same experience I just thought I was so cool. And the people again, gosh, the people is what it’s all about. I talked about that in the last episode talking about Sun ‘N Fun, it is all about the people. And on that note huge thanks goes out to Shawn and Terry for Terry taking me up on the poker run himself and hen Shawn taking Deon. Just super cool so good to meet them hoping the fly with them more and follow their tracks.
And then Deon and Jen lifetime friends we had some insanely great laughs, some cool experiences together and we are all never going to forget the time that we had at the Valdez Fly-in. Again if you want to see some of these things I’ve been talking about I know that I try to explain it the best I can but seeing is believing too. Go ahead and check us out on Instagram all of us. I am angle of Angle of Attack, Deon is D-E-O-N M-I-T-T-O-N and again Jen’s is _expedition girl. And then also I’ll post some of that other stuff like the CloudAhoy tracks and some other things on the AviatorCast page.
So just go to AviatorCast.com find this episode, episode 87 and you’ll be able to see some that. If you ever have
the opportunity to come to the Valdez Fly-in it stands out and it’s so different from any other fly-in or airshow that I have experienced. And it is an absolute blast, an airshow by pilots and for pilots, they are the airshow and it is the biggest and best the Bush pilot rodeo in the world. And I had the time of my life, meeting new friends, getting to know friends better like Deon and Jen, having such a great time with Shawn and Terry. And of course being able to experience the wonderful, wonderful experience of flight. It was so great to go on that poker run, just so grateful for this experience it was such a cool time.
That’s it for my experience I hope you guys enjoyed this long-winded kind of synopsis of what happened and a couple messages here and then I’ll close out the show.
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For more information on Angle of Attack simulation training videos for FSX, X-Plane and more, go to www.flyaoamedia.com. If you are looking for a professional aviation training video services and other media, inquire at www.angleofattackpro.com. Now, for the final release clearance, back to Chris Palmer.
Chris: Again a huge thanks goes out to Deon and Jen for being such cool wing man and wing woman especially Wing Walker on this wonderful experience in Valdez, it was awesome. Huge thanks to Terry Godes for taking me up absolute blast hope the fly with him again some other time. And of course Shawn Holly for helping Deon and just this overall experience that Joe Prax and the guys at the Valdez Fly-in put together. Again if you ever have the chance goes airshow do, it’s an absolute blast. I highly recommended you will not regret it so long as the weather cooperates, we all know how good the weather can be unpredictable here in Alaska.
So absolutely great time make it if you can. Thanks to the Angle of Attack crew for all they do, these guys do a lot of work behind the scenes to make sure that you and I can have fun on episodes of AviatorCast like this. And of course thank you the listener for promoting the show, for doing those reviews on iTunes and stitcher and the other podcast networks that you use hugely appreciate it guys I can’t thank you enough, you guys are awesome. If you ever have a question, a concern, if you need motivation, you’re stuck whatever it is if you have a question.
Email me firstname.lastname@example.org I would love to help you guys out you can always reach me also on twitter at flyaoamedia, Instagram I’m very active these days at Angle of Attack, I’m there for you guys. So I’m here I’m part of the community if there’s anything you need let me know. Until next time, throttle on!
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