Flying to Alaska how-to
info to get you started in preparing for your trip

By D. Wayne Woollard

I will have to break it up into several segments, as follows.  Planning, survival, navigation, weather, Customs, communications, Fuel, Creature comforts, and execution.  Not needle in the arm execution, but actually taking off and heading for the great Frozen North. 


I just have to say this before we get going too far: Flying the coastal routes is pretty serious stuff due to weather, and distance between guaranteed fuel sources.  I seriously recommend the inland, Alaska Highway route to Northway Alaska and from there on to either Anchorage or Fairbanks.  Safer, more historic, and more economic.  You won't have to spend 6 or 7 days in a Motel waiting for weather.

The only "missing" Alon that I know of is missing on a flight from Port Hardy to Ketchican,  (August 17,2003).  That's why I don't like to recommend the Coast Route, Also you may have to wait for days for clearing weather.  My Recommended Route is as follows:

BFL to Redding O85
Redding to Klammath Falls LMT
Klammath Falls to Pendleton, OR PDT
Pendleton to Coeur D' Alene, ID COE
Coeur D' Alene to Great Falls GTF
Great Falls to Lethbridge (Customs) CYQL
Lethbridge to Calgary CFX2
Calgary to Edmonton CYXD
Edmonton to Whitecourt CYZU
Whitecourt to Dawson Creek
       (Mile zero of the Alcan)
Dawson Creek to Fort Nelson CYYE
Fort Nelson to Watson Lake CYQH
Watson Lake to Whitehorse CYXY
Whitehorse to Northway (Customs) PAOR
Northway to Fairbanks PAFA

Here's an image of the route I suggest.  The unusual jog from Coeur d' Alene to Great Falls allows you to cross the Rockies just to the North of Mullan Pass along Clarks Fork which is usually not susceptible to high winds and traffic congestion.  There is a VOR near the East end of Mullan pass if you intend to go that way.  Clarks Fork is the more picturesque, a beautiful ride following what is believed to be the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803.  You come out of Clarks Fork near the headwaters of the Missouri River. 

[Note from Ed:  From Coeur d'Alene to Lethbridge, if the weather is good, you might consider stopping at Kalispell then following U.S. Highway 2 around the south side of Glacier National Park to use the 5380' Marias Pass.]

 At Great Falls you will probably be able to borrow a copy of the Canadian "Green Book."  The Canadian Transport Canada companion manual of frequencies and designators of all the Transport Canada Airports, Terminals, VORs, NDBs, and Weather stations.  Don't leave into Canada without the book!  Canadian Charts do not have frequencies or identifiers on them, and you will need this additional baggage.  It should be available from Sporty's. as will all your charts including the special "Alaskan Highway chart,"  This chart is a U. S. publication that has the whole route from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks or Northway, I don't remember which, but it is a godsend.  the chart eliminates all the peripheral stuff 300 miles away that is irrelevant to your course and just shows the route along the highway, all 1,000 miles of it, and it's all runway.

You will also note that all airports North of the Canadian border utilize international Identifiers, (Four letters)  Use these in your GPS!!  If you use any other identifiers you might end up in a different place than desired.  Always use the international Id's. As you can see your Gross weight is picking up, you will have about 12 pounds of charts, 20 pounds of survival gear, about 6 pounds of en route stuff, Candy, Water, Camera, cough drops (great for clearing your sinus and keeping you alert) Warm clothes, thermal gear, socks, gloves and shoes.  the weather is susceptible to change at any time.

Safety Equipment

A Canadian and Alaskan requirement is a complete survival package, enough to sustain an injured pilot and passenger for 2 weeks.  Shelter, water, first aid, light, heat, and food.  Sounds like a lot, but it can be compressed into a package that will weigh less than 20 pounds. 

Here is my little treatise on survival;

For the most part, all of the Alaska, and Canada flying will be done in the vicinity of roads, cities, and highways, just remember the "Highways" you will see in the North country are more like a city street, yep 2 lane roads are all that you will see above Edmonton, also except in population centers the area is extremely sparsely populated, and there wont be much in the way of cell phone communications.

One of the rules of thumb in the artic, "if you think you will need it, bring it!"  Not much in the way of "Home Depot" up there either.  Canada and Alaska actually have rules about survival equipment, the dividing line is 52 degrees latitude and points north, this is about Edmonton. A firearm is no longer necessary, in fact they are illegal to carry in an airplane in Canada.

You will need to have enough to survive two weeks, you will need a source of Water, and purification tablets, first aid, matches in a waterproof container (pill bottle), some kind of a fire starter kit, sticks and flint, a compass, freeze dried meals, energy bars, fishing supplies (rudimentary), toilet paper, a folding shovel, space blankets, a folding pup tent, mosquito repellent (Deet), a blue tarp, some tools, a fisherman's friend, sharp knife, maybe an axe and a small saw. 

This really sounds like an ominous amount of equipment to carry in an Ercoupe, and it is.  I would limit what I can carry to 25 pounds, and rely on some of the ideas I learned while I was up there.  instead if a container to hold all this stuff get a hold of an old fly fisherman's vest, and stuff the pockets with the materials you will need, also use Ziplock and Black garbage bags in your survival pack.  To pack the airplane, put the blue tarp on the bottom of the baggage compartment with the pup tent on top of it already unfolded, use every nook and cranny that will hold something to evenly distribute the weight.  I took all the survival stuff out of the "blister Packs" and stuffed it into a fishing vest, then weighed the packing material I had left, it amounted to 3 pounds.

A little battery operated VHF radio would be nice to have, make sure your ELT is a two frequency unit and that it is capable of a microphone input and two way communication.

Survival is a matter of keeping relatively warm, dry, and hydrated, and rescue is a matter of being located and observed, a fire, a mirror, smoke, blue tarp. or a flare.

Don't forget to put a small "survival" book, or if you have the time, take a course in survival.

These kits are commercially available at Sportys, and Cabella's

The Red Cross also has a site

I took about 6 bottles of water, the square ones, to save space, and stored them just behind the center of the seat, where I could reach them in flight.  I also took 4 plastic pouches of distilled water for my emergency kit, I also took a bottle of water purification tablets and a small water still that I found at a military surplus store.  It consisted of plastic tubing and rugged plastic bags, it took up little space and weighed little or nothing.  If I used one of the water bottles in flight, I would replace it as soon as possible.

I have a little, kinda rectangular container, looks like a school lunch pail or a fannie pack, that I place on the floorboards in between the seats and to the rear of the control column, that I keep stuff in that I may need in flight.  pencils, a little 6" rule, lip balm, some sun screen, cough drops (they will open your sinus's so you can breathe at altitude) a place to put a coke or water bottle, a little writing tablet, a cell phone, your wallet, a bunch of knick-knacks, you know, beads to give to the Indians!


On our continuing saga of flying out of the country and in the far North, we have come to the point where we need to concentrate on Navigation.
The greatest percentage of Northern or Bush Pilots utilize several different forms of navigation to arrive at their primary destination.  Non-Directional Beacons or NDB's are a primary use navigation aid, along with Time and Distance, and Pilotage.  If you do not have an NDB receiver in your particular airplane, Not to worry, NDB ID codes will work in most GPS receivers, by plotting an NDB as a waypoint, and you would follow that indicator on your chart as you normally would, ie: the needle points to the stations transmitter, and remains stationary under the moving airplane hence the name "Radio-Compass."
The further (or is that Farther) North you go the more prominent the offset between magnetic North and True North become, and this becomes a necessary component to your navigation calculation.  You need to understand the differential between Magnetic and True North.  There are places (You won't be flying that far North) where Magnetic North is South of True North.  This can become quite confusing. 
There is pretty good VHF coverage in Canada, and flying the Alaskan Highway route is the most preferred.  Very little Radar coverage exists, which prevents flight following.  Plane to Plane communications on VHF 123.45, easy enough to remember.  Center throughout Canada is 126.7, you should monitor this as a secondary communications frequency.
Visual Flight Rules are the primary Navigation criterion,  Canada does not allow VFR on Top, under any circumstances.  If at any time while flying in Canada you communicate with an airport, flight service station, or Center, be prepared to be billed by Nav-Canada for this service when you get home, for services.  They are privatized like they want to do in this country!
When you look out the window in the North country, be prepared for some awesome vistas, also be prepared for some boring repetition!  Throughout Canada a great deal of oil and gas exploration has taken place and trails as straight as a string have been cleared on the ground, from the test sites to the sensor sites, and it is a monotonous view of the ground beneath you.  Just follow the needle, or the roads, after all the United states Government went to a lot of trouble to build and maintain a 1.500 mile emergency runway all the way through Northern Canada to downtown Fairbanks.  If you need it, USE it!
Be sure you have the charts and books you will need before flying into Northern Canada!  The likelihood that the individual FBO's along the way will have maps is nil.  They will have gas, they will have oil, they will take your credit card, but that's about it.


D. Wayne Woollard   CPBE