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Paul Nopper, aerial adventurer page 3

Story by Kenneth Armstrong • trip Photos by Paul Nopper

The possibility of weather interfering on planned tracks requires Paul to allow for a number of alternates along the way. Although he has waited out bad WX by camping in a tent on the barrens when unforecast fog rolled into his scheduled airport stop, it is preferential to plan well ahead and monitor the weather prognostications to avoid its risk and inconvenience. He once waited three days in Gillam, Manitoba for improving weather and watched 48 hours of “Leave it to Beaver” episodes. Flying is not glorious all the time. On another occasion, he was enroute from Pangnirtung to Iqaluit, Nunavut and the airport closed ahead of him in zero/zero fog. So, he cruised up to the edge of the fog just outside of the airport zone and landed on the up slope of a rocky hillside. Before dozing in the back seat for three hours he walked the landing distance to find the make-do strip was only 83 paces long! He closed his flight plan on his handheld radio and, then as the fog lifted in the middle of the night, made an adrenaline-pumping takeoff using every inch of the minimal runway.

Are these aerial adventures for you? Each person has to decide whether the risk:reward ratio would be emotionally manageable. None of the challenges is overwhelming when taken individually, according to Paul. He reiterates that planning the details of the flight is of paramount importance, and being prepared and aware of potential variations due to fuel, weather or other conditions is invaluable. Pilots considering such long-distance adventures need to be skilled in navigating (GPS can fail), short and rough field landings and perhaps flights through mountains, to name a few considerations. Choosing a suitable aircraft almost goes without saying.

To help with your potential flights, Paul offers the following tips on planning, emergency gear and the possibility of facing a survival situation while awaiting rescue. What you carry as survival gear is personal, but remember these three points and their order of relative importance:

Shelter–Whether being stuck on barren rock in the cold Arctic or on the hot open sands of the southwest, without protection from the elements, you may not live long enough to worry about anything else. Pilots should have at least a small tent, a couple of tarps, and a means of starting a fire for warmth, and/or signalling. Don’t forget the fuel in the airplane to get the fire going. The airplane, if somewhat intact, can be good shelter too; stay with it regardless as it not only supplies materials but is much easier to see from the air than you are.

Clothing–carry quality layered apparel, including winter parka, thick gloves, full head cover and snowmobile boots for winter; and light, but full cover, for summer. Additional mandatory items would include sunglasses as well as bug and sun protection. In the north woods and Arctic, you’d better have a bug shirt and hat in the spring and summer. Keep in mind unseasonable weather can set in along your route so you should be prepared for all possibilities. Paul carries a parka, snowmobile boots, toque and warm gloves on all trips as it can be very cold almost anywhere at night–especially in mountains.

Nourishment–Water is number one, more important in southern climes but you need water in the coldest locales. Don’t rely on eating snow! Paul normally carries two gallons, and hopes that more can be found. You may live without food for weeks, but without water, only a day or so!

A suggestion from Mike Vivion of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska prompted Paul to buy a bright orange flotation vest. This provides excellent visibility for searches and the many pockets are great for storage of small survival essentials. You might have to exit your aircraft very quickly (fire) with the result all of your survival gear could consist of only what you are carrying. He points out the equipment in the aircraft is for camping– what should be on your person is survival gear. Paul suggests placing high-energy foods in one pack, and other survival items (clothing, handheld, etc.) in another (don’t forget spare batteries too), then secure them on a lanyard that can be reached and jerked cleanly if you must exit quickly.

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One barrel of gas for eight hours of flying – continued: [2] of 3

Some people on their first trip in the Husky will be a bit apprehensive about an aircraft with wings made out of cloth,” Oleson smiles. But he enjoys the Husky’s sturdy construction and tremendous performance. “For me, the Husky may be better than a Cessna and I have flown enough of the latter to know that I prefer the Husky.”

The Husky’s larger engine takes getting used to. “The aircraft’s centre of gravity is far forward and with the big engine and constant speed propeller, it’s sometimes hard not to put the aircraft on its nose. I did it once myself taxiing in soft spring snow on tundra tires, just after buying it,” Oleson admits.

The aircraft’s incredible visibility, with windows all around and above, is a definite improvement over the Piper Cub and makes the Husky ideal for aerial survey work.

One prospector has hired the Husky for three consecutive summers, flying long contracts. “He has taken a real liking to the aircraft and is the ideal kind of customer for it.” The summer of 2000, Oleson worked a six-week contract with him in the eastern Arctic basing from Gjoa Haven, Bathurst Inlet and Baker Lake.

For geological exploration work, the Husky often outperforms a helicopter. “The rental rate at $214 dry an hour may seem somewhat high, but if you consider it does certain jobs as well as a helicopter which would cost more than $800 an hour, it’s not hard to recognize the Husky’s potential,” Oleson explains. “Also, when you use a helicopter, you’ve got to have fuel stashes all over the place.”

The Husky is also very fuel-efficient. Though actual range is 770 miles (1,230 km), in reality, Oleson will carry enough fuel for 5 1/2 hours flying. “Most of our trips are up and down with a lot of change in settings,” Oleson says. “Especially when I fly with geologists doing aerial surveys or on prospecting trips. Sometimes they want to do a lot of flying but at other times I just drop them off somewhere and then sit for four hours. For some reason a lot of geologists are pretty hefty guys and they always want to bring back lots of heavy rock samples,” Oleson observes.

One spring, Oleson flew the Husky all the way to Crown Lake to check ice conditions for the Twin Otters to land there. “I left Yellowknife with a full tank and only an ice auger as gear. That was a trip of about 300 nautical miles each way.”

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