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3000 words
8 pix
R.F. Sanderson
724 Edgewater,
Portage, WIS

Fly Yourself In
Rob F. Sanderson

You’ll enjoy planning your own flying trip into the northern bush.

As you skipper your craft around the North Country, here are the problems you will meet and the decisions you will face every day.

But first - fair warning! The thrill of flying is just as contagious as the thrill of hunting and fishing. And when you catch all three at once, there’s only one cure - Fly yourself in!

Fly Yourself In

           From May breakup to November freeze, the North Country sparkles with looking glass landing surfaces for seaplanes. Each May more sportsmen sprout the wings of northern adventure because sky travel is proving the most practical method of bush transportation.

           We’ll omit the windy sales talk. We all know that the flying fisherman can be two hundred miles back in the bush suppering on fresh trout sizzled brown over the first evening’s campfire; meanwhile his autoist neighbor who likewise left home that morning is catsuping his hamburger in a diner across the pavement from a motel that is still a day’s drive from the Canadian border.

           These facts are not inconspicuous. What may be new and interesting is that our crowd flies our own sky jalopies. What we have learned chaperoning these cloud jumpers around the bush country, testing different planes and equipment, planning our own routes, and forecasting our own weather, has fascinated us. Whether you plan to fly yourself in or charter a plane, our experiences may be interesting reading.

           Please note I’m not recommending the airplane as a problem-free cure-all for every northbound sportsman. As a matter of fact, if you’ve already decided never to fasten the safety belt of a sport plane, at the end of this article you’ll have plenty of reasons to sustain your decision. Here are the angles - good and bad - for you to judge for yourself.

           Lest I sound too authoritative, let me explain that my experiences are limited to eight private plane trips to the north, and what follows is only one man’s opinion as modified by the experiences of his friends. These trips included parts of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario. The planes had from 85 to 215 h.p. and carried self-sufficient camping gear.

           Take-off performance is the universally critical factor in seaplane performance. The suction of the water on the pontoon bottoms really sabotages what might be snappy take-offs on wheels or skis. My first ship was an 85 h.p. tow-placer with strict baggage limitations. Nonetheless, in early October of 1948 my brother and I took skeleton equipment north in this ship and after flying hundreds of miles over the wilderness north of the railroad, emerged from the bush with a rack of moose antlers spanning close to 64 inches. It was, however, quite an experience.

           To save weight we replaced the seat cushions with our sleeping bags, and removed the battery on long hops. We slept in a two-man mountaineer style nylon tent, cooked with one pot and pan, and kept our whole outfit including rifles down to sixty-six pounds. After spring break-up we cruised northward again, expecting better performance because our rifles and heavier clothes were eliminated. But the warmer air gave the wings less lift, and there was less wind to assist getting up “on the step” for take-off.

           During warmer, calmer days later in the summer we started the practice of siphoning off small quantities of gas to lighten the load enough to stagger off the water (once in the air, the plane flew perfectly fine). One day we siphoned off a bit too much gas, ran into an unexpected headwind, and arrived at civilization with about a gallon of gas. As far as we were concerned, this finished the two-place ship for us.

           My brother bought a four-place amphibian, a friend of mine installed a larger motor in his four-place float ship, and when I saw what these ships could do I promptly sold my two-placer. One of the largest and most apparent advantages of the four place ship as used by two men is that a boat my be carried.

           We had discovered that, whether fishing or hunting, sportsmen must be very ingenious to manage a successful trip with out some sort of boat. The north woods are usually so thick with pitfalls that any shore travel or fishing is apt to be very discouraging. On our first trip we missed a boat so acutely that we actually constructed a log raft to transport our moose down a creek to the plane.

           To fit in a plane a boat must be either sectional or deflatable. Craft attached to the exterior of the aircraft are not recommended. Both sectional canoes and inflatable rubber boats have done well for me. Both have very special merits and defects.

           The inflatable craft I use is known as the three-man raft. A light outboard motor fits on a special stern rack as illustrated, and is essential for serious travel since the raft under oars is not directionally stable. The motor cruises at about four knots, and the whole outfit with gallon gas tank weighs less than seventy pounds.

           There is one situation custom-made for the inflatable boat. Northern lakes in general have few good beaching grounds for seaplanes and in wilderness lakes with no prepared landings, especially in the spring when the water is high, it may be impossible to get ashore without seriously endangering a float or wingtip on rocks, snags, or trees. The pump-up boat can be inflated on the float of an anchored plane without nearing the shore, and in the boat you can either do your fishing or go ashore to chop wood and pry stones until a suitable plane landing is prepared. In contrast, the sectional canoe I use requires more space for assembling than is afforded by an airplane float. Your choice of craft is important enough to affect your whole itinerary in the north.

           Our sectional canoe weighs about seventy pounds, is not too stable to fish from, and makes about the same speed with paddles as the rubber boat under power. For hunters, where quietness is an essential to success, the canoe is a definite advantage. In the event circumstance forced a return to civilization via surface travel, I would be several hundred percent happier to embark in the sectional canoe because then the rubber raft would eventually run out of gas and paddles any direction but straight ahead.

           Safe shelter for the plane is the first consideration in selecting a campsite. Protected beaches where the floats my be hauled up and locked securely are the pilot’s favorites. Mud or bog shores are all right provided no sharp rocks or snags are buried beneath the loon gook. On questionable shores sometimes smooth poles or copious quantities of balsam boughs can be bedded under the floats. Tail in to shore is the preferred position, but sometimes nose first is the only possibility.

           In a bad blow a plane is as vulnerable as a large kite and should be securely fastened by plenty of stout rope from floats, wings and tail, and any unsound timber in a position to fall across the ship is a menace. Halfway measures at plane securing are dangerous because winds usually generate during the night or while you are away fishing for the day, and in bad winds it is usually dangerous to attempt removal of the craft to a better location. Last summer on several occasions we anchored the craft with a sizable folding anchor, which held satisfactorily on soft bottom.

           After the ship is secured, camp is improvised. Virgin campsites often defy an ingenious man enough level ground to pitch a two-man tent. For this reason, although we are habitually addicted to the explorer’s tent for steady living, several seasons ago I acquired a jungle hammock. This outfit is a very satisfactory solution to the shelter problem in mild weather, since it can be quickly slung between trees regardless of the rocks or bogs beneath it.

           In practice, the campsite is usually selected from the air while the pilot is circling the lake to detect reefs, shoals, or submerged boulders. Before putting down the landing run is then “dragged” at slow speed into the wind, about ten feet off the water. Remember that the wind may be different and you should not leave the air without having take-off schemes for at least two or more wind axis.

           It is not always an advantage to be too far from civilization, as my brother demonstrated last fall when the plane windshield was broken by severe windstorm during the night. He felt lucky to be within thirty miles of the railroad tracks. We did a lot of flying before we discovered that the best places are not always the farthest north.

           Exceptionally good fishing and hunting can be found within very short distances from highways and canoe routes. Fifty miles or less straight across inaccessible country will shake the boys and find your primitive paradise. If you fly your own ship, instead of herding your plane around with the other sheep, base your operations out of a place where little or no tourist charter work is practiced. There is no need to limit yourself to lakes others fly into.

           Whether near or far, don’t neglect emergency equipment. Fortunately a hunter or fisher has most of the essentials right in his own outfit. Since plane baggage is often handled in duffle sacks, be sure to include a light packsack. Axe, hone, knife, compass, waterproof matches, wet proof garment, wire, strong cord, light cook utensil, fishing tackle, and gun are a minimum. Some fishing equipment is usually standard on hunting trips and on summer trips we have special permit for a 410-.22 combination gun, since small animals rather than large game would be the staple emergency diet.

           The ship’s repair kit is designed around the theory that float damage is the most common mishap. Sheet aluminum, metal screws, small bolts and washers, and waterproof caulking compound are the main ingredients. Safety wire, small file, screw driver, extra spark plug, adjustable wrench, pliers, extra piece of fabric and a bottle of dope complete the outfit. This kit is ordinarily carried in the forward float compartment along with the bailing sponge.

           For bush operations north of these bases, we arrange our schedule months in advance and during the winter have our extra drums of fuel freighted into trading posts or mining properties by either the winter tractor train over the snow (cheapest when available) or flow in by ski plane at standard freight (rather than special charter) rates. Right now we have three gas caches back in the bush. As water and sediment will accumulate in these drums during storage, before use we will carefully filter all fuel through a felt or chamois skin strainer.

           While a seaplane in Canada is really in clover, many flying sportsmen lack seaplane facilities at home. Amphibian aircraft are increasingly popular because they can be kept serviced at the home inland airport. Baggage can be conveniently loaded directly from auto to plane. At airports the repair facilities, hangars, and meteorological service are usually superior to the less frequently used seaplane bases. Because of larger engines and more moving parts the operational costs of amphibians is somewhat higher than pontoon ships. But lower initial costs can more than compensate for this differential.

           During windier months, a fix-it type of owner can do much of the work necessary to get his craft in shape for the summer. Getting down to actual costs, my two-place 85 h.p. ship cost me about as much per mile as my automobile. Total expenses divided by hours flown gave me 7 ¼ cents per mile. On four place ships, 12 cents per mile would be a reasonable estimate. Naturally, the more a plane is used the lower is the hourly cost of operation.

           An unavoidable drawback to small plane flying is weather. Canadian flying weather from late spring to early fall is quite good on the whole. But nasty weather does lay a three day siege every now and then. Unless you keep a careful watch on the weather, you may be weathered in just the time you plan to move or fly home. Every morning, I set my altimeter to lake level. If the altitude hand rises substantially every day for three days, we decide where we want to be weathered in.

           Border crossing is an irksome routine on every trip. Although theoretically you could fly beeline to your favorite lake, to pass through an approved seaplane port of entry may require a substantial detour. Before departure it is necessary to notify customs of your estimated arrival time, and because of variable winds or weather this is not always easy to do. And Sundays are a pilot’s pain because, although the Canadian inspectors do not charge for Sunday service, the U.S. boys in blue bill the ship for time and ½, both customs and immigration officers. To avoid forfeiting as much as sixty bucks, we miss our Sunday fishing and come home Saturday afternoon.

           As to the safety factor in general, like automobiles, airplanes are now fundamentally sound and proven and practically all mistakes today are the pilot’s. The motors I have flown behind are apparently perpetual motion machines, and between overhauls (after 400 to 600 hours of flying) they require very little servicing beyond oil and spark plug changes. My only accident was striking a submerged boulder while taxiing a strange lake. Since the floats are compartmented, we took off anyway, landed along a sandy shore where we beached the ship and patched it during the afternoon and early morning.

           Just as some men do not enjoy looking after a boat, some will not want to care for and maintain an airplane. There are some mechanical problems, windy nights, as well as certain amount of effort to keep up with new developments in airmanship. Like any piece of fine sporting equipment, a plane has to be taken care of.

           If you’re in doubt, why not get a group of friends together for a charter trip next summer? Four men and equipment can take a bush freighter for a hundred mile trip with return pickup at a later date at the low transportation cost of about $75.00 per man. This is little more than regular airline fare at home.

           Whether you stay with charter services or decide to chauffer your own little cloud jumper, chances are you’ll be a convert to flying in. A weary businessman on an outing is not usually interested in enlarging his heart and straining his arteries on a rugged canoe marathon. What interests him is relaxation, reasonable exercises, fresh air, and the superb hunting and fishing in the lakes below his wingtip.

           Some of you no doubt feel the tug of adventure that skippering your own seaplane across the wilds will mean to you, and some will do it. Not too many, perhaps, and that is well, for nature admires the bold and has a way of rewarding the adventurer. To me, one far away hour at the controls steering a precise compass course across blank gaps in the map that say “unmapped”, “unreliable”, or “unsurveyed” and at journey’s end to split the center of some desolate lake destination somewhere between the northernmost railroad and Hudson Bay, is ample reward.

           Those of you who learn to know the lonesome drone of a small aviation engine through the empty, pine-floored northern skies will be rewarded with big dividends. The song of a northbound pair of wings will be to you as they are to the wild goose, and the thrill of flying will come to mean as much to you as the best unspoiled hunting and fishing which the sky is certain to bring to you.

© 2003 Chronicles of Bob