Monterey Bay Ninety-Nines
"To most people, the sky is the limit. To those who love aviation, the sky is home."
by Jill Smith
Part of a continuing series
as published in our newsletter, Logbook, December 1999
One of my first flights after my checkride in the Chieftain was a charter to fly some bridge inspectors around. Under FAR 135 rules you are able to do charter flights as soon as you pass your checkride, but to fly scheduled routes you must complete IOE (initial operating experience) with a check pilot riding with you for 10-15 hours before you are on your own. Charters are usually flown to the same places as the scheduled stops but it is a charter if someone pays for the plane to be at their beck and call.
On this flight, I was to go to Chignik and pick three people up, take them to Perryville, then Sandpoint and on to Cold Bay for the night. The next day we would fly them to Dutch Harbor. I went to Chignik alone. The day was pretty nice-good visibility and 2-3000 foot ceilings with occasional showers passing through and very light wind. I had gotten an airport briefing from our lead pilot, Kim, and learned some important things. First, there are four "Chignik" airports and to not land at the wrong one. There is Chignik Lake with a 2800 foot gravel strip, Chignik Lagoon with a 1600 foot gravel strip, Chignik Fisheries also with a 1600 foot strip and Chignik (also known as Chignik Bay) with a 2600 foot gravel strip. I was going to the latter. It is located about 150 nautical miles northeast of Cold Bay on the North Pacific Ocean side of the Alaska Peninsula.
Kim explained that there were essentially two ways to get there. One was just to fly up the coast and turn left at Chignik Bay. The other was to find and turn left at Kurukta Bay and veer right. At the second rock island turn left and fly up the valley. The valley has 3000-foot peaks on either side. When you come to the water, which is the upper part of Chignik Bay, make sure to turn right. You'll pass three of the four airports. You keep veering right and come to a small bay on the right off Chignik Bay. Kim had suggested this route as it was more scenic, the day was good and I had never been there before.
Kim also warned me about a berm or sea wall at the approach end of runway 20. It's made of gray rock with the ocean in front of it, then the gravel runway. The color combination makes the wall hard to see; there is no depth perception.
With all this information swirling around in my head, I took off and headed for Chignik. I passed Perryville on the way and circled it to take a look since I hadn't been there either. I felt better after that. The trip was absolutely beautiful! I was alone in a cool plane, in a beautiful place on a (finally) good weather day. And I had no problems getting there, found the right bay and saw all the other airports. It was just gorgeous.
My passengers showed up soon after I arrived. There were three of them and a lot of gear. We loaded up and I took careful stock of the wind. It was still favoring 20 with about 8-10 knots. After my scary takeoff at False Pass, I was determined that this one would be better (at least it was 500 feet longer than False Pass). The runway is situated on the East side of the little bay. Taking off on runway 20, you are facing the village and you make a tight right downwind departure. At least you do with the kind of wind I had that day.
I back taxied to the very end, turned and started my takeoff roll. Come on airspeed, here comes the end of the runway! Ahh.... 80 knots, rotate. Hey, what's that?! Just as the nose wheel was coming off the ground, a loud warning horn started going off and didn't stop! Everything looked and sounded good and there wasn't any runway left to do anything but continue. FLY THE PLANE. I continued, aimed at the village so I could make the widest turn possible. All the while the horn is still sounding. Man, is that annoying and hard on the concentration. And, I have passengers who are probably wondering what in the world is going on. Finally-it seemed like hours later-I finished the turn to downwind and was able to start assessing the problem and talk to the passengers. Everything in the cockpit looked normal, so I turned to my passengers who were looking at me tensely with questions on their faces and said, "It's a warning horn, but it's a malfunction. I'm trying to isolate it and everything is fine."
They relaxed a little as I turned to the circuit breaker panel. There it was-stall warning horn. I pulled that little sucker and oh, wonderful silence! I pushed it back in and it sounded again, so I pulled it out and left it.
After sweating profusely those past five minutes or so, I sat back and tried to relax the rest of the way to Perryville. As I rounded the edge of Chignik Bay to follow the peninsula coast back down to Perryville, I saw Castle Cape come into view. It's extraordinary. It really does look like a castle. I was happy to be there and felt fortunate to see these wonderful aspects of God's creation.
The rest of the flight to Perryville was uneventful. As I got close, I mentally went over the briefing about Perryville I had gotten from Kim. Perryville is also runway 2/20. It is 2500 feet long and gravel. At the departure end of runway 2 are some bushes and a hill approximately 500 feet high. The runway parallels the coastline. On takeoff from runway 2, you turn right and you are over the ocean, from runway 20, your turn left. The exit to the ramp is about three-quarters of the way down from the arrival end of runway 2. You don't want to use the runway beyond it for takeoff on 2 or departing 20 because it is way too soft. Also, there are soft spots and holes at the intersection of the runway and taxiway and ramp as well.
I landed on runway 2 as this was the wind favored runway here and had to add power turning off the runway as I hit the edge of one of the holes. I could feel the tug of the earth trying to swallow me, but I made it.
My passengers invited me to walk with them to the bridge they had to inspect, but I opted to stay with the plane and see what happened on the previous takeoff. I went around to the stall warning tab and saw that the metal below the tab was dented in, forcing the tab up to connect with the metal, maintaining a continuous connection. Interesting. Now, what had caused it? A rock? A bird? I looked around the area on the wing and found a few bloody spots making me think it was a bird. I then found a payphone at the back of one of the buildings at the airport (thankfully, Kim had also briefed me on these bush airport phones, or lack thereof). I called my base and spoke to our mechanic, Bob. We discussed it and decided to leave it like it was with the circuit breaker pulled out and he would look at it when I got back.
I had just finished the phone call when my passengers returned. Just in time too as it was starting to rain. Thankfully, the visibility and ceilings were still good. I back taxied for runway 2, really avoiding the soft spots this time. There were a few soft spots at the arrival end of runway 2, but not as bad, but they probably took away 3-400 feet of the runway.
I turned around rolling and again, watched
my speed and the end of the runway coming up. Don't pull up too
soon, I told myself. O.K., rotate! Holy Cow! Those bushes are
really close. Get the gear up. Wow, that hill is right there!!
Turn! Turn! And, turn I did, to the wonderfully sea level ocean.
Ahh... I've had enough sweating for one day! The rest of the
trip was uneventful and I returned to Cold Bay feeling victorious.
Bob looked at the stall horn, agreed that it was probably a bird
and it was good as new the next morning.