The mission: to get a first-hand view of some Arctic aviation ops. Specifically, I got an up-close view of how important reliable aviation options are to Alaskans living in the Bush.
For those Alaskans living off the road system, the smooth operation of planes of all shapes and sizes mean many things: mail service, grocery store, bus station, home improvement store and gateway to the rest of the world.
Ride along with me over the Brooks Range to Barter Island (Kaktovik), Prudhoe Bay, Nuiqsit and Utqiagvik.
Wright Air Service was founded in 1966…and now operates more than 15 Cessna 208s. Every single plane is a “combi”, with room for up to nine passengers. According to Cessna’s specifications, the 208’s useful load is about 3,500 pounds. So the weight/balance figures really matter. Yes, they weigh you at the counter, along with all your bags.
Bound for Arctic Village.
We took off from Arctic Village and headed north into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Our destination: Barter Island, or Kaktovik. On the ground, we picked up a utility repairman. He travels back and forth to communities on the North Slope, fixing the phone systems, electrical grids, tank farms…the works.
Prudhoe Bay is connected to the road system by the Dalton Highway, which starts about 100 miles north of Fairbanks, stretching 404 miles to the Deadhorse Airport. Lots of mail and freight comes up by truck to the airport, where it’s loaded on to the plane for villages like Nuiqsit and Utqiagvik.
It’s a short flight from Deadhorse to Nuiqsit. On arrival, Eunice the “village agent” comes out to meet us with her pickup to collect the inbound freight and mail.
After off-loading the Nuiqsit freight, Matt had to dig out an extra seat from the belly pod to accommodate the full nine-passenger load between Nuiqsit and Utqiagvik. Our pilot, Scott, got to secure it before passengers re-boarded.
After landing in Utqiagvik, everyone got out and the crew pulled all the seats so the plane was all-freighter. It took about 15 minutes before Scott was all seat to fly on to Wainwright.
I had about 40 hours on the ground in Utqiagvik, during which time I learned more about how freight and passengers move around the Arctic Coast. I spotted lots of migratory ducks and geese. We got take-out from a couple of restaurants (no dine-in yet). And yes…I took a polar plunge. It was “full immersion” so I can legitimately join the “Barrow Beach Club.” I’m still waiting for the t-shirt!
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