Adventure Time in the Arrow: Air Tour of Fairbanks

I tagged along on another flight after my lesson today. My hour-building friend only had time to fly a semicircle around the Fairbanks area, but that is fine by me as I hadn’t seen the area from the air at all.

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Fairbanks, Alaska. Oh hey, you can see the running track.

We went north from the airport and I got my first good view of UAF and its trails from the air. We passed it so quickly! I remember it took me 3 hours to cross country ski the loop around the trail boundaries…arrr šŸ˜€

University of Alaska Fairbanks
University of Alaska Fairbanks

Next point, northeast of Fairbanks: Fort Knox mine. It’s an open pit mining operation and is one of the largest gold producing areas in the state. I believe the pit about a mile deep – woah.

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Partially frozen reservoir for the mine
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Approaching the open pit mine, Fort Knox
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Ooo, water at the bottom of the mine. And tiny, tiny trucks going down the spiral šŸ˜€

We continued northeast to UAF’s Poker Flat Research/Rocket Range, Chatanika Lodge, and the burned out Chatanika gold dredge (a historic relic; 1928 boat structure that was ‘accidentally’ set on fire earlier this summer). I’d been to all the buildings of Poker Flat before, and it was really cool being able to list what was housed in each building. I also saw Poker Flat’s radar facility for the first time (on the ground, my view of it is usually obscured by terrain).

Gold mining dredge in Chatanika, Alaska; prefire [wikipedia]
Chatanika dredge, October 21 2013 [http://www.flickr.com/photos/musubk]
Chatanika dredge, October 21 2013 [http://www.flickr.com/photos/musubk]

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See the cluster of buildings (Chatnika Lodge)? The dredge is across the road, located where that waterway splits in two
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Poker Flat Research Range – this is a great view of the lower buildings (and the incoherent scatter radar! – lower right whitish panel)
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Poker Flat – lidar building (think ‘laser radar’ – you can actually see the green laser beam at night šŸ™‚ )
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Poker Flat – aurora observing room (and the sky cameras) are down there
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The upper buildings of Poker Flat (lidar & aurora)

Onwards: southwest to Minto Flats (directly west of Fairbanks): a wide open space with lots of (partially frozen) lakes/streams. Gorgeous view of the Alaska Range (south of Fairbanks).

Looking south of Fairbanks, Alaska towards the Alaska Range
Looking south of Fairbanks, Alaska towards the Alaska Range

Minto Flats is a good winter hunting spot and we flew around looking for moose. I must be bad luck because we didn’t see any animals. I saw a handful of standalone houses on some islands and it was truly picturesque. It would be spectacular to live there – remote, on the water, and remarkably beautiful.

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Minto Flats: so many ponds!
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Minto Flats: we thought we saw a moose in the water! but it was just a rock.

Lastly: Nenana (town ~60 miles southwest of Fairbanks). I’ve only ever driven through here on my way to Denali National Park. There was a ~30knot crosswind on their runway so no landing. It’s okay though – a lot of my cross country flights will be to this airport, I’ll see it again.

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Nenana, AK
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The bridges by Nenana, AK

Back to Fairbanks: We saw lots of clouds south of town – so strange how ‘suddenly’ the sky can shift from clear to overcast (stationary clouds but look at how sharply the clouds start!).

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So fluffy!
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Some mountain peak south of Fairbanks

Got to go straight in to land on runway 2R. From our perspective, there was a fog bank just over the Tanana River (river path separates Nenana and Fairbanks), obscuring the airport until we were 5 miles out. My pilot knew where to look (of course) but I’m still having trouble recognizing the airport against the terrain. Fortunately, I realized today that the airport float pond is a large recognizable shiny area. šŸ˜‰

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Fairbanks Airport – Cloud bank over the Tanana River obscured the runways until we were really close
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Back at Fairbanks, 2R

I love that planes that are so much faster than cars (especially the Piper Arrow). Nenana, Fairbanks, and Poker Flat are laid out on approximately a straight line (southwest to northeast). It would take about 2 hours to drive to these 3 places. This afternoon’s flight was 1.5 hours – plus we got to circle the mine a few times and search for moose over Minto Flats.

I’ve noticed a remarkable improvement in my recognition of what people are saying (approach/departure control, tower, ground). Lots of heavy aircraft being vectored in to Eielson base today! It was non-stop chatter – so amazed at what air traffic controllers are able to do with a radar.

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