Flying Trip of a Lifetime: Anchorage to Johnson Creek and Home

Like many, flying has always been my dream. By some miracle, I have been able to turn that dream into a successful career and hobby. As I passed midlife, suddenly realizing how valuable time is, I thought it time to fill that "bucket" that has loomed in the back of my head for so many years.

My college graduation gift to my son would be to fly a light aircraft from Alaska to Illinois as he was just beginning his career in aviation. That may sound like an awfully gracious gift, but in truth the gift was for me. To spend some 60 hours and two weeks with your 22-year-old son, one on one on a headset, was the blessing of a lifetime.

Finding the right aircraft and the right people to train and guide us through the adventure was our initial goal. After much research and many discussions, we decided that a Super Cub would best fit our mission and our experience level. What experience level, you may ask? My son with 250 hours in general aviation, and me even more handicapped with 28,000 hours of airline experience, and no significant taildragger time!

Fortunately, I have been surrounded by some amazingly talented aviators in my career. Not being one of them, my wife in no way would allow me to build an experimental Cub and then fly it anywhere. I wanted a zero-time, production Super Cub that was equipped with all the certificated modifications to make it an extremely capable bush plane. Listening to my talented aviator friends and asking endless questions led us to Airframes Alaska in Anchorage, a company that specializes in building and rebuilding the venerable Super Cub. We also opted for the Dakota slotted wing mod that in my limited knowledge base brings safety to the next level. Having two sons that would be gaining experience in farm and mountain strips was the driving factor in this decision. What we ended up with was a dream Super Cub that has been a flawless machine.

My son and I were both able to get our tailwheel endorsements back home in both a 1946 J-3 and a 1947 PA-12 by a very experienced aviator and friend. Wanting as much experience as possible, I also opted to get further instruction, and some real Alaskan flying from Steve Williams at ACME Cub on Lake Hood. I decided to visit the "Great Alaskan Gathering" in Anchorage, which immersed me in the bush flying experience. I met and made many great new friends, and received so much firsthand information that was truly invaluable. We decided to plan our return trip to Illinois via the annual Super Cub gathering at Johnson Creek, Idaho, which our friends at had told us so much about. The route we desired to take home was the west side of the Canadian Rockies known as "The Trench."

June finally arrived and our plans began to come together. The aircraft was finished and we were on a United nonstop for Anchorage. Airframes Alaska suggested we put at least 15 hours of time on the aircraft before we left for home. N384RC had less than an hour of flight time in flight test by pioneer bush pilot Terry Holliday at Birchwood Airport. Terry has become a friend and valuable resource in backcountry flying. He thoroughly briefed my son and me on the characteristics of this particular Super Cub, then went back to his hangar and waited to see if we would ground loop our first time around the patch. Fortunately, our preparation paid off and we became credible with Terry. I learned quickly that experienced airline pilots in Super Cubs have a history in Alaska. Our learning curve was steep, and day trips took us to Talkeetna, Seward, Denali, and so many beautiful places I had always dreamed of. What an adventure! We spent our evenings at the "Moose's Tooth" laughing and joking about our experiences that day, bonding as pilots usually do after a day of flying, only this time it was with my son.

With only minor squawks, decent weather and a clean oil filter, our day to depart had finally come. We were able to visit the many outdoor stores in Anchorage and equip our aircraft with all cooking and camping provisions necessary for such a journey. Weight and balance was correct, our flight plan was in, and we were on our first leg to TOK.

I only thought I knew regional weather patterns until I discovered the Gulf of Alaska and the Canadian Yukon. With an altimeter setting of 29.39, ground speeds from 35 to 135 mph, and surface winds at 40 knots, we quickly learned about dynamic backcountry weather. This, along with serious mountain flying, made this truly the best aviation experience of my lifetime. Fortunately, there are endless resources readily available (including 48 gallon fuel tanks) that better prepared us for the long trip. The views we had together in that Cub were spectacular and indescribable as we made our way to McCall, Idaho.

As wonderful and unique as the Alaskan flying experience was for us, Idaho backcountry flying was the highlight of this adventure. So many of us have read about this beautiful, pilot-friendly state, but to live it was a dream. To gain experience with Valdez competitors, like Dennis Wittenberg among others, was truly a gift. Breakfast at Dixie Town, then on to Cabin Creek and Soldier Bar, places I had only heard of, became reality. The people we met along our entire journey eventually back to Illinois were as wonderful as the scenery. So many offered us places to stay, cars, meals, ice cream, and friendship.

I certainly could have invested my time and money in many other conventional, practical ideas. As I look back on last summer, it will remain one of the highlights of my entire life. A dream that is now a reality and an irreplaceable experience for my son and me. Fortunately, I still have another son who is just beginning his flying career as a freshman in college. He and I will also do the Alaskan trip when he graduates. In the meantime, my wife and daughter will keep me busy with weekend trips at the many fly-ins around the country.

As a fellow aviator explained to me early in my decision process of buying this Super Cub, most men my age are constantly searching for their happiness. They sometimes find it in country clubs, fast cars, big boats, etc. None of those worked for me. Most pilots already know where their happiness lies. Just a little more "rationale" for pulling the trigger on this aircraft purchase. Now, with less than eight years remaining in a professional aviation career, this Super Cub will provide much enjoyment and adventure with an entirely new experience in aviation.

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