Plane & Pilot
Thursday, December 11, 2008

Entering A New Era

My first use of advanced avionics in the backcountry

­finfIt was one of those cool fall mornings with low, scudding clouds. The kind where you keep blowing on cold, damp hands while loading the airplane and glancing occasionally at the leaden skies, the north country’s harbinger of imminent seasonal change.

It was also the last run to my friend Gary’s waterside cabin retreat before close up; a chance to harass some lake trout and scout a bit of the surrounding territory. Moose browsed slowly in shallow bays and local black bears fattened up for their winter dens. (Young boars tend to just flop down in the nearest swamp and lay there till spring. You can find them if you look.)

Another pilot friend had flown up in his new Found Bush Hawk XP on Aerocet amphib floats, and we’d all spent several days lake hopping together. Gradually, however, the trout had become wise to our baits of shiny metal and hooks, and when the fish stopped biting altogether, it was time to leave. We packed up our gear and left the cabin, emptying it of laughter and the noise of pans clattering in the kitchen. (The smell of elk steaks, eggs and coffee would linger on for a few days.) Before departure, Gary was over at his Cessna 206, pushing the last guy in and untying from the old boom log. (This log has been in the water for more than 100 years and was once chained to others as a floating corral for moving log rafts down the lakes to the mills.) I was graciously being allowed to fly the Found on this leg. After pumping the floats and taking yet another squinting look up at the gloom, I cast loose from the dock and jumped aboard.

In restricted waters, I’ve found that a loaded amphibious Bush Hawk can be an adventure to get airborne, unless you know its specific techniques. Gary’s lake is 40,000 acres in size, however, and nothing special was called for. The 28-volt system had the IO-540 turning over like a turbine (don’t ever leave the master on!), and we were soon motoring out of the harbor, the Cessna just ahead. Gary rounded the point, poured the coals to his bird and was off, headed south toward home and responsibility. I followed suit shortly thereafter and joined up off his right wing.

Now, for the first time, scudding along in the dreary grey, it really hit home how useful the new generation of cockpit resources can be. Droning along over the endless lakes, granite and forests, it became apparent we weren’t going to find a way to breach the wall of weather that had formed and lay solidly across the path. The Found’s Garmin MX20 satellite weather display was showing a solid line of rain and murk that lay off our left wings as we took up a new heading and looked for an opening. Soon after, the Cessna peeled off toward what looked like a way through, but a quick reference to the satellite weather display showed it was merely a sucker hole that closed up not far in. How far did this wall extend? Zooming out the display revealed a genuine opening approximately 40 miles ahead.

One of the joys of flying the northern lakes on floats is the ability to land almost anywhere and then decide upon a plan of action. Accordingly, the full-throated song of the big block sixes was muted, and both aircraft settled gently on the water to contemplate the dark spruce forest while the weather system passed into the east.

With a few more button presses, we were finally looking good to go. An expectant glance at the Cessna, however, revealed that it was drifting quietly toward shore, battery dead. We step taxied to a small fishing camp that had been spotted up the lake, then tumbled into a 16-foot boat with a 6 hp Evinrude, racing the wind back while rigging up a rescue sling with docking ropes. The horrors of a lee shore averted, the 206 was slowly towed to the camp and put on a charger. Soon, we were winging away for home as the day turned bright, with sun-dappled green and blue colors below us.   

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