The Traveling Polosons
Explorers of the Yukon for three decades
In 1978, Bert and Grace Poloson, both licensed pilots, flew a wheeled Cessna 182 from their Montana home into northern Canada. From the air, they surveyed the expansive scenery and the myriad remote lakes, and they pondered what it would be like if they brought a floatplane on their next trip.
Even the fire-starting supplies that Bert packages are light. “Birch bark and pitch,” he says. “A big bag weighs just an ounce or two, but it burns like oil.”
Although Bert Poloson is an experienced mechanic, he carries no spare parts. “You wouldn’t have what you need,” he asserts, “and parts are heavy.” Interestingly, he does include cautionary items such as pieces of rubber cut from auto tires. “Some of the places we stop have docks. But they’re old and often there are bolts sticking out. I use the tire pieces to cover them, and protect our floats.”
The loaded plane always contains fuel cans, which leads us to the Polosons’ most sternly repeated advice: “You have to know where the fuel is. You have to call ahead. Ignore the guidebooks; they’re out of date. Confirm your fuel sources before you take off.”
In some cases, aviation fuel is available only at a base some miles from the lake. This is where the fuel cans come in handy. Shuttling back and forth with the cans, the plane is slowly refueled. This situation is becoming more common, because environmental considerations are causing many older floatplane refueling stations to close. “There just isn’t enough traffic to justify the cost of rebuilding the stations, so we end up heading inland for fuel,” says Bert.
Fuel availability again brings up the subject of what Grace simply refers to as “patience.” A flight path that encounters heavy headwinds usually necessitates dropping into the nearest suitable lake and camping until the wind dies. “The performance of a floatplane really takes a hit in a headwind,” Grace says. “You burn too much fuel and you don’t make much progress. So don’t fight it, get down out of the air, make camp and go fishing.”
Closed fueling stations also limit access to the higher lakes. “You’ve got to go in light,” Bert cautions about visiting high-altitude locations, “and then you’re not going to have enough fuel to get to the next refill. So, many high lakes have become inaccessible.”
Bert and Grace’s years of flying in Canada have instilled them with many valuable lessons, and the couple is happy to share their knowledge with others. They actively support the British Columbia Seaplane Pilot’s Association, and pilots who are planning trips to the North Country often call the Polosons for guidance.
“You have to realize that all lakes and rivers can be hazardous,” Bert advises. “So when you prepare to land, you must first overfly the water and look for rocks, logs, sandbars. And from the air, you plan where you’re going to put the airplane once you land. A lovely, calm lake can turn nasty when the wind comes up, and unless you’ve figured out a way to shelter your plane from the wind and the waves, it can be blown up against rocks and destroyed. Watch out for standing dead trees, they can blow over and land on your plane.”
Bert also emphasizes another harsh reality—a pilot must be prepared to fly a mechanically impaired aircraft. “We’ve had alternator failures, which means you’ve got no working electric starter. Fine, you hand-prop the plane. This is where a three-bladed prop is valuable,” he advises. “You’re standing on the floats trying to grab the prop, and with a two-bladed prop you often can’t reach it unless you’re a professional basketball player.”