Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Alaska Adventure

With proper planning, a dream trip to the northernmost state is easier than you think

The year was 1867. The price was $7.2 million. The seller was Russia. The prize was Alaska. Several in Washington, D.C., saw it as a boondoggle and called it "Seward's Folly" in honor of then Secretary of State, William Seward, who negotiated the deal to buy 586,412 square miles of what most believed to be worthless wilderness for about two cents an acre. Then, as now, most people have never experienced the grandeur that is Alaska, or they'd have quickly realized it was a bargain.

What pilot hasn't dreamed of climbing into a Piper Cub or a Baron and flying to Alaska? While many do every summer, more pilots are intimidated by the thought of flying across the wilderness and settle for just thinking about it. The reality is, flying to Alaska isn't difficult, it's incredibly rewarding and well within the capabilities of most general aviation airplanes and pilots.

Last June, two friends and I set out on a 10-day trip to Alaska from Mason City, Iowa, in a 1978 Beechcraft Baron B55. Along the way, we encountered everything from corporate jets to fabric-covered homebuilts; we chose the Baron because we had one. Range is typically not an issue, unless the destination is far into the interior. Most routes have an airport every 100 miles, and fuel is seldom more than 200 miles apart.

Planning Your Route
There are three basic routes that lead to, or from, the northernmost state. Milepost 0 of the Alaska-Canada Highway, known as the ALCAN Highway, starts at Dawson Creek in British Columbia and winds its way across the prairie, through the Canadian Rockies, to Fairbanks. The other inland alternative is known as "The Trench." A geological fault line forms a nearly perfectly straight line—literally a trench—from Prince George to Watson Lake, where it joins the ALCAN Highway. It's a 400-plus nm stretch with essentially no civilization or fuel.

The other option is along the Pacific coastline. Coastal communities with airports and fuel are scattered all the way from Anchorage to Bellingham, Wash. The weather can be brutal, and the engine-out options are limited, but it's a breathtaking trip.

The big, wide highway is the simplest and arguably the safest, in fact, it was intended to be utilized as an emergency strip when needed. Our default plan was to travel up the ALCAN Highway and down the coast, utilizing the excellent engine-out performance of the Baron to mitigate the risks of flying along the tree-covered shoreline.


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