Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Backcountry Odyssey

A group of Husky Aircraft takes on the rugged Teton Mountains

I had a try at landing the Husky myself, though everything I had been taught flew out the window. I had but a few hours in the airplane, and Stu Horn showed me everything I had been doing wrong. First, he took 10 mph (the Husky's airspeed indicator is in mph instead of knots) off my speed on final. With full flaps, the extraordinarily slow speed makes for a steep approach with no float on the flare. Horn had me plant it on the ground with no illusion of trying to "grease it." Getting the airplane under control and stopped quickly is paramount. "That's how you land a Husky!" said Horn after a decent try on my part. I could see how this could get addicting.

There was more adventure, including grass strips, dirt runways and venturing through various canyons to lunch in Driggs, Idaho. There, our gaggle of Husky aircraft brought out the folks eating at the airport café, with their cameras and smiles. There's just something about a Husky—and five of them is an event.

Horn and his group of pilots taught me about judging the dangers of wind in the mountains, and how to find updrafts and avoid downdrafts. They talked about landing in tiny spaces and the tricky wind conditions that rob you of lift after the tree line, or shove your wing over on a climbout when you're already dangerously low. Intertwined were conversations about flying T-38s, the nuances of landing a P-51, and how a Husky managed to survive a forced landing caused by treacherous downdrafts and saved its occupants, thanks to its great strength.

With every flight, safety and precision was the order of the day. Instead of a loose bunch of fun-loving pilots, I had found a group of pilots with a deep passion for these mountains and for flying within them safely. With every flight, there was a debriefing and discussion about how to fly it better next time. On my last day, as our Husky turned toward the expansive Star Valley back toward Afton, Wyo., each pilot came on the radio to wish us well. I was proud to be able to call these adventurers my friends. I turned on some music and settled into a view of peaks passing behind my shoulder. Sad, but with our obedient and trusty Husky under wing, we headed home.

Husky On Floats: The Best Of Two Worlds

"You know, this whole state is perfect for floatplane operations," says Bill Wiemann, as he points out the built-in float attachments on all Husky aircraft. "It's kind of a best-kept secret, and there aren't too many people doing it, but there are some great floatplane spots near here."

Wiemann is one of the few pilots actively flying floats in the Wyoming backcountry. In his case, he flies Aviat's Husky A-1Cs, equipped with either a 180 hp or a 200 hp engine. Husky aircraft have become a fixture in the backcountry since they first flew in 1985, and their float capability is making them more popular than ever. While states like Florida and Minnesota are still the most popular destinations for floatplanes and seaplanes (floatplanes are land aircraft fitted with floats, while sea planes are essentially flying hulls), Wyoming and Idaho are growing in popularity, as pilots discover their wide variety of pristine backcountry lakes and reservoirs.

Wiemann operates out of Palisades Reservoir in Alpine, Wyo. "The conditions here are ideal during the spring and summer months," he explains, adding that his Husky on floats is a perfect platform for everything from fly-fishing to camping. "Think about the spots you can only reach in a floatplane," he says. That very afternoon, just a few miles from Alpine, we spotted a Husky on the far corner of Palisades, a tent perched next to the bobbing airplane. It was as far from highways and campsites as you can imagine, and showed the possibilities of floats in this rugged state.

"Most pilots can add a floatplane rating easily," says Wiemann. He tells me that most Husky aircraft operate on PK 2250 amphibious floats, made of aluminum, and so light they add only about 295 pounds, once the gear is removed. They're now certified for the Husky, and flight testing is in progress to boost the Husky's gross weight from 2,200 to 2,400 pounds with the PK floats. At full gross, the Husky lifts off the water in seven seconds. Each float also features a 50-pound-capacity, sealed storage compartment for added convenience.

As far as the issues of floatplane operations in these rugged mountains, Wiemann tells me that the usual caveats still apply. "Docking is the most dangerous part, since you have no reverse and no brakes," he explains. "And you don't want to land in water with the gear down, because it will be much worse than landing on asphalt with the gear up!" But pilots can easily learn the skills for water operations in the backcountry. "We go fishing, camping, hunting, and just splash and go if the lake is nice," Wiemann tells me. "Floatplane flying is a heckuva lot of fun."


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