Well, on December 28th I was lucky enough to take up a fam flight that is offered to the employees of Air North. Basically you go somewhere and back in the jumpseat, so you can be a little more familiar with how things work.
I asked to do the North sked, but it was tricky as there was no north flights over christmas so they were pretty full as it was. I got lucky, and several phone calls and emails later I got the call around 21.00 saying to be at the hangar for 07.00 the next morning.
So that morning I arrived at the hangar about 10 minutes to 7 on a cold (about -25) but clear morning, and went inside to meet up with the excellent crew for the day (Captain, first officer, and flight attendant). Before long we were in the Hawker hangar looking over our aircraft for the day. It was C-FAGI, which was great because it was a rather cold day all around and its been said that AGI has the best heaters of all the aircraft in the fleet. AGI is a Hawker Siddeley 748 series 2A, manufactured way back in 1971. It came to Air North in the mid 90s along with two other HS748s to replace the aging fleet of DC-3s and a DC-4. Although they are old and loud, the HS748s are tough little planes, and the pilot himself said "these planes are just awesome for the cargo they can take". Departing Whitehorse we had a full load of 40 passengers, mountains of large, heavy, and extra luggage, two dogs, a cat, and the forward and aft cargo areas easily swallowed it all.
Our trip for the day was Air North flight 307 and 308, better known as "the north sked". The routing was YXY-YDA-YOC-YEV-YDA-YXY, departing at 0800 and arriving back in Whitehorse around 1630. I had the best seat on the plane for the entire day, the jumpseat. I say the best because a) I was right in with the action, b) I had a full 180 degree view, and c) the way the flight deck is designed the jumpseater is literally sitting right on top of the heater. Forecast for the day was to be a mix of sun and cloud for YXY, YDA, and YOC, and mostly sunny in YEV. Temperatures ranged from Whitehorse being the warmest at -18c, and Old Crow being the coldest at -36c.
We hopped aboard and towed down to the terminal on time, but were about 40 minutes late departing YXY, mainly due to check-in closing the flight late, some confusion over passenger numbers, and the last minute loading of a dog. It didn't feel late though, due to the YVR-bound 737 parked at the gate next to us also being about 30 minutes behind schedule. But before long the "screaming Hawker" was fired up and we were on our way to 31L, where we turned around and soared off into great white north. Unfortunately the last minute dog decided that takeoff would be a convenient time to produce some nice organic smells in its cage, and it's a little hard to hold ones breath all the way to Dawson. Other than that the flight was beautiful as the sunrise chased us north, and before I knew it the hour was up and we were descending into Dawson City.
The approach from the south was something else, as you basically fly barely over one mountain, come straight at another, and then do a sharp 270 degree turn just before you hit, and then come down between the two and onto Dawson City's 5000 foot gravel runway. We pulled up in front of the small terminal building, where the co-pilot refueled, the captain and the lone Dawson employee did the bags and cargo, and me and the flight attendant did the passengers. It was a short turn, and within 15 minutes we were back onboard screaming down the runway and we were off to Old Crow. This flight was also a little over an hour, and was pretty uneventful. It was beautiful though as being this far north and going north all morning and south all afternoon, the day is basically a permanent state of sunrise/sunset, my favourite times of the day. Old Crow was probably the highlight of the day, as it's the most isolated stop, and the only one I've never been to before. Old Crow is a small town of about 300 people, mostly members of the Vuntut Gwitchin first nation (which happen to own 49% of Air North). Their main source of food/clothing/etc other than our flights from the south is the porcupine caribou heard.
As we landed the pilot pointed out that the entire small terminal building, a long with a couple other buildings, were 100% brought up there on our Hawkers. Typical of the far north, where pretty much everything has to come by plane. There are no roads in and out of Old Crow, and the nearest town is about 45 minutes by plane. Not much to see as the town is basically an airport and some houses etc, but still cool to see. Another quick turn similar to the one in Dawson with a single employee aided by me and the flight crew, and off we were for Inuvik, NWT, the only stop of the day not in the Yukon territory. This was the shortest flight of the day, only taking about 45 minutes. The only real action on this leg was a period when we were in almost constant radio contact with an Aklak Air flight going the same route opposite direction. There is no radar or anything up there, so it was up to the pilots to ensure we weren't going to go boom. They knew what they were doing though, and before long we spotted the King Air about a thousand feet above us and a little to the south, just as they had planned.
After touching down on Inuvik's paved runway, we pulled up to the small terminal and the pilots went about getting fuel and heating up their lunches, while I helped the flight attendant get some numbers from the First Air office and top up the coffee and hot water tins from our galley. As we were doing this a First Air 737-200 with the aurora borealis tail had landed and parked next to us. I snapped some photos and back on the plane we went. We had to wait a couple minutes for a Cessna Caravan to land, and then we were off into the setting sun. Our fourth leg of the day was the longest, taking around an hour and a half. We did have a great lunch though, thanks to the wonderful kitchen back at YXY. We were finally heading back south again, for our second stop in Dawson City. This was yet another beautiful flight, flying into the sunset the entire way, and passing directly over tombstone mountain before descending into Dawson City from the North.
This approach wasn't as exciting as the one from the south, but still interesting. Due to a mountain at the end of the runway, you have to come in on an angle and turn right before the runway. Another very short turnaround, basically just traded a few bags with the Dawson dude, topped up the fuel, took on a couple passengers and a dog, and off we were into the setting sun. The flight back to Whitehorse was a nice ride into the setting sun, before passing over Lake Laberge and descending into YXY. A little light turbulence on final approach, our only turbulence of the day really. It had warmed up to -18c by this time, compared to about -25c when we left in the morning. We arrived about 16.30, unloaded at the terminal, and were towed back up to the hangar. During the ride I helped the flight attendant collect some garbage and fold seatbelts in the 40 seat cabin, which was a little messy after a long day of flying, where the lightest load of the day was 36 passengers.
Overall it was an excellent trip. Nothing like spending a day on a great aircraft, with a highly skilled crew, flying in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. There is something special about flying in the north, especially the attitude of the people. There's no such thing as "that's not my job" or "I don't get paid enough for that". It's simply show up with a smile and give er on whatever needs doing. Not uncommon at all to see the flight attendant doing the boarding call, while the captain loads bags, while the co-pilot fuels the plane, and have a 40 seat plane turned in a little over 10 minutes. Everyone was super-friendly as well, and sitting in the jumpseat I couldn't have asked for better pilots to be riding along with.
Thanks Air North, for a wonderful trip that won't be forgotten!