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December links

St. Paul Airlines Charter Flights  ~  December 2007

Diamonds, oil sand, the Aleutian Islands in winter, an active volcano, and an emergency air drop.



ACE Air Cargo is a real-world air service based in Anchorage,  flying “rural routes” in Beech 1900Cs.  They have a great web site. http://www.aceaircargo.com/index.html  They also appear to be accepting resumes from pilots.



This seems all wrong! These are the darkest days of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, and any self-respecting charter pilot should be flying south, not north!  But we’ve been hired to transport replacement personnel and supplies to northern Canada.  There’s some Big Stuff going on up there, although we don’t hear much about it here in the States.  First off, there’s a lot of oil up there.  An exploding “synthetic crude” industry extracts oil from vast oil sand deposits in Alberta, and they’re prospering from rising world oil prices.  Secondly, and even further north, diamond mines are suddenly the rage in the Northwest Territories.  Everyone who’s watched the “Ice Road Truckers” series on cable TV knows at least part of this story.   After that,  we’re heading west to Anchorage, and out onto the Aleutian Islands. 


Especially for new pilots….

As usual, I’ve shamelessly borrowed a lot of stuff from internet sources in writing up this charter.  Hopefully this will give you some sense of the places we’re flying to, and they’ll be more than just symbols on the sectional.  The first legs of this charter are intended to be flown using medium-sized jets, such as the 737-300 or MD-87.  Beyond PANC Anchorage, real-world carriers favor turbo props like the 1900D or Saab 340, and low-altitude air routes are the rule beyond Anchorage.  You are–as always--perfectly free to fly any aircraft you like, in or out of our SPA fleet and regardless of your rank.  Some of these legs are rather long.  There’s nothing wrong with breaking them up into shorter hops or flying them in multiple sessions.  But please don’t fly them at “warp speed” using time acceleration.  This is strictly against the SPA rules.  If you don’t use FSACARS, please be as accurate as possible on your PIREPs regarding fuel consumption. 


Flight number format is:  9OLDIES


For routing I used FS9’s default navigation, and I’ve included the best links to airport information I can find.  You can check www.simroutes.com, too, or try Vroutes.


First we’re headed for Fort McMurray, Alberta and the heart of the oil boom, to deliver a chemist and a pallet of the latest lab equipment.  (Note that FS flight planner spells this as “Ft McMurray:”)  This is an uncontrolled airport which is very busy at times.  Not the longest runway, either, but you can slip a 737 freighter in here with no problem if you’re careful. 


Then we’re off to Yellowknife, NW Territory, and the diamond boom.  Yellowknife has had a boom-or-bust history, and it was on the skids until diamonds came along.  Now its stock is hot again.  A few years ago a couple goofy geologists convinced themselves that there had to be diamonds up here.  Nobody had ever found one, but these boys where convinced, based on the local geology and what they knew about diamond formation.  It took a few years of searching, but they found diamonds big-time!  The mines are all very remote.  Heavy loads have to be trucked to the mines via the “Ice Road”.  We’re going to lay over here for a couple of days, and if you’d like to moonlight with air taxi flights, you can see some of the countryside. 


We’ve also got some freight for Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.   Whitehorse has a rich history, although it’s a bit hard to understand what keeps it going today.  There’s some tourist traffic in summer, and the main industry is its being the capitol of the Yukon Territory.  It’s also designated as an emergency alternate landing site for NASA space shuttle flights, and sometimes serves the same purpose for east-bound trans-Pacific flights from Asia.  Here we pick up two passengers and some human remains, all bound for the Lower 48 via Anchorage, PANC. 


We’re handed cargo runs to Sand Point and Cold Harbor in the Aleutians.  Seems the normal carriers are having difficulties of one sort or another, and the grocery stores are down to weenies and beans.  Then we have an emergency air drop for a USGS team camped out on a volcano, Mount Cleveland, at the far end of the Aleutians.


Here’s the short version of the charter:








Ft McMurray CYMM

1006 nm



Yellowknife CYZF

370 nm



Whitehorse CYXY

633 nm



Stevens Anchorage PANC

443 nm



Sand Point AK PASD

492 nm



Cold Bay AK PACD

76 nm



Round trip  via Mt Cleveland

est 600 nm



For the first four legs, I’m setting up shop here.  (737-300)



SPC 71201    Leg 1 – KMSP to Fort McMurray, Alberta CYMM  Elevation 1211’ / longest runway 5984’

Approach charts at:  http://charts.ivao.ca/CAP3/CYMM.pdf


CYMM -- Uncontrolled, and reportedly rather busy.  Watch out!


Aerial view of Fort McMurray, showing the Grant MacEwan bridge over the Athabasca River.

Aerial view of Fort McMurray, showing the Grant MacEwan bridge over the Athabasca River.

Why Fort McMurray?  Maybe the map will help.  Also see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athabasca_Tar_Sands


Image:Athabasca Oil Sands map.png





Hot water is used to extract bitumen from the oil sand. It is then upgraded to produce “synthetic’ crude oil and other petroleum products. This is done by removing carbon and adding hydrogen to remove impurities such as nitrogen and sulphur. The upgraded product is called “synthetic” because it is altered from its naturally occurring state (bitumen) by a chemical process. Synthetic crude oil is not the same as synthetic oil for vehicles. Synthetic crude oil is very similar to conventional oil, there is just more work involved in upgrading the bitumen.


Canada uses oil at the highest per capita rate in the world, with a consumption rate of 1.6 million barrels per day. A family of four consumes an average of 92 barrels of oil per year. Canada is a large country with a cold climate, requiring large quantities of energy for transportation and heating. Two tons of oil sand are needed to produce one barrel of upgraded synthetic crude oil. The synthetic crude oil leaves Fort McMurray by pipeline traveling at 5 km/hr (the rate of a brisk walk). It takes approximately 3 days for synthetic crude to travel from Fort McMurray to refineries in Edmonton via pipeline. It takes 21 days for oil to travel by pipeline from Edmonton to Toronto.


SPC 71202    Leg 2 – CYMM to Yellowknife CYZF   el 675’ / 7408’

Airport info:  http://charts.ivao.ca/CAP1/CYZF.pdf


More airport info:



Great Slave Lake

That inland sea you suddenly found yourself flying over as you came in from Ft. McMurray was Great Slave Lake, the deepest lake in North America and the ninth-largest in the world.  See:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Slave_Lake  It’s drained by the Mackenzie River. Though the western shore is forested, the east shore and northern arm are tundra-like. The southern and eastern shores reach the edge of the Canadian Shield. Along with other lakes such as the Great Bear and Athabasca, it is a remnant of a vast post-glacial lake.  The East Arm of Great Slave Lake is filled with islands. The Pethei Peninsula separates the East Arm into McLeod Bay in the North and Christie Bay in the south. The only community in the East Arm is Lutselk'e, a hamlet of about 350 people.

On January 24th, 1978, a Soviet Radar Ocean Reconnaissance Satellite named Cosmos 954, built with an on-board nuclear reactor, fell from orbit and landed in the lake. With all the ice and snow on the lake the satellite exploded on impact causing its nuclear fuel to fall over the area. The nuclear fuel was picked up by a group called Operation Morning Light formed with both American and Canadian members.[1]

Graywacke Rock Formations  Sedimentary rock formations on Blanchet Island in Great Slave Lake, NWT. These strata were laid down beneath ancient seas (courtesy Ron Redfern, Random House Inc).

East Arm. Photo: Dave Kay

East Arm of GSL photo by Dave Kay


For more on Yellowknife, see:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowknife,_Northwest_Territories


Canada's diamond rush

Last Updated September 20, 2007

CBC News

There was the gold rush in the late-19th century in the Yukon when tens of thousands of stampeders headed north to Dawson City to make their fortunes. Now it's diamonds, first in the Northwest Territories, now in the new territory of Nunavut. From a standing start in 1991, Canada now ranks in the top three diamond producers in the world in terms of value.

Canada's quest for diamonds looks like one of the biggest stories in Canada for the next 10, 20 years – and beyond. The first diamond discovery in 1991 happened at Point Lake near Lac de Gras in the Northwest Territories, some 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife. Two diamond mines have since come into production in the area:

  • The Ekati, about 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife, opened in 1998. Ekati is owned by Australian mining conglomerate BHP Billiton (80 per cent) and by prospectors Charles Fipke and Stewart Blusson (20 per cent).
  • The Diavik, about 100 kilometres southeast of Ekati, opened in 2003. Diavik is owned by Diavik Diamond Mines Inc. (60 per cent), a Yellowknife-based subsidiary of Britain's Rio Tinto PLC and Toronto-based Aber Diamond Corp. (40 per cent).

Canada's third and Nunavut's first diamond mine, Jericho, is about 400 km northeast of Yellowknife. The mine, owned by the Toronto-based Tahera Diamond Corporation, officially opened in August 2006.

A fourth diamond mine, Snap Lake-4 in the Northwest Territories about 220 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife, is expected to begin production in late 2007. It is owned by De Beers.

Statistics Canada says that between 1998 and 2002, 13.8 million carats have been mined, and the diamonds – precious stones of pure carbon – are worth $2.8 billion. "This is roughly a 1.5-kilogram bag of ice each day for five years, with each bag worth $1.5 million," a Statistics Canada paper says.

Even better, Canada's diamonds have gained a world reputation for quality. They are also "clean" in that they are not used to finance terror, war and weapons as they are in parts of the world such as Sierra Leone and Angola. At the end of 2003, Canada was the world's third-largest producer of diamonds, providing 15 per cent of the world's supply. The top two diamond producers are Botswana and Russia.

Canadian diamonds not only are clean, as in not being "dirty diamonds" or "blood diamonds," they are actually rather wholesome-looking, each etched with a speck of polar bear as a trademark. They're also fashionable, as when Canadian teen singer Avril Lavigne attended the MTV Awards in New York in 2003, wearing $50,000 worth of Canadian diamonds.

The supply of Canadian diamonds is not expected to diminish any time soon. Ekati, Diavik, Jericho and Snap Lake are expected to keep producing the best diamonds in the world for the next 18 years. By then, of course, judging by the prospecting, claims and permit action in the Canadian North, more diamond mines will have come on line, probably lots more.

The intense diamond activity produces more than diamonds. Many ancillary activities spin off the diamond action, such as non-residential construction, transportation in the North, as well as Arctic and sub-Arctic engineering projects. No other pursuits – not gold, not pipelines – promise more long-term excitement and riches than the production of diamonds in the vast expanse of the Canadian North.

This means high-income jobs, many of them permanent, not just smash-and-grab projects. Workers directly involved in diamond mining in the North increased from 90 to 700 between 1998 and 2001. Recent figures say diamond-jobs are nearing 2,000 in early 2004.

The average salary is about $63,000, with nearly a third of the jobs – in some regions, nearly 80 per cent – done by aboriginals. Trained diamond cutters – many in Canada from Armenia, Israel, China and Vietnam – command salaries above $100,000.

A Globe and Mail report in February 2004 referred to "a new wave of diamond lust" in the Canadian Arctic, reporting that prospecting companies have laid claim to more than 70 million acres in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The newspaper said the most dramatic increase in diamond action is in Nunavut, where the number of prospecting permits jumped to 1,518 in 2004 from 190 in 2003.

The lure of diamonds has ignited a boom that is the talk across the North. Skilled tradesmen are in short supply in places such as Yellowknife, as top tradesmen are hired away to work at diamond mines. The ripple effect has resulted in hikes to an already high cost of living, with low vacancy rates and high rents. A basement apartment in Yellowknife can fetch $1,500 a month.

Yellowknife Mayor Dave Lowell said in 1998 that the diamond rush might have saved Yellowknife. "Quite simply, it is our future," Lowell said. "We'd be going into quite a recession if it wasn't for the diamond mine."

Beginning on Dec. 1, 2003, companies had a month to apply for prospecting permits. There were long, round-the-clock line-ups at offices in Yellowknife and Iqaluit. It costs about 10 cents an acre to register a claim, $1.50 to $2 an acre to stake a claim. With 70 million acres involved, this could add up quickly. To speed things up, especially in the brief periods of daylight in winter, some claim stakes have been dropped from helicopters.



SPC 71203   Leg 3 – CYZF to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory CYXY  el 2317’ / 9480’




A better history link:



Whitehorse in 2002.


SPC 71204   Leg 4 – CYXY to Stevens Anchorage PANC    152’ / 11,584’

I know…Ho-hum…Another flight to Anchorage.  Sorry gents, but it just seems to be on the way to 50 percent of everywhere! 


Aerial photo of PANC (Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport)

Airport info at:  http://www.airnav.com/airport/PANC



Flying the Aleutians



Another great choice: This is Milton Shupe’s Dash 7-100—an FS9 freebie from AVSIM.  This is the Air Greenland livery, and the planes are used extensively by that carrier. These days they write their name in English, however.




World War II forced the American military to learn the Aleutians--how to conduct operations there and how to fly there. This booklet was written by a navy meteorologist who knew them well, to help pilots cope with some of the worst flying weather in North America, if not the world. 

This entire historic document is available in PDF format at:




by Jill Smith…


My long flying day was coming to a close. I was flying over Cold Bay Alaska, my home base, with a plane load full of eight Dutch Harbor high school boys and their coach. I was flying a Piper Navajo Chieftain which is a ten seat airplane with two 350 horsepower turbo-charged engines, equipped with prop and windshield heat to remove and/or prevent ice and de-ice boots.

As I crossed Cold Bay, I called my base on our company frequency to check the weather. I spoke to Jamie, our station manager, head dispatcher and my housemate in our company-shared housing. She was staying at the office because I was still out on this flight. I was on my way from Dutch Harbor, Unalaska (in the Aleutian Islands) to Sand Point (on Popof Island in the North Pacific ocean) to deliver these boys for a basketball game the next morning. Jamie informed me that Sand Point was clear and good visibility with freezing temperatures at the surface, not surprising as it was wintertime. Ah, that was good news. It was also beautiful at Cold Bay. I could see for miles.

 … As I am descending through the clouds, I check on the ASOS at Sand Point. It says 4800 feet broken. No problem—my first altitude I'm descending to is 4300 feet, so I should be clear and be able to make a visual approach. As I'm descending through the clouds, it is getting darker out and I use my wing light to check for ice buildup. Yup, there is some, about a quarter inch. Wow.

No problem, I hit the de-ice boots and look again. Nothing happened. The boots didn't inflate. I hit the de-ice boot switch a second time as I'm watching. Again nothing happens. Hmm…I don't like this. It's time to be out of this ice. I expedite my descent and level off at 4300 feet. Unfortunately, I'm still in the clouds. I proceed to the initial approach fix (IAF) and then turn outbound to go to the procedure turn (there aren't any radar services out on the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutians at low altitudes, so you have to always do the full approach with the procedure turn). Now I can descend to 4000 feet until I'm five miles outbound from the IAF. I get to my altitude and I'm still in the clouds. Great. The ice is still there but thankfully not building as fast. I hit the five mile point heading for the procedure turn and now descend to 3000 feet. I'm still in the clouds—disbelief is setting in. Oh, man… I turn inbound now. Down to 1900 feet and still in the clouds. What is going on here?! It was supposed to be clear and then only 4800 feet broken! At the five-mile mark inbound, I start down to minimums—940 feet. I don't believe this. I'm not clear of the clouds yet and now I'm at minimums. Keep going to the missed approach point, maybe the airport is clear. As I'm flying along, I listen to ASOS again—thankfully the number two comm radio is already set to that frequency. Ceiling 900 feet! How did that happen? Missed approach point—I don't see anything—get out of there!

by Jill Smith, as published at:  http://www.montereybay99s.org/jsmith.html   Go to the web site and read this entire account, plus a few others about Jill’s Alaska flying. 


SPC 71205   Leg 5 –PANC to Sand Point PASD   el 21’ / 5213’

No ILS.  VFR conditions average 3 hrs per year.

Airport Info:  http://www.airnav.com/airport/PASD


Info about Sand Point:  http://www.answers.com/topic/sand-point-alaska   and   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sand_Point,_Alaska


And this is pretty interesting, although it has nothing to do with our charter:  http://www.sailwx.info/shiptrack/shiplocations.phtml?lat=55.33670&lon=-160.50170&radius=500


Passenger air service in these parts is provided by PenAir, formerly Peninsula Airways.  They have an interesting fleet, including a Goose and two Saab 340s. Fleet photos and info at:  http://www.penair.com/index.htm


Sand Point in winter


Sand Dollar Beach in Sand Point, Alaska.



SPC 71206   Leg 6 – PASD to Cold Bay PACD  el 96’ / 10,415’

Airport information:  http://www.airnav.com/airport/PACD

Aerial photo of PACD (Cold Bay Airport)


More on Cold Bay:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_Bay


Photos from Cold Bay.  The building below is the city hall & library.


And if all this isn’t depressing enough…




Now the tough part of this charter…

SPC 71207   Leg 7 –PACD and back again!   el 96’ / 10,415’

Ash plume from Mount Cleveland (May 23, 2006), photographed by Jeffrey Williams onboard the International Space Station. Williams was first to notice the eruption, even before the Alaskan Volcano Observatory. Also note the fog bank on the north side of the island.

Image:MtCleveland ISS013-E-24184.jpg

There’s now a U.S. Geological Survey team camped out at Mt. Cleveland, taking measurements and sunbathing.  They’re having a great time, but have run low on beer and Kingsford charcoal and desperately need an air drop.  Our job is to find Mt. Cleveland, find their camp, and push some crates out the door at the right time. This will all be pretty easy if the weather’s good, which it probably won’t be. 


Here’s the preflight briefing:


Take off from Cold Bay and fly to Nikolski IKO.  (GPS routing only in FS9.)  Over-fly IKO, then come to heading 255 deg. and descend to 6,000 ft.  Mt. Cleveland will show up on your GPS using the 35 mile range.  The image below is from Google Earth.  The airport icon at the far right is Nikolski IKO. Use this image and the photos that follow to locate the drop area. The pin and NASA icon show the eruption site.  The survey team is camped on a low saddle of land between the island’s primary summit and the eruption site.  Exact GPS coordinates for the volcano are: 52*49’24”N, 169*56’51”W.   


Once you’ve located Mt. Cleveland and the base camp, make your drop flying as low and slow as possible.  This means heading into the wind if you can.  Once the drop is complete, return to Cold Bay. 



More than you may want to know…

See these links:




Mount Cleveland is an active stratovolcano that forms the western half of Chuginadak Island in the central Aleutian Islands of Alaska. The Alaska Volcano Observatory currently lists Cleveland as Aviation Color Code ORANGE and Volcanic-Alert Level Advisory, meaning a small ash eruption is expected or underway, with the ash plume(s) not expected to rise above 25,000ft above sea level. This symmetrical volcano is one of the most active of the volcanoes in the Aleutians and has been the site of numerous eruptions in the last two centuries; the most recent eruption occurred in 2005, although it has spewed numerous clouds of ash since then, most recently on August 24, 2006. In 1944, a U.S. Army serviceman was reportedly killed by an eruption from Mount Cleveland, the only known eruption-related fatality in the Aleutian Islands. … At an elevation of 1,730 m (5,676 ft.), this volcano is the highest in the Islands of Four Mountains group. Carlisle Island to the north-northwest, another stratovolcano, is also part of this group. Magma that feeds eruptions of ash and lava from Mount Cleveland is generated by the northwestward movement of the Pacific Plate beneath the North American Plate.

Approaching the Islands of Four Mountains.  Will the real volcano please belch?


The survey team’s base camp is in the saddle below the active volcano, which actually looks pretty tame here. .

Lining up for the drop.  Flaps at 66%, 110 KIAS.

Over the drop area but too high. We don’t want the burger patties and brots going into the surf.

The copilot went aft to push stuff out the door. I haven’t seen him since.

Heading home.


That’s it, cowboys!  I hope you all enjoyed yourselves and found a few challenges along the way.  Happy holidays, and see you in January! (We may be starting from Cold Bay then.)

-         Rev. Gwen Brogmus SPA  270





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