This is a longer story about three completely different things. Most of the aurora photos are up on my photos page.
I spent Thursday and Friday in Aviation Land and Water Survival School with Learn to Return Survival Training Systems. It was unbelievably informative and invaluable for anyone who may spend a lot of time in the air over Alaska. The main reason that this course is so useful is due to the fact that Alaska is big:
Despite the enormous size of the state, it has about the same amount of road in miles as the state of Vermont. Since that is an incredible amount of search area, it takes a lot longer for emergency personnel to find victims of air crashes. I’ll be flying around a lot for work in a variety of small aircraft so I took this course to help improve my odds of surviving in case something bad were to ever happen.
It’s meaningful when I say I loved this training because I think I have hated every training I have ever had to do. This one managed to stay both interesting and fun for the entire 16 hours I was in it. As it turns out, all those studies that show that students learn better when they are engaged, interested, and having fun are true.
The first morning was spent in the classroom (which was also fun) and in a land ‘crash simulator’, a cockpit and partial fuselage where pilot, copilot and seven passengers would have to get in crash positions before impact, grab as much gear as possible and exit the aircraft under many different scenarios. It started with the easiest scenario and ended with a smoke-filled plane with a simulated cockpit fire and all but one jammed door with injured passengers. Yay! Then we spent the afternoon in the woods learning lots of different winter survival techniques; “Alaska” winter survival techniques. This place is cold.
The second day was the real fun day. We spent the morning in the classroom again. This time getting some hard facts about aircraft crashes in general. As the instructors put it, we got an hour of “good news” (most was not actually good) and an hour of “bad news” (more like two hours). Then we headed to the pool to do the underwater egress training. It turns out that aircraft don’t like to stay right-side up when in the water. So, we have to be prepared to figure out how to exit a variety of submerged aircraft and door styles upside down:
It is actually not as easy to get out when strapped to a seat, locked inside and tossed into a pool as I thought it would be. The tough part for me was remembering the order of things I had to do when upside down holding my breath underwater. In one simulator we had to get out of the seat upside down and pull our way through a 25 foot long tunnel filled with obstacles like airplane seats, bodies, simulated cargo netting and then open the door at the end and escape. Yay! Actually this one wasn’t as bad as it seems when going alone, but became drastically harder when we had 2, 3, 4 and 5 people all trying to get to that door.
On the third “ditching” warning the water comes pretty fast to your face.
It is harder swimming underwater through obstacles with a life jacket on.
The instructors at Learn to Return are all awesome. That being said, we were told that there are people that hate this training. I loved it and would love to do more with them if ever given the opportunity. They offer (I think) 27 different courses including a bear defense training which is pretty popular. If you think you might be doing a lot of backcountry travel in the state of Alaska, you may want to check them out and see if you can get into a course before heading out.
So, two hours after stepping out of the pool I was stepping on the plane to go home to Fairbanks. I am a window seat lover and I had an easterly view the whole way home. Between Anchorage and Fairbanks are two massive mountain ranges, the Chugach and the Alaska Range. I had some great views of the Alaska Range on my way home.
The Alaska Range. The valley cutting the range into north and south sections is the Yanert Valley. The valley turns white and becomes the Yanert Glacier and the big mountain it leads to is Deborah (12339 ft) with Hess behind it (11940 ft). They look really different from this side.
A more familiar sight for Fairbanksans. The Alaska Range from the north (taken from 15,000 ft.). The big ones are (left to right) Mt. Hayes, Hess, and Deborah.
After an uneventful, but beautiful flight where I did not have to test any of my new skills I was back in Fairbanks. Kate picked me up at the airport, we went to get some dinner at the grocery store, and drove home. An hour later I was outside in the driveway taking pictures of our gorgeous night sky!
It was another “it just won’t quit” show. I spent about two hours outside shooting. The aurora was really active and unpredictable.
This was really cool: the main band across the sky broke apart and formed what looked like a whirlpool above my head. It spun for about a minute, getting faster and smaller and then disappeared. After it disappeared the aurora was gone for about 15 minutes.