Those of you who haven't followed this blog for years may not know that almost every town in Canada is named after an animal, a body of water or both. If you think it isn't, chances are that it is, just in another language. Also members of the Royal Family and European explorers count as animals. Place names in this blog are often not named after the same animals and bodies of water as they are in real life. Our story begins in
I preflighted an airplane that was parked at Antelope airport this morning. It was clean and had all the right parts attached the right way around, but had mysterious scratches on the inside of the pilot's side window. I think there may have been a seat removal incident. (Getting seats in an out of an airplane is sometimes a topological challenge). The side windows I use more for finding the runway than finding traffic, so the scratches aren't a tragic impediment.
I confirmed the fuel load and then filed two IFR flight plans: one from Beaver Bridge to Civet Creet and one from Civet Creek to Duck Ditch. Then I loaded the airplane and flew it on a VFR itinerary (meaning with no flight plan at all, just my company keeping track of where I am) from Antelope to Beaver. I then departed Beaver on the filed IFR flight plan, but before I reached Civet, asked Centre to pull up my subsequent flight plan from Civet to Duck and asked to now intercept that pla, without actually landing at Civet. They were okay with that, so we did it. About three hours after that, we were discussing the relative merits of landing at Elk, Fox and Gopher. The fuel at Elk was by callout only, and this was a holiday weekend. I've never been to Fox, but the CFS makes it seem like a reasonable place, and with no hours given on the fuel service, it must be self-serve. Fuel is self-serve at Gopher, too, but the airport is really remote and kind of an awkward set up. If we go there and something is wrong we won't have the fuel to go anywhere else, and we'll be stuck there until the long weekend is over.
You'll notice that Elk, Fox, and Gopher weren't on the menu this morning. I definitely didn't check NOTAMs for Gopher. I don't like Gopher much. They have dingy hotels and restaurants. But the airport is fine, if you aren't in a hurry for your fuel. I try to call Flight Services. I'm in the flight levels, something like 20,000' and I can't reach Flight Services on any of the surrounding frequencies, in two different FIRs. Usually the flight follower also acts as ground support, but it's a long weekend, and someone is out on compassionate leave, so the flight follower today is the company president, holding a cell phone that we can send satellite texts to, but don't want to disturb just to ask for a NOTAM.
Finally I ask the Centre controller if he can see if there are any NOTAMs for Gopher, for me. He says doesn't have access, and I understand. But a few minutes later he comes back and tells me no NOTAMs for Gopher. I thank him, explaining that we're considering landing there and I really didn't want to spend the rest of the weekend there if there wasn't fuel. He says, "No kidding!" in such a heartfelt way that I suspect he had personal experience with the place. I advise the controller that in five minutes are going to start a descent out of high level airspace, cancel IFR and land at Gopher. Could we please get an appropriate altimeter setting? The field has none, but he finds one not too far away and there is a huge ridge of high pressure, so they should be about the same. He asks me to report through 18,000'.
Through 18,000' I call, but there's no reply. I try again on the back up frequency he gave me--it's common in remote areas for controllers to give you a "if I lose you on this frequency, try me on ___," instruction. I hear another aircraft make a call on this frequency, but when I call to ask for a relay they don't respond. I'm not going back up to make a call that I was told to make below. I suspected this might happen. That's why I told him what I was going to do before starting my descent. I continue down, trusting the controller will figure it out. The CFS says that there is an abandoned aerodrome a mile east from my destination, so I look carefully, trying to spot the old one so I know I've correctly identified the new one. I can only see one, and the one I see doesn't appear to have any pavement markings. I'm about to circle west, but then I see two airplanes and a functional windsock at this one. The pavement markings are very faded, but present.
Once I land I make a quick phone call to let the IFR controllers know I'm down and that I tried to call when they told me to. They seem unconcerned. The fuel pump works, and we use it. Our next leg is VFR and we just advise the flight follower, no flight plan.