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Early Lessons From the Yukon by Mike Bellamy, Helicopter Pilot The hard work and studying had finally paid off and I realized a life long dream. In 1970 renting aircraft from Ed Philip’s Globe Air Services of Whitehorse I completed my flight test to become a Commercial Fixed Wing Pilot. By January of 1971 I was flying out of Ross River under the employ of John Rolls, founder of Territorial Airways and his rotary wing cohort Dirk Zutter. Ross River had one general store and a hotel under construction called the Welcome Inn. I managed to purchase a residential lot one block from the main street, but too far out for telephone service and made arrangements to have a mobile home trucked in from Whitehorse. Being a neophyte and flying for Territorial Airways you experienced first hand the glamorous life of a bushpilot from cleaning toilets to painting all manner of structures. When that was done you were rewarded by actually being allowed to fly and earn some revenue. The airstrip was gravel and a short distance out of town. During the winter aircraft were routinely taxied from the airstrip, down the mainstreet and into town were they could be plugged in during the long cold nights. It was on one of my very first trips that I learned about overflow, where water creeps over solid ice and insulated by deep snow does not freeze. I had learned how to skim the skis of an airplane across the lake without actually stopping. Then taking off again to survey my tracks looking for the telltale dark trails of water. Bringing an airplane to a stop under those conditions would certainly mean a protracted stay and as my wife Lynn had just arrived in Ross River I was eager to get back as soon as possible. I arrived at my destination flying a Cessna 206 on Flui-dyne skis and surveyed the small nameless lake. In the trees and a few hundred meters from the shore sat the purpose of my trip, Beaver FHZ, twisted and crumpled a testimonial to my boss's erroneous belief that full throttle should ensure a successful take off. Seeing the tracks from John’s ill-fated previous trip I landed and keeping the power up described a circle at the end of the lake before taking to the air again. Carefully I flew over my fresh tracks looking for any sign that I wouldn’t be able to get out again. Confident that after unloading the salvage supplies I would soon be winging my way home, I landed. Everything was normal, I parked on the freshly made tracks and was just shutting down the engine when the airplane lurched with a sickening crunch to one side then leveled itself by lurching to the other. I grabbed the door and propelled myself as far as I could from the airplane, as I was certain that it was going through the ice. I looked back from where I sprawled in the snow to see that the airplane had settled belly deep in water and the skis had found secure footing two feet under water. The overflow had grown a thin layer of ice tricking me into believing that I had solid ice under the tracks. Back in Ross River the worst was feared as the weather closed in and I hadn’t called in on the single side band radio. We didn’t have radios installed in the airplanes but we did carry a portable that could be set up once on the ground. Someone however had forgotten to include some vital parts rendering the radio useless. For two days, in minus-thirty weather, I built a platform from tree branches and finally got the airplane free of the lakes icy grasp. I can still feel the muscle pain that came with packing twelve hundred feet of runway with a pair of snowshoes. A runway that was generously wide when I started, narrowed perilously as the day and my legs wore on. Frustrated by my inability to tell my wife that I was all right, the bitter cold and the daunting task of getting the airplane back into the air, my mind catalogued the first of many lessons the Yukon was to teach me. 'You are completely dependent upon yourself and if you are lucky enough to get someone on the radio all you’re going to get is sympathy.' On the third day the weather cleared and I was ready, I had managed to keep the engine warm by running it every two or three hours then carefully wrapping it with an engine cover and my sleeping bag. The laboriously packed runway led away from the platform on which the airplane sat. I took one last look and then heard the approaching snarl of a Cessna One Eighty. A few minutes later the Globe Air Cessna landed on my runway and a grinning Ed Philips along with a jubilant John Rolls and Dirk Zutter greeted me. It turned out the only one confident of my survival was my wife, a confidence that she still has after forty-two years of catering to a pilot who took the lessons of the Yukon to heart. A number of years ago I was flying helicopters for the UN in a place called Kismayu on the coast of Somalia, east Africa with another ex-Yukoner, Dave Holden. We were discussing along with some British pilots on how to deal with the hazards of taking off and landing in blowing desert sand. My approach was to use the same procedures that were used in the Yukon with blowing snow. This suggestion was met with blankstares all except Dave Holden who was grinning, remembering lessons learned half a world away. [ About Mike - from the website for his book “Crosswinds” ] Michael commenced his commercial flying education piloting a de Havilland Beaver out of Ross River, Yukon in the winter of 1972. Multi-engine aircraft soon followed and a career in the airlines seemed on the horizon. Enthralled with the intimacy of smaller aircraft he tried his hand at water bombers, then, slugging freight with a Beech 18 frequented bush strips that intimidated Twin Otters. In 1979, Michael decided helicopters provided an irresistible challenge and enjoys to this day a comfortable familiarity with the people he flies. A thirst for independence and self determination has guided Michael Bellamy’s flying career for the past thirty-five years. Canada’s north has obliged, offering him a collage of challenges, heart stopping fear and unheralded victories. Whether in an airplane or a helicopter, reverence for these wondrous vehicles of flight and the breath taking beauty of the north has compelled him to write. Not about himself, but about the people who live and work in a land, uncompromisingly dictated to, by each season.
Canadian Owners and Pilots Association - Flight 176 Edmonton, Alberta