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PAPR filter adapters for COVID-19

PAPR Adapters and PAPR unit

The early months of 2020 have been a uniquely hellish time. Between the rapidly increasing incidence of COVID cases, varying levels of social distancing, closing of schools, and economic contraction, we've all been trying to find ways to improve the situation for ourselves and others. For some, that has meant sewing masks, for others it has meant designing invasive ventilators (yikes).

As engineers and hackers, a common first instinct in response to a crisis or discovering someone in need is to try to engineer around the problem. In these cases, however, it's important to understand the true needs of the people you're looking to help, rather than your assumption about their needs.

Several years ago, my partner was peripherally involved in the process of Oregon State University starting a Center for Civic Engagement, a group with a charge that included coordinating community groups that needed resources with groups within OSU that may have them. During this process, we talked quite a bit at home about the dynamics of engineering groups designing exactly the wrong solution to a problem. Many of the efforts of people designing invasive ventilators are perfect examples. The person that used a windshield wiper motor to squeeze a bag comes to mind. Such a machine would almost certainly destroy the lungs of a patient in no time.

As engineers, it is imperative that we listen first, develop requirements from the user second, design a solution, then solicit feedback. Armed with the feedback from the user, go back to step two and start over.


During the course of this project, I was contacted by a friend of mine, who runs the emergency department at a hospital here in Oregon. He had been tracking COVID for a while, and strategizing about how best to respond. His hospital was in possession of several devices called Powered Air Purifying Respirators, or PAPR, and he rightly concluded that they would be a good way to protect himself and his staff while they deal with the projected influx of COVID patients. The problem, however, was that the non rechargeable battery packs were in very short supply. He sent me an image of the battery and asked if I knew anything about the battery chemistry and whether it would be possible to charge them anyway.

3M LiMO2

Ultimately, they are not rechargeable. Furthermore, the 3M batteries last 12 hours, and he was only able to find 12 batteries to buy on the open market. This is, of course 144 hours of total run time, or 24 hours of runtime per PAPR (they have 6). This would provide some protection, but it's clearly inadequate for a longterm crisis. Cool, so I had my first concrete way I could help out, and feel some control over this crazy situation. Let's circle back on our process: I listened for the need, PAPR batteries; now I need the requirements. In this case the requirements are:

  1. Readily available
  2. Many hour runtime
  3. Must provide at least as much airflow (CFM) as original
  4. Must be convenient and rugged.

First battery design, simply a wiring adapter

The first design that I prototyped was easily rejected. This design was simply a mechanical adapter that interfaced with the custom connector on the 3M PAPR battery and blower, and a cable that had a Deans connector, common in radio control models. The choice of Deans connector was to leverage the ubiquitous, powerful, and cheap batteries used in R/C models. The places this design fell down were in points 3 and 4. Firstly, the original 3M battery is 6 volts. This is an awkward voltage for LiPo batteries, as it falls between 1 and 2 batteries in series. Secondly, it's not convenient to put the battery in a pocket, then have a cable to another cable. Finally, the cables could easily be disconnected.

Second battery design, encloses battery and clips on the belt

The second design is much better; I printed and assembled six of them. This design completely encloses the battery and electronics, and utilizes an off-the-shelf voltage regulator. I elected to use what's called a Battery Eliminator Circuit (or BEC) to regulate the voltage because it's completely contained, well made, readily available, and is less likely to fail than hand assembled circuits. Where this design falls down, though, is in point 4, and slightly point 2. The battery case has a belt clip for mounting on the web straps of the PAPR blower, but it's a little soft, and the nurses have dropped a few. When the case is dropped it can break. With point 2, the BEC may be a simple linear regulator, and therefore wastes more energy in converting the battery voltage. Castle Creations doesn't provide a definitive answer on this, so it's an assumption. Finally, the lowest voltage you can set the BEC to is 4.8 volts, which is higher than required for our design, so it's providing more than the needed power, and this reduces runtime.

Broken PAPR battery case cover

Further feedback has suggested a few more changes for the battery pack, that have yet to have been implemented. One is to make the belt clip smaller, and stronger, to reduce the likelihood of a fall. A second is to add a battery monitor alarm. They over discharged one battery because they didn't pay attention to it. There are commodity buzzers that can be easily added to the batteries. Finally, the pins that connect to the PAPR blower can be pushed out if the cable isn't installed carefully. For that, I think the pins will have to be glued into place.

The design for the battery is available publicly in the A360 cloud. Also, the stl files are available for download individually from GrabCad.


Shortly after contacting me about the batteries, a need for filters also became apparent. To begin with, the PAPRs that the hospital had on hand were chemical filters, not necessarily HEPA. Second, it is impossible to buy new HEPA filters for the PAPRs in this current environment. I was asked, therefore, to come up with a solution to use vacuum filters with the PAPRs. Like the batteries, we can come up with a simple set of requirements:

  1. Readily available
  2. Instils confidence (no tape)
  3. Rugged
  4. Must be HEPA, and resistant to droplets and aerosols

The first things I started considering was whether, and how to, enclose the filter. Originally, I had thought to fully enclose the filter in plastic, and close the sides with essentially gaffer's tape. I mentioned this to the MD and he was concerned that it would appear rickety, and wouldn't instill confidence among the team. Ultimately I figured out that the filter media doesn't need to be enclosed.

Milwaukee HEPA filter top view

Next, I had to find a filter that would be close to the right size and shape. All of this effort would be completely wasted if the filters it's designed around are hard to find and buy. Also, there's a lot of questionable marketing around HEPA. Unfortunately, HEPA is now a generic term, and it appears that no certification body is able to prevent non-tested nor certified products from using the term on their packaging. I did find a small Milwaukee filter that has a "Certified HEPA" logo. It's very difficult to trace the certification, but as the filter is first party, and name brand, it's among the most trustworthy filters I could find. The filter has a simple mounting scheme, and has only one penetration on the "clean" side of the filter, making it a perfect candidate. I already knew the screw thread size for the original filter canisters, so I developed a cap over the HEPA filter, and adapted it to the cap. It all looked good in CAD...

First attempt at filter adapter CAD

Unfortunately, because I threw it together without having a PAPR to work with (I had ordered a military surplus one on eBay, but it hadn't arrived yet) it didn't fit at all. Once my PAPR came in the mail, I measured it and modeled it in CAD and designed another version. Because the diameter of the filter was much larger than that of the filter canisters that the PAPR is designed for, I had to make the adapter quite long to allow the filter to hang over the side of the case.

Second attempt at filter adapter

The second attempt fit perfectly, and I started printing them on my Prusa i3 clone. The problem I faced now, however, was that it was taking 26-or-so hours to print them. Not only do I not trust leaving my printer over night, but the room I use as my lab is where my cats are kept at night, and I trust them even less than the printer! To deal with some of these problems (remembering that I need 6-7 of these filter adapters, just for one hospital), I asked around for people that might have printer cycles that I could borrow. Fortunately, an engineer at the company I work for is an alum of HP Vancouver (Washington state), and was able to put me in touch with their 3D printing team!

Screenshot of the HP COVID-19 response website

HP is running a very cool program that connects designs and prototype services with medical facilities that need extra support. While I didn't get connected with this team exactly, I do want to give them a major shout out, and thank them for doing this. The team I was put in contact with was the printing R&D group that works on a powered plastic process based on PA-12 (a type of Nylon). Their printer was able to print 6 filter adapters at once, and a single batch takes about 18 hours, regardless of how many parts are contained within.

HP Printer job image

That's all very cool, but now we're changing the process used to make parts, so the assumptions I made while designing the second draft are no longer valid. In particular, FDM printers can enclose any volume with little added mass (this is a tunable parameter called infill). However, the process used in the HP printers is more like stereo lithography (I'm not sure about the details of their process; whether they sinter the substrate with a laser, or bind it with resin, but the effect is the same), wherein any enclosed volume will be filled with the substrate, and become rather heavy. So, an engineer at HP and I went through a few rounds of design review and came up with a cool looking design that met the required criteria above, while also minimizing the mass of the part.

HP printed PAPR filter adapter

The design we ultimately printed has a large adapter diameter to enclose the end of the filter, and mate with the bayonet features on the filter. Then a long tube with a 2-3 mm wall thickness connects the filter internal cavity to the PAPR blower. A cool wheel feature in the middle of the adapter is meant to provide support to the filter, and meet a matching feature on the PAPR body. The role of that feature is to try to prevent the part from breaking if the filter is hit with a wall, door, bed, or medical equipment.

Operational test; PAPR is on the floor with the filter and adapter, running with the battery and producing better than 6CFM of airflow

Once the parts came in from HP (and it only took about a week), I couldn't wait to give the system a test. In the above image, I'm testing the full system with a CFM meter that's provided with the PAPR. In this test, the battery is a 2200mAh R/C airplane battery, in the battery case with the voltage regulator. The HP-printed filter adapter and a cloth "sock" that my wife sewed to provide some additional protection to liquid droplets is supporting the PAPR blower. On the output of the PAPR is a 3M CFM meter that they provide in the kit. It maxes out at 6CFM, and this system surpasses that flow rate easily.

At the hospital

The team at the hospital has been using the kit for a few weeks now, and their impression has been positive overall. Discounting the broken battery covers, there haven't been any complaints. In fact, the filter performance has been so good that they're able to get a few more hours of runtime out of the 3M batteries with an acceptable flow rate.

Medical professional with PAPR, front view

Medical professional with PAPR, rear view

Thanks and acknowledgements

I want to thank my Doctor friend for giving me the opportunity to help out, and provide a sense of control in the completely out of control time. Also, I want to sincerely thank the folks at HP who were able to act so quickly (about a week from first email to parts in the mail!) in helping out. I want to thank Tabor Kelly for making the introductions. Finally, I want to thank you for reading!

Design files and disclaimer

I've provided a public link to the design files in Autodesk Fusion 360. You're free to download them, and use them as you see fit. However, I'm explicitly disclaiming any responsibility for any damages that may arise from the use of these files, and I make no warranty regarding their use or applicability for any purpose.

Going Home

At this point in the journey, we're all getting tired... Tired of hotels, tired of eating out, just plain tired.

Whitehorse to Prince George (CYXY-CYXS)

After arriving from our long, cold, and challenging flight to Whitehorse, we paid special attention to the global icing model. In particular, I trusted it more than I had in the past. In this case, the model had forecast greater icing risk in the afternoon. I suspected that the weather was going to be substantially similar to what it had been the day before. That is, icing caused by towering cumulonimbus clouds. These would bloom later in the day as the sun caused convection by heating the ground. This would provide the "push" that these clouds need to begin forming.

Glacier Scars

Originally, we had planned to visit the Yukon Wildlife Preserve in the morning before departing, but due to the afternoon weather, and that the hotel in Prince George had a water park, we decided to get flying first thing in the morning. We ate breakfast, and arranged for a taxi to the airport at 9:15. At the airport, I looked for someone to sell me TKS (anti-icing fluid), but no one was able to. From our flight the prior day, I wasn't sure how much we had left, and with the risk of ice that day, it would have been nice to take off with a full tank. Alas, it wasn't in the cards.

Ski Resort

Our flight plan for the day was pretty simple. We took V328 to YXJ (Fort St. John), then V308 to Prince George. The route was a little circuitous, but it was the safest given weather, terrain, and oxygen availability. Ultimately, though, Vancouver Center gave us a shortcut that helped out quite a bit.

CYXY-CXYS tracklog

While there was forecast icing risk, we never ended up getting any. This is likely because we were much more aggressive about asking for, and deviating around cells. It was cloudy and a little rainy upon arriving at Prince George, and this was actually the only rain we had the entire trip!

Arrival at Prince George

When we got to the hotel, we ate right away and immediately jumped in the pool! The water park was a huge hit, and it was nice to have some time to relax and just play around.

Price George to Moses Lake (CXYS-KMWH)

While we were on the ground at Price George, both the night we landed and in the morning, I called every phone number I could find and asked about TKS fluid. Again, there was none available.


The forecast again had icing risk... (Notice a theme?) This time, the ice seemed to be predominately over the cascade range in Southern British Columbia. Originally, we had planned on flying to Seattle, and clearing customs at Boeing Field. I wasn't comfortable with that route any more, and decided it would be much better to remain on the East side of the cascades and clear customs at Moses Lake. I even worked pretty hard during my selection of airways to remain as low as possible. This seems to seldom work for me, and before we knew it we were flying at 11,000'.


It was apparent that we were returning to civilization, because I could almost maintain contact with ATC the entire trip, and we were on radar! The exception that really stood out, though, was when we crossed into the US. Vancouver Center handed us off right before the border, and I couldn't get Seattle Center at all. I kept trying to get them, and even with the squelch open, I got nothing. Eventually I got so frustrated that I finally pressed the ident button. Surprisingly, they called me immediately after, and they couldn't hear me respond. So, they asked an airliner to relay for me. Through the airliner, they asked me if I could climb to 13,000. I said "fine, but you've got a half-hour". For the uninitiated, law prohibits a pilot from flying between 12,500' to 14,000' without supplimental oxygen for more than a half-hour. Katie, keenly aware of this, started a timer the moment we crossed 12,500'. Once at 13,000' we were able to talk to Seattle Center, and coordinate our arrival into Moses Lake.

Rocks in Clouds

One thing interesting about our approach into Moses Lake is that we were racing a Boeing 737 (with a Boeing callsign, so not an airliner) to the airport. The 737 wanted to do a practice approach (low approach only), and was trying to convince Moses Lake tower to relax about it because there wouldn't be a runway conflict. The tower's rules about cross-direction traffic were strict, though, and I had to be off the runway before the 737 was on short final. One thing I love about the Cirrus is that you can keep the power on in the descent and pretty easily maintain 170KIAS. This is within the low-speed range of the 737, and so tower could basically tell us both to maintain 170. Other than this, our approach and landing at Moses Lake was routine.

Arrival at Moses Lake


I got a progressive taxi to the Customs parking box, and was greeted by a line service tech from Columbia Pacific Aviation. After briefly chatting with the CBP Officer, he got us all fueled up and the windows cleaned. The service from them was awesome.

Our customs experience at Moses Lake almost couldn't be more different than that of Ketchikan. First of all, I have to get a major mea culpa out of the way... I did not file my eAPIS before taking off! 😲 Fifteen minutes after taking off from Prince George, I literally slapped my forehead and said "Shit, I forgot to file the eAPIS!" Luckily, I still had cellular service at the time and was able to file it really quickly. I was able to get the confirmation email just before losing service. What I didn't notice, of course, was that there was a phone number I was supposed to call prior to landing. This is because there's only one CBP agent at Moses Lake, and if he had a Doctor's appointment I'd be out of luck. He ribbed me about this a little, but let it go. Once in his office, and going through the paperwork (Passports, Aircraft registration, Pilot's license and medical) he said "This passport is invalid". If you'll remember, I had paid a fair amount of money for a rushed passport, and of course I said "What!? This is a brand-new passport!" He chuckled and read "This passport is invalid unless signed by the owner." Then handed me a pen.

Once paying the Moses Lake user fee ($20), we were free to leave. We went to the small cafe in the Moses Lake airport to get some lunch, and it was ok, and we were on our way.

Moses Lake to Corvallis (KMWH-KCVO)


Downtown Portland

Finally we're on the last leg of our epic adventure. The Moses Lake to Corvallis leg is very similar to another I've completed recently, from Wenatchee to Corvallis. It's a simple route south to the Columbia River Gorge, along the gorge to Portland, then south to Corvallis.

Mount Adams

I filed a route that would have put me through Mount Adams (oops), but ATC helpfully offered me the option of deviating or climbing. I asked whether I could proceed direct Corvallis, which would have had me "thread the needle" between Mount Adams and Mount Hood.

Threading the needle

I was surprised that they accepted the offer! and I headed directly home! Unfortunately, the next handoff was to Portland Approach, and they were a hard pass on that whole plan. The reason I was surprised to get it was because that would have put me right in the middle of the westerly flow into Portland International. They cleared me direct BTG (Battleground, WA).

Portland International

Once I was far enough west that I wasn't in their flow anymore, they did end up clearing me direct CVO, and allowed me to begin my descent. When I got handed off to Cascade Approach (from Seattle), I canceled IFR and began setting up for the downwind on runway 35 at Corvallis. It was great to be home.


What an adventure!

Emma decided to tell the plane "Thanks for the trip, you did a great job keeping us safe."

Thanks plane!

Talkeetna to Whitehorse

I don't really feel like writing this post, to be honest. This was one of my least-fun flights that I can remember.

We woke up in Talkeetna and finished packing up. We weren't in a huge hurry to get going. This day was going to be only flying. So, we walked to The Roadhouse for breakfast, then back to the airport. I walked ahead, because Emma is a slow walker, and I wanted to visit the Flight Service Station (FSS) at Talkeetna. Flight Service Stations are just about extinct in the lower 48, so I was excited about getting an opportunity to get a real in-person briefing. It was really fun to look at all the forecast products with someone. My primary concern for today's fight was Icing.

My usual tools for evaluating icing risk (the US Icing model and Skew-T/Log-P plots) weren't available for this flight, though the global icing model was. The global model, and the ForeFlight briefing were forecasting ice, but the briefer at the FSS wasn't convinced. He more-or-less dismissed the concerns, saying that there were no AIRMETS, SEGMETS, or remarks regarding icing along the route.

ForeFlight briefing

We filed our intent to depart with US CBP, and Canada Border Protection, and filed our IFR flight plan.

After filling up the plane and departing, we headed east. I got Anchorage Center on the radio and tried to open my flight plan. They weren't able to find it, but opened a new one for me anyway.

By the time we reached the Talkeetna Mountains east of town, we were getting into the clouds. Within the next fifteen minutes, or so, we did start picking up trace ice. It was pretty intermittent, and seemingly only in the clouds that had vertical development. We started working to avoid these clouds by deviating left and right. Once we were past the Talkeetna Mountains, the unstable air didn't have the forcing action of the mountains and the clouds settled down. This gave us some time to take stock of things and think about our strategy for the remainder of the flight.

At this point in the journey, we were in a bit of a bowl, and mostly on our own. Anchorage Center was technically responsible for us, but we didn't have radar service or communications. Eventually we did make contact at a reporting point just prior to the border, and were given the instruction "Maintain one-two-thousand while in controlled airspace, contact Edmonton Center one-hundred miles prior to whitehorse". This was a mostly-formal "you're on your own for almost two hours, good luck".

I was a little unfamiliar with how much latitude I had to change altitudes and deviate with such an instruction. We were still hitting some clouds with ice in them, and I was getting worried about how much TKS was left. We were shedding the ice at an OK rate, and we weren't accumulating anything more than a few millimeters on the leading edges. But, this was way more than I was comfortable with. So, I just started deviating anyway.

Eventually, and much closer than 100nm from Whitehorse, I was finally able to get Edmonton Center on the radio. I told them I had deviated left of corse, and that I could accept a vector whenever they wanted. I don't remember the exact response, but it was essentially "We don't have radar where you are, so you can proceed direct Whitehorse whenever you want"

Again, we were in a position where the clouds were behind us, and we had an easy shot to our destination. After a bit of decompressing, Katie and I talked about our experience. I confided that I was stressed about what had happened, and that I was remaining calm to not give her the impression that things weren't going great. She said "that's good, because I was afraid, and I was calm because you were calm." The whole time, though, she was watching for ice build-up, helping me spot bad clouds, helping me decide whether left or right would be a better choice. Katie was a hell of a co-pilot. I feel incredibly lucky to have a wife that not only likes to go on these flying trips, but is able to take the bad with the good, rise to the occasion, and kick ass.

Shortly thereafter, Edmonton Center asked me if I had an approach request at Whitehorse. I said that I could accept the visual. They replied that "altitude is now pilots discretion, contact Whitehorse tower when desired." We ended up descending into a valley and flying that to Whitehorse. I was cleared to land abeam the tower, and pulled off a smooth landing, even though the winds were 4, gusting to 19.


Our only concrete plan for Talkeetna was to get an arial tour of Denali from K2 aviation. We had heard that Talkeetna was kind of boring, and that we should spend the minimum amount of time there. This was not our experience. In some ways, Talkeetna was my favorite town. It had a funky Austin, TX kind of vibe. There were plenty of pride flags flying, a clear environmental conscientiousness, and lots of cool, very yummy, restaurants.

As it happens, our time in Talkeetna had a very strange Man V. Food connection with us. On Thursday, after our K2 flight, we went to the West Rib for lunch, and noticed there was a film crew working. We went in anyway, and a production assistant asked us if we'd be willing to be on the show. We agreed, and had a 10 minute interview with Casey Webb. The episode will probably air in late Fall. The next morning, we were eating at The Roadhouse and I noticed that Katie was sitting in the seat that the original Man v Food host, Adam Richman, sat in during a 2009 episode.

We also ate at the Wildflower Cafe, Denali Brewing, and a small food truck selling fireweed ice cream, Emma's new favorite flavor.

In addition to all the interesting and fun man-made stuff in Talkeetna, the natural beauty is abundant. There are trails everywhere that let you explore. Be a little careful, though, it can be hard to tell when you start venturing onto private property. Our final full day here we mostly spent exploring and made our was across the rail bridge to a small beach on the river and let Emma play and splash around while we dug our toes into the sand and glacial silt. This was also the only place on our trip that we experienced the legendary mosquitos we were warned about, Katie didn't notice at the time, but later that night discovered at least dozen very itchy bites.

K2 Aviation

K2 has a stable of De Havilland aircraft. They use mostly Otters, but also one Beaver, and one Piper Navajo. These tours can be either the south-side of the mountain, around the mountain, or flying up to the summit. All-but the summit flight have a glacier landing option. The summit flight is in the Navajo, because pressurization is required. We elected for the Grand tour, which goes around the mountain, with a landing.

Of over 400 hours in small planes, this was probably the most amazing hour I've ever experienced.

Juneau to Talkeetna

Gallery Link

There's really only one real IFR route between Juneau and Talkeetna for a plane without a turbo and oxygen. The route takes you to Sister Island SSR, intercepts T269 at HAPIT, then keeps going all the way to Anchorage TED. Once at anchorage, just turn north to Talkeetna. In my plane, it's about a 4 hour flight.


We did the entire flight at 10,000'. When we initially flew out to the ocean, the HAPIT waypoint is a fair bit away from the shore, so I asked for an early turn direct to YAK. ATC cleared me for this, but then turned us a little to keep us far enough away from Mt. Fairweather.

Mount Fairweather

The geology in this region is much more interesting that we had seen so far. The mountains are just starting to get pretty huge. In the distance, I saw a huge peak, and thought "woah, can we see Denali already!?" Turns out, no. I hadn't known that there was another enormous mountain that's only 800' shorter than Denali: Mt. Logan.

Mount Logan

Another amazing thing to be able to see were the various stages of glacial geology. All glaciers start as Cirques, which are the bowls which collect snow over the ages, compressing it into glacial ice. Eventually, these fill up enough that the ice flows into a valley glacier. We got to see many amazing examples of glaciers in every stage of their formation and life-cycle.

Glacial flow

A glacial terminus can be either on land, or on water. We got to see great examples of both. In this case, the glacier is terminating at sea, and the ice is breaking off to become icebergs.


In other cases, the glacier melts while still on land, and produces these silt flats that lead to beautiful waterscapes

Silty Waterscape

Finally, over even more time, these silt flats become beautiful lush landscapes

Lush landscape

The only real complication during the flight was the handoff from Anchorage Center's 119.0 frequency to 119.3. I was told to contact them on 119.3, and if I couldn't make contact in ten minutes. This was at 14:51. At 15:11 I tried again. And again. And again. It ended up being almost an hour before I could finally get them on the radio. In that time, I did have luck relaying messages to them via airliners and freighters above me, so I wasn't overly concerned. But, I was conscious that if I couldn't re-establish communication by Cordoba, AK, then I'd probably be required to land. It's a little bit of a grey-area to me whether I was actually having a communications "problem" that would have required squawking 7600 and doing the communications failure stuff. Another irony is that I didn't have radar service, so no one would see me squawking anyway!

Talkeetna Runway


Link to the gallery

In and around Juneau


On the flight from Ketchikan to Juneau we flew along the coast and Katie saw DOZENS of whales. At first she was unsure what the little dark grayish torpedos were, but then she started seeing them blow and even saw one huge breach. We were pretty shocked just how many humpbacks could be seen at once. We hadn't booked any whale excursions on our trip, so this was particularly cool.

Jorgensen House B&B

I don't even know where to begin with Jorgensen House. It was absolutely spectacular. The house and grounds themselves are incredibly beautiful and peaceful. We walked to and from town every day past a gorgeous park-like cemetery. Renda, our hostess, was so gracious and spoiled us endlessly, always accessible, but never obtrusive.

Amazing breakfasts

The breakfasts were out of this world ridiculously delicious. Honestly they have gourmet chefs serving breakfast and every morning they come out and tell you what they've created. We felt like royalty while staying here.

Katie's not-birthday Cake

We didn't tell them it was Katie's birthday, but by random happenstance, they had cake available the evening of her birthday. They also whipped a scrumptious lunch to go with zero notice when they learned we'd be flying over the lunch hour, such service!

Around town

Town was pretty clearly divided between cruise ship owned tourist crap stores and local stuff, we tried a bit of both and for the most part liked everything. First we had diner at The Hanger on the Warf which was yummy enough. We also tried the Twisted Fish (apparently the same owners) and it was also pretty good. Emma was quite pleased with the sashimi platter at Tokyo Japanese Restruant. We got Russian Dumplings for lunch one day at Pel'meni which were good and cheap. We also had a suprisingly ample lunch at Devil's Club Brewing along with two satisfying flights of beer, the people there were very nice. The best, in our opinion, was Deck Hand Dave's food truck at Gunakadeit Park. Renda tipped us off that when the Food Network folks had stayed with them they said it was the best fish tacos around. There we ordered fish tacos, fish and chips, and got some beer in the cute little food truck court, it was all very very good.

Juneau is the capital of Alaska, and as such has the capital buildings and the governor's mansion. These are mostly unremarkable, but the capital building has a life-sized bear statue that Emma decided was her mama.

Emma and the bear

Mount Roberts

Sun filtered through the trees on Mount Roberts

The driver of our taxi from the airport gave us a quick tour of downtown Juneau, and one thing that he mentioned (that we hadn't already heard about) was that we could hike up Mount Roberts, and after buying $10 of stuff from a gift shop, ride the tram down "for free". I'm not telling you to cheat, of course, but no one checked our receipt ;)

Will and Emma on the trail

We were planning on walking downtown from our B&B to the base of the tram, and taking the tram round-trip. But, we didn't have anything planned for this day, so we thought we might try the hike. Initially, it seemed like an insane idea, but Emma was bouncing off the walls, so we decided to give it a shot. Our B&B is near the trailhead for the Gold Creek Flume trail, which links up with the Mount Roberts trailhead. By the time we hiked up the hill to get to the trailhead, we saw that it was closed until September... Booo! Undeterred, we called a taxi and got a ride to the Mount Roberts trailhead by road.

View from Mount Roberts

We knew, of course, that hiking up a mountain was going to be challenging, and we were worried how Emma would take it, but we actually did amazingly well. Emma never complained about the hike. She said she was tired once, but it had the air of a status report, rather than a complaint.

Selfie Totem

Though the hike was achievable, I had not anticipated how sweaty I'd be at the top. It was kinda jarring being sweaty and stinking while mingling around so many people from the cruises that took the tram up.

Emma in a recreation eagle's nest

The tram ride down was awesome, and it is a truly impressive incline.

Tram incline

Mendenhall Glacier and Summer Dog Camp

One of the three banner events for the trip was the Mendenhall Glacier helicopter tour and dog camp. Everything went according to plan, and the weather today was perfect. We had an easy morning, because our tour group was set to meet in downtown Juneau at 2:45. The tour company is a mill, and is run like a well oiled machine.

Helicopter pilot

Their facility is on the East end of the Juneau International Airport, and it's basically a small building surrounded on three sides by running helicopters. When I say running helicopters, I mean it. I don't think they shutdown all day. A flight of three comes in and lands, the people get out, it gets fueled (while running), people get in, and they leave. The whole process can't take more than 3 minutes. The flight to the glacier is about ten minutes. About half-way through your time on the glacier, you can hear the helicopters come back and swap-out another group. The formation flying that these pilots do is pretty awesome. The flight itself isn't close formation, but the takeoffs and landings are like ballet.

Helicopter formation

The flight to the glacier, though short, was beautiful. I can only think of a few places on earth that would be as spectacular to see by helicopter. As we flew away from Juneau and climbed, we could see the trees thin at the timberline, then as we climbed further rock turned to ice. Flying further still, we could see the flows of ice, frozen in time.

Mendenhall Glacier

Eventually, we approached a large bowl-like feature in the rock and ice, and in the center a small formation of structures. It was like a micro-sized burning man on ice. This impression was made even stronger when we landed and were greeted by funky guys in full glacier glasses.

Dog Camp

The first guy we talked to explained the camp, and what he does there. During the winter he lives in Fairbanks with his wife and their 45 sled dogs. But, in the summer, it's too warm down there for the dogs to exercise and train properly. So, every summer they move up to the glacier and that lets them keep their dogs from going nuts due to boredom. About 22 people live at the camp at a time, and they rotate down with a few living "on the ground" at a time.

Will "Mushing"

Next we got to take our ride on the dogsleds. They plan on making 3-4 stops along a 1.5 mile loop so that everyone can rotate in position on the sleds. The front sled is the one that's driven by the real musher, and there's a trailer sled that looks like a normal dogsled on which each visitor can play at mushing. Even though you had no real control in the back, I got the feeling that being the real musher doesn't afford you a lot of control either. The sleds do have brakes, and I did use them a few times to avoid hitting the real musher in front.


One of the times that we stopped to rotate, and also at the end, we got a chance to pet the dogs and thank them for doing a good job. It was cool to see how different their personalities were. I became enamored with one in particular that was very clear with you when she decided she wasn't done being petted. She'd either hit you with her paw or head-but you, such a sweetheart.

Petting Sled-dogs

Finally, we all got a chance to pet and snuggle with two very cute puppies. I'm certain this was Emma's favorite part of the entire vacation.

Emma snuggling a puppy

Mendenhall Glacier by Canoe

This excursion was a pretty simple one. The basic idea is to get into a canoe with something like 19 other people and paddle for 5.5 miles in Mendenhall Lake. I was surprised just how exhausting that would be, and how annoying it would be to paddle behind some late-teen/early-twenty something women from Jersey who were either incredibly incompetent and/or incredibly lazy. We weren't at all sore after climbing Mt. Roberts, but our arms were a little sore after paddling the lake.

Mendenhall Glacier at the lake

Emma really wanted to try paddling, but she's just not quite strong enough yet. I helped her with it, but the angles were really hard on my arms. I have to say, she may not be a great paddler yet, but she looks great with a paddle! 😂

Emma the paddler

After going as close as we could to the glacier, we turned toward Nugget Falls. The guide had us paddle right at the falls as hard as possible, and got a pretty good splash. Emma was not impressed!

Nugget falls

That was pretty much it. We paddled back, and that was that. Then, the next day, when we were flying to Talkeetna Katie got an awesome photo of Mendenhall Lake, with the glacier and Nugget falls.

Mendenhall Lake


Link to the gallery

Enjoying Ketchikan

Now that we're on the ground at Ketchikan, and had some rest we got to explore the town some. It's a pretty neat little community and we enjoyed it. There were a few highlights...


Katie and Emma in the Funicular

Our hotel is up on the hill overlooking Creek Street. It's a pretty steep grade at 70%, and 175' of elevation change. It would be a total bummer to have to walk it every time. Thankfully, the builders of the hotel had the good sense and foresight to build the Funicular. The upper end of it opens right into the lobby.

Creek Street

Creek Street shirt

Creek Street is the former "Red Light" district of Ketchikan. There were saloons, brothels, all that good stuff. Now, though, it's fairly typical tourist-y shops. As far as these shop walks go, though, it's pretty cute. The best part is the actual creek that runs along side it where you can see HUNDREDS of salmon at once try to make it back up stream to spawn and seals gather for an easy meal.

Creek Street shops

Totem Heritage Center

Ketchikan City Park

Ketchikan has a really lovely little city park up the hill from downtown. It has a salmon hatchery, fountain, and the Totem Heritage Center. The Smithsonian, Forest Service, City of Ketchikan (and others) all worked to develop a survey of the totems in SE Alaska. They secured buy-in from the Native Alaskan Brotherhood and Sisterhood (NAB/NAS) and the owners of the totems. For totems they couldn't establish ownership, they got permission from tribal descendants. These totems were removed from where they were installed, and moved to the Center. The rational for these moves is that totems had been stolen, vandalized, or were decaying in the weather. They were carefully removed and are displayed at the center.

Totem Heritage Center

It was very cool and inspiring to see the old totems as they were. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest (as Katie and I did) gave us the opportunity to see a ton of totem poles around, but they were all modern. These are real and old.

Float planes

You know that you're going to see a lot of float planes in Alaska, but I had no idea just how many I'd see. It's honestly ridiculous. They're everywhere. Prior to coming to Alaska, I think I may have seen a De Havilland Beaver once in my life. Now I've seen probably 50. Same goes with De Havilland Otters.

Flying to Juneau

For the flight to Juneau, I filed an IFR flight plan, even though the weather was more than sufficient for VFR. Especially on trips like this, I like having "someone watching me". Unfortunately, no one was for the majority of the flight.

Cya later Ketchikan!

Ketchikan, like Port Hardy, has a "Mandatory Frequency" which is almost like a tower, but they do not tell you what to do. You check in with them, tell them where you are and what you're doing, and they tell you what everyone else is doing. When we checked on being ready to taxi, they just asked if we were going to be going right to the runway or stopping anywhere else (presumably for a run-up). Because we had already done all the pre-takeoff checks, we said we weren't stopping anywhere else. They told us about the Beavers in the pattern for the river, and that they had no other scheduled flights for several minutes. Finally, they reminded us that runway 11 is right-traffic. We took off, changed frequencies, and called Anchorage Center.

Mendenhall Glacier and Juneau International

When we called Anchorage Center, they couldn't pick us up on radar. I've had this happen before in Oregon. I'm not sure why, but my transponder just isn't that sensitive. While we were waiting to see if they'd be able to pick me up, and decide whether they were going to accept me as an IFR flight without a transponder, I went ahead and climbed up to 8,500' as a VFR hemispherical altitude.

Eventually, they cleared me for the flight, and I descended to the filed and cleared altitude of 8,000'. I had to give position reports about every 20 miles along the trip. Another thing that I have to sometimes do in remote mountainous areas such as this is get frequency changes 20-40 miles beforehand. For example, I got something like "report 20 miles prior to Level Island on my frequency 133.9". This is basically him telling me that I'm going to be out of range on my current frequency sometime between where I am and 20 miles south of LVD, and that they will use that as another point to keep track of where I am. This happened twice on this flight.

Another interesting thing that happened on today's flight is that another aircraft missed a handoff. So, Anchorage center asked me to broadcast to them their new frequency. I hadn't thought about it at the time, but me repeating the request was also broadcasting to them. I heard the other aircraft read back to me, then I heard them check-in with Anchorage. Finally Anchorage thanked me for the help.

Left 360

Because another IFR aircraft was going into Juneau before me, and they didn't have me on radar, I had to stay really high really late into the approach again. Luckily, I finally got close enough to a radar facility that they were able to pick me up and give me a descent. They cleared me for the visual and handed me off to Juneau tower. I was high and close enough that I had to do a 360° to lose some altitude. I did a wide downwind and had an uneventful approach to landing.

Runway at Juneau

I noticed while filling out my logbook that my plane has 1999.2 hours since new, and my engine has almost made it all the way to TBO. I can't wait to put the 0.8 on it soon, and hopefully get a photo of the big 2000!

Almost to TBO


Link to the gallery

I was hoping that the log for the first day of flying was going to be filled with sunshine and roses. It's not. It's primarily comprised of pee and frustration.

Packing and preparation

Our morning preparation was frantic and hurried. I had to file an eAPIS for departing the United States, call Canadian border patrol, call for the latest databases for the GPS, and re-pack my backpack from the work trip. Meanwhile Katie and Emma had to get themselves ready and packed. Of course, we left the house about an hour late. Being late today is a theme.

Once we got to the airport we were only just able put everything in the plane. Even after all of our work trying to optimize our packing. We still had to use a laundry basket to carry stuff we're planning on leaving in the plane most of the time. We preflighted the airplane, took our bathroom breaks, and were ready to go. Except that we had to call Canadian border patrol again. I couldn't find a way to edit my manifest on the US customs site, but I did read about the possibility of using the radio to do it.

First leg

Mountains and clouds

The flight portion of our first leg was honestly unremarkable. We departed VFR from Corvallis and got our IFR clearance to Port Hardy in the air. Once we were handed off to Seattle Center, I asked the controller if there was a frequency I could use to contact CBP (they mention this in their documentation) that I could use to adjust my estimated border crossing time. The sector that services most of Oregon (125.8) didn't know, and thought that a sector closer to the boarder would know.

Possibly a crater

We went through Portland's airspace, and when we were handed off to Seattle center again, I asked again about the customs thing. This controller was more knowledgeable about these procedures. She said that as long as I was on an IFR flight plan, I didn't need to worry about border crossing times. She did say that she couldn't help me with the customs at the destination. As I had already notified Canada about the change, I was all set.

Border Crossing

The actual act of crossing the border between the US and Canada was incredibly mundane. I took a picture, but that's all that happened.

The Canadian controllers we worked with were friendly and helpful, and gave us shortcuts several times during the short time we were in their charge. Eventually, we had to ask for a descent, because we were still at 10,000' quite close to Port Hardy. Apparently a Saab 340 had been slowly creeping up alongside us, and they had to have us do some turns to let them pass before we could be descended. By the time we could finally descend, we needed to do so at about 1,500'/minute. Emma's ears had a hard time clearing, and she let us know about it!

Rocks in clouds

One procedural difference about many Canadian and Alaskan airports is the "Mandatory frequency". It's almost like a tower, except that they don't really give you directions. When we initially called them up, they gave us a list of all the planes they knew about in the area. It was kinda cool to have a situational awareness brain dump, but it came quickly enough that it was hard to retain all of it.

It was really bumpy on the last portion of this flight, and the winds when we landed were 10 knots gusting to 18. It was sporting, but ended up being sufficiently smooth (the plane was reusable).

Port Hardy Runway

Once on the ground, we asked Port Hardy Radio where to park for customs, and they just had us park in a little parking area along the (only) taxiway. None of our phones worked, so we had to power on the plane radios again to ask how to get a hold of customs. They said that one person could leave the plane and use a landline. I ended up walking over to the Pacific Coastal Airlines fuel office and waiting for the Line service tech to return. He let us use his phone to call Canadian customs. They verified our information, gave us a "contact number" and said that we were all set. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. Then, we had them fill the plane with the most expensive 40 gallons of 100LL I've ever purchased. ($2.39cad/lt. or about $7us/gal.)

Port Hardy

Port Hardy welcome sign

The Foreflight airport page for Port Hardy (CYZT) listed an airport Cafe that seemed fine for lunch. I did notice that they had no ATM, nor could they take cards. So, I was able to get some Canadian cash from Travelex in the Boston airport when I was flying home from my work trip. By this point, we were all pretty hungry (it was about 2PM after all) and looking forward to lunch.

Port Hardy Terminal Construction

Unfortunately, however, the terminal was in the process of being torn down. This was definitely a frustration, but the guy that fueled our plane recommended a sushi restaurant at the Airport Inn which was a ten minute walk away.

Emma and Katie went out ahead while I stayed during the fueling of the plane. I thought about the fact that we were basically splitting up and walking around a place we've never been before without cellular phone service. This is something we did all the time growing up, but we've become so accustomed to the safety net that it feels weird without it.

By the time I got to the restaurant and inn, Katie was walking out the door looking pissed off. It turns out that the restaurant had been closed for some time, and the closest alternative was a ten minute drive away. We were already running quite late, and this was starting to turn into a quagmire. Ultimately, we decided to buy the snacks closest to food that we could at the inn and go back to the plane. However, the inn had internet, and I had to make sure to file the eAPIS for our return to the US. Finally, all that was finished and everyone got back to the airport at a time somewhat resembling the original planned departure time.

Port Hardy Radio was able to get our IFR flight plan, and clear our departure, but taking off was "at our discretion". This was something we're not used to, but it wasn't an issue.

Second leg

The majority of the second flight was unremarkable, though exquisitely beautiful.

More mountains

Until about an hour in, when Emma declares that she needs to pee. NOW. We frantically searched for an empty bottle had Emma pull down her pants and luckily we made it in time... except since Emma is five and has never peed in a bottle before she didn't have it lined up perfectly at first so she peed all over the floor mat anyway. We adjusted and caught the rest, but some had already gotten on her pants and the floor, she spent the remainder of the flight half naked in her seat.

Naked Emma under a blanket

The approach into Ketchikan was odd. First of all, though I had updated databases, the RNAV 29 approach wasn't in the GPS database. Anchorage center was keen on clearing me for it, though, provided I had the plate, and that ZIKMU was in my database. He said "because we've already had a problem with this today, I want to make sure you fly to ZIKMU, do the procedure turn in the hold and proceed inbound." I acknowledge this, and about that time, it was time to turn. Because I wasn't working on an approach the PROC button in the GNS430 knows about, I had to manually add ZIKMU to the flight plan and activate it direct. Then, I had to go to heading mode in the autopilot to fly the hold in lieu of procedure turn (this is normal for a GNS430 [not WAAS]). I was cleared for the approach and told to contact Ketchikan Radio at ZIKMU inbound.

Annette Island, home of ANN and ZIKMU

Once past ZIKMU, we called Ketchikan radio, and gave them an initial position report. I don't remember exactly how they responded, but they basically said "whatever, talk to me when you're 8 miles out". I heard them mention to other traffic "there's a cirrus out there, but they're more than 10nm away". Once we were 8 miles away, I called them again, and they told us to call again. Eventually Ketchikan radio told us that Anchorage Center wanted to know our altitude. I told them 1,500'. I thought that was odd. Immediately afterward, an Alaskan Airlines 737 asked me if I was on short final. I told them I was. Then I heard them talking about doing some S-turns to make up space for me to land. I realized that I should keep my speed up and land longer than usual. I did these things (within my comfortability) and taxied as fast as I could. There are only two places to get off the runway at Ketchikan; one at each end. Once on the ground, I heard Ketchikan radio throwing shade at "That cirrus that decided to land short". I don't think they believe in taxiways up in the north. Port Hardy had one taxiway, Ketchikan has one taxiway. I'm looking forward to seeing how few airports don't have them.

I've noticed that Alaskan flying is next-level. The controllers expect you to be better. I've flown in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Los Vegas, and Phoenix Class B airspaces, and I've never been thrown shade, as I've gotten from Anchorage Center. I think this is a good thing, and I'm committing myself to rise to their expectations.

Ketchikan runway

Customs hell (and a silver lining)

CBP "truck" waiting for not us

When we got to the FBO we saw a marshaller showing us where to park. We followed his instructions and shut down the engine. When he came up to the plane, I explained that we needed to get checked out by Customs and Border Patrol. He said "No problem, I'll get them for you." We noticed there was a white SUV near by, and thought that might be the officer. But, the truck looked empty. We patiently waited for a while, trying to convince ourselves that waiting in a plane that you've spent 6 hours in is better than the giant football-field sized corral they have in Cancun. Then, we noticed that the truck disappeared. Now, to be clear, you are not allowed to leave the plane while you're waiting for customs. We decided that we had better call the local customs office and see what happened...

The phone rang, and a woman answered. I explained where we were and what we needed. Then she went off. She condescendingly explained that we were very late, and that the officer had waited as long as he could. Then he had to go to another float plane, and that he had gotten the ferry to the other side of the river. She said that my planned arrival time was 3:45 and that I was over an hour late. I tried to remain very calm, and tell her that I was looking at my eAPIS acknowledgement right now, and that I did not put 3:45 down as my time. I offered to read to her my filing confirmation number, but she said she didn't want to login to her computer. She said that the officer would come back when he was done with the other plane.

We sit in the plane for an hour. We are hungry. The plane smells like pee. Emma has no pants on.

After a while we decide to clean up the plane... Putting things away, cleaning up the pee, trying to dig out clothes for Emma.

I called CBP again. This time it's a Male officer. He's a lot nicer, but basically says "I'll get to you when I can"

We decide to move the plane to the overnight parking area. We're still confined to the plane. Emma has to pee again (goddamn camelback).

After nearly two hours on the ground, stuck in the plane, we see the office arrive. He turns out to be ridiculously nice. He apologized for everything and checked our documents. He said we were good to go.

We started unpacking the plane and getting our packs together. I called the FBO to ask for a van ride to the ferry. They're apparently already on their way, because they saw the CBP truck (awesome service, Aero Services! 👏).

Once we arrive to the ferry dock, it's just pulling up and we sit down. Of course the customs officer is waiting to cross the river back to Ketchikan. We chatted with him a little on the ferry, and he offers to give us a ride to Creek Street! (It's basically right next to the Federal Building). We chat some more with him, and learn about what brought him up to Alaska from his prior work on the southern border.

To be honest, being imprisoned in the plane for two hours sucked a bunch, but the officer's kindness pretty much made up for it all in my mind.

Ketchikan from the air

First day flights

First day flight path

Goals and considerations

The main goal for the fist day of flying is to get to the state of Alaska.

Originally, we had considered starting from the Seattle area, and Boeing Field, in particular. The reason for this was two-fold. On the one hand, we could shave almost two hours off the first day of flying, and on the other, we have friends in that area that we'd love to spend time with.

Ultimately, I had a work obligation that will be longer than expected, and I won't be able to come come until a day later than expected. Also, Katie and Emma had considered coming with me on that trip. Had that been the case, we'd have flown up to Seattle, left the plane there, and flown to the work trip from SEA.

Anyway, as it happens, we're flying all the way to Alaska from Corvallis (CVO) in one day. This is just-under 5 hours of flying, which is less than we've done in the past. For example, the flight from Chandler, AZ to Corvallis is six-and-a-half hours. Emma was a champ during this flight, but the last hour was hard on her. Given that this day of flight will be more than an hour shorter than that was, I'm confident that she'll be more than capable of this one as well.

The plan

We've decided that we can do this trip in one day, with one stop for fuel and lunch.

It's a bit annoying that we'll have to clear customs twice in one day, once in Canada, and once in Alaska, but that's part of the fun, isn't it? 😆

I've read a few other trip reports, and it seemed like Port Hardy, on the northern-most part of Victoria island is a popular stopping point. As it happens, it's a very convenient stopping point for us, as well. Almost perfectly splitting the journey.

View Larger Map

Once we've filled our bellies and our plane, we'll continue on to Ketchikan. This is a relatively short 2 hour flight, and should be a nice way to end the day.

Port Hardy has a cafe on the field, and it looks like a good option. However, it appears that it's cash-only, and doesn't have an ATM, so we'll need to figure out how to get some Canadian currency before flying up.

There is 100LL fuel reported on the field, according to the Canadian Flight Supplement, but, as mentioned in the FAA Flying to Alaska document, it's wise to call ahead and check on fuel status prior to departure.

First leg

Between Corvallis and Port Hardy we can get almost all the way there on V495, but switching to V165 at Newberg (UBG) is a bit of a short-cut, and I'm planning on re-joining V495 at DIGGN, which is near the North East corner of the Olympic Peninsula. From there, we'll track V440 to Port Hardy. The highest MEA along this route is 9,600' near the mid-point of Victoria island, and I'm flight planning for cruise at 10,000'.

First leg of the trip, from KCVO to CYZT

Second leg

From Port Hardy to Ketchikan is a short enough, and remote enough, flight that there's no real point to worrying about airways, so we filed point-to-point. The path is from YJQ, PR, ANN, and finally PAKT. The highest MEA on this trip is 7000', and I'll fly it at 10,000'.

Second leg of the trip, from CYZT to PAKT


Risk & Reward

As with any activity, and especially with flying, risk is present. One must decide what their risk tolerance is, the inherent risk of their activity, circumstantial risk, and strategies for the mitigation of risk. For this trip, the most salient risks specific to this trip are:



The weather in Alaska and Northwest Canada is notorious for its treacherousness. There are two concerns in particular. One is coastal fog, the other is icing.

To mitigate these risks, we've designed our trip with flexibility in mind. This is a particular challenge for Katie, who normally plans our trips down to the hour. We have only three major activities scheduled, and they're in the middle of our trip. This will give us the freedom to skip a day of flying if the weather isn't cooperating.

Furthermore, Will is an instrument-rated pilot, and we will be filing and flying the trip under instrument flight rules.

Finally, our plane is equipped with a non-hazard icing protection system (using TKS fluid). This is not a system that you can rely upon (legally, or practically), but if we end up in icing it will buy us some time to turn around and get out.


Cloudy mountains

This is high country. Denali is a stupidly tall mountain (around 20,000'). A lot of the mountains out here are huge. One problem this poses is that the weather and the terrain may push us to fly higher than is safe given the "thinness" of the atmosphere at altitude. Another problem is the potential for lack of situational awareness while in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) and finding some terrain by surprise.

For the first problem, we mitigate it by choosing routes by looking at the highest MEA of the journey for each leg. In our case, the highest MEA is 11,300'. Will is a fit, relatively young, non-smoker. We routinely fly at ten, eleven, sometimes twelve thousand feet without supplemental oxygen. We have a pulse oximeter onboard, and check our SpO2 frequently on these flights. We make sure that it's at least 90%.

Regarding the unexpected encounter with terrain, the mitigation here is to use the technological tools at our disposal, including the aircraft's multi-function display (MFD), the terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS), and backup from the Foreflight synthetic vision system. Also, we will be avoiding IMC wherever possible, and my personal minimums for the ceilings at the destinations will be much higher than charted.


Ketchikan and Juneau are not accessible by road. Take a minute, and let that sink in. The implication of this is that these very small towns (by normal standards) need to get everything shipped in via air or boat.

Simple things like aviation fuel may be difficult to come by. The FAA advises that you call ahead to each port that you intend to receive services from, prior to departure, to make sure that they can actually provide them to you. The biggest worry is fuel. We intend to bring a few quarts of oil with us, and a few spare spark plugs.

Additionally, many Alaskan airports don't have precision instrument approaches. I suspect that this is due to the nearby terrain, in many cases. For at least Ketchikan and Juneau, these airports are nestled in deep canyons. It's hard to have a miles-long straight shot to a runway, to say nothing about a missed approach procedure in this case.

Instrument approach to Juneau

For the instrument pilots reading, check out the approach for Juneau shown above, notice how different many things are relative to the lower-48, even the mountainous west. First of all, the missed approach point (MAP) and minimum descent altitude (MDA) are relatively far away from the airport and higher than normal. Also, if you reach MOLRE, and don't see the airport, you had better be turning without delay!


While our plane is in excellent condition, and there are no known issues, anything could happen. We're flying over a lot of desolate land, and the endpoints may have limited mechanical service available.

There's really no mitigation available other than to address anything that comes up as soon as its detected, especially if there are services available on the field. This even applies if it means that we may miss an appointment or booking because of it. It will be tempting to defer issues if it's inconvenient to have them addressed.


Things are different in Canada. Things are even different in Alaska. These procedural differences are at best annoying, but at worst could lead to loss of separation with other aircraft.

The mitigation strategy for this risk is to read up on the procedures, and try to understand them as best as possible. I've got the Canadian Airman's Information Manual, and I've been reading through it.

Risk Tolerance

Phew, that's a lot of risk!

Or is it?

Ultimately, we decided that the risks are fully outweighed by rewards. We planned 4 days in Juneau, that gives us a bank of days that we can use to stay safe in the case of weather. On the way home, we don't have any appointments, Will has two days of PTO to spare, and we're taking the safer interior route.