Thursday, July 30, 2015

Planes, Helicopters, and other Aircraft

After our last tour to a northern Alberta fire tower, Hailey and I made it back to camp, and eventually back home for days off.  The grassland around my house was more like a hayfield, but after boosting the riding mower, the grass was slashed back to a more presentable and manageable level.  This also had the effect of exposing all the gopher mounds that were regularly popping up.  I’ve rarely seen these critters and they seem to be more active at night, but there was one that seemed to be a bit confused.  He therefore caught my attention, and that of my GoPro camera.  A bit later – Hailey also noticed …!

Check out the video here.

I had some possible plans for the days off, including a music festival, but the weather reports looked bad, so that idea was scrubbed.  At the last minute, the weather looked good enough for an airshow a bit over an hours drive away, so that was the spur of the moment decision.


There were a lot of different acts and performers including sky dive teams, aerobatic planes, a CF-18 painted in Battle of Britain colours.IMG_9404

IMG_9577And, of course the Snowbirds were there.  All Canadians know the Snowbirds, but for those south of the border, they are our version of the Blue Angels.IMG_9568IMG_9538IMG_9520IMG_9516IMG_9474IMG_9469

All too soon, it was back to ‘work’.  But after only a few days, yet another opportunity arose and Hailey and I were only too happy to volunteer for it.  I think we are getting the routine down to an art.  Go home and load up the Rubbermaid containers, cat food, and everything else for a mini road trip!  As usual of late the road trip would end with an airlift, so it takes some care to cut down the mountain of gear to a manageable load.  Once again, it was a rental vehicle, this time a GMC suv.  The timing was good because I got to leave the big GMC at the GM spa and garage, where they were to install the new updated communications gear that will give me an on-board hot spot, just like the brand new vehicles!

Came across this out in a pasture one day as I was out to troubleshoot a lightning detector that forms part of the provincial system.  This is not the lightning detector!IMG_9383

Prior to departure I had an opportunity to swing by our tanker base at the local airport – where there had also been an airshow that week that I had been unable to attend.  It seems that the Snowbirds were expected to perform at that show as well, but some of their craft got damaged in a hail storm and the their show did not go on Sad smile.   But I saw three of the aircraft close-up as they rolled out to depart to the next airshow down in Lethbridge.


I forgot to get any photos on the road trip portion, but as usual we stopped by an airport to arrange the last leg of the trip.  First time in this type of helicopter for both of us; and both of us got to sit in the front seat.




The runway ends in the lake, so a beach fly-by was mandatory.SlaveLakeBeachHaileyHelicopterKimapproachFlattop

After a fairly short flight this time, we got to see our latest cabin in the woods, and office in the sky!


Unlike many towers in the boreal forest where there is no view unless you are up in the tower, this one boasts amazing views from the ground of nearby lakes, and even back to town.IMG_9596IMG_9599IMG_2323

I had thought that the flying part of the day was over, but that evening I got my own personal airshow as the birddog and a tanker came by to dispose of an unused load.


That’s it – till we get back to civilization …

Sunday, July 12, 2015

On the Road, and in the Air

There have certainly been challenges the last while with trying to keep a blog anywhere near up to date.  As well as going through two new laptops, and re-installing all my programs and files three times, there were also some serious connectivity issues.

Our internet in the fire base camp is beamed from the source in town to a mountaintop fire lookout about 70km out, then another 15km or so down into the camp.  Although well grounded, a lightning strike managed to fry a few components of the system.  Repairs take time and require multiple helicopter flights to first assess the damage, then return with new replacement parts.  We do have a satellite based back-up system which has not been used for a while, and it turns out it now requires a change to a new satellite.  I was getting by, using a blackberry as a hotspot, by parking in a strategic spot along the road where there was some cell coverage, but that only worked well for quick e-mails and the like.  And to make matters worse, our communications guy got sent up north to help with the fire situation up there.


It has turned into a busy fire season in much of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan, but not much has been happening in our area, so most of the crews have been shipped out to areas where there are fires.  That makes things pretty quiet in camp.

IMG_9110I think they even closed it for a while?  But I wouldn’t know, since Hailey and I were off on another working road and flying trip to the north country.  Like last fall, there was a need for a short term tower person to fill in for a while, and I guess we were on top of the short list!


Our ride for the first part of the journey was a brand new 2015 GMC Sierra 2500 4X4, with leather seats, back-up camera, and a touch screen entertainment centre.  Nice!  I hope I don’t get too spoiled by it.


Hailey settled in for the long drive north to Peace River.  I told her she was going on her 5th helicopter trip, so she decided to practice a bit with her flying box.


The next day we were off early for the 45 minute flight in to the tower.BisonFlightBisonTowerApproach

Our temporary home came complete with a screened in porch full of plants and the yard had squirrels and groundhogs to provide some entertainment for Hailey.  I wouldn’t let her climb the tower with me, so she decided to get up on the roof for a look around herself.IMG_2260IMG_2295IMG_2294IMG_2291

Lots of groundhogs here, and at first I thought I might have to use stealth to get a decent photo.  I started from up in the tower.



Soon, I realized that they were not that afraid and I had to back off in order to get the telephoto to focus.


Hailey spotted one a bit too far from it’s escape hole – and took after it.  But I noticed that she was careful to run slowly and not actually catch up to it, since they were about her size!

Most towers I have been to have had ‘safety’ rings around the ladder.  Like this one I was at last year.


But this brand new tower is wide open, with nothing to block the view.  Must be a govt austerity program!  I wasn’t sure I would like it, but now I prefer that there is nothing to get snagged, and like the extra elbow room.  And, it’s only 100’ down.IMG_9184


I know some tower folks who have not spotted a real fire in a long time, but as luck would have it, I was only up in the tower a couple hours when the ambient smoke cleared enough for me to spot a large column of smoke to the north!  I called it in, and soon the area was the centre of attention.  Two bomber groups were dispatched and did a good job of surrounding the blaze, but crews worked on it for the next week, keeping it to around 5 hectares or 13 acres in size.  On another rare clear day, I could see huge smokes to the north and east of the tower.


Other fires in the area necessitated the evacuation of the tower that Hailey and I spent time in last fall.IMG_9247IMG_9171


That’s all for now …….!