A Misty Tale… The Adventures of David "Buck" Wilson
A flightsim story
By Bryan Kirk

February...

The scene would never change. Ever since the time he was 10 years old and had left for his first Boy Scout summer camp, David Wilson would always look back and see his mother stand on the front porch of the family house, and cry!

Whether leaving for just a few days on the road for a hockey tournament or when at 16 he left with two buddies to go climb Mt. Washington, Laura Wilson always felt like she was seeing her precious son for the last time.

So as he waited in the small Bush Flying Unlimited departure lounge at Vancouver International Airport to board BFU flight 002 to Anchorage (with stops in Prince Rupert, Ketchikan and Juneau), David could not help but smile, since his mother had repeated that same scene just a few hours ago.

***

He had awakened at the crack of dawn and drove his beat-up pickup truck to MacDonald-Cartier International Airport (CYOW) in Ottawa, Ontario. His father had come along so he could drive the truck back to their home in Wakefield, Quebec since "Buck" Wilson would be leaving his trusted Chevy behind. He was sure he would find some decent wheels once he reached Alaska.

Yes, David Wilson had finally decided to leave everything behind and start something new. Since quitting the Canadian Air Force last year, "Buck" had found it difficult to adapt to a "normal" civilian life. After all, where do you go after flying C-130 Hercs for the 429th Transport Squadron - 8th Wing? What do you do after your mantra, for the past seven years, has been "Anyplace, Anytime, Anywhere"?

He had joined the Air Force after graduating from Ottawa University, had finished first in his class and earned his wings in less than two years. He had refused to pursue the training to become a fighter jock in the CF-18's, and had focused on the multi-purposed C-130 Hercules. Somehow, it reminded him of the beloved Tonka Trucks of his youth.

After seven years of flying in hot zones (and cold places!) all over the globe, he had decided he needed something new, and had left the service.

Of course, that INCIDENT with the young wife of an older Colonel had not helped…

- "I was sure it was his daughter!", had been the only decent thing he had found to say at the court martial, and that had not helped his case at all!

What he had not expected was that the "real" world was a lot less organized than the military, and that his flying skills were not the ones Air Canada and WestJet were looking for. He had managed to get a few contracts here and there for charter services operating out of CYOW and CYND (Ottawa-Gatineau), but flying burly businessmen always complaining about being late bored him to death.

Then one night, while out for some beers at the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, he had met Todd Holman.

Todd was also an ex-Air Force pilot, although much older than David, and now worked full time for Air Creebec, in Northern Quebec. With beer helping, Todd had started talking about bush flying and how guys like him were a hot commodity outside of the "civilized" airspace.

Suddenly, as the folk singer on the stage started a nice rendition of Steve Earle's "My old friend the blues", the older pilot had started some undistinguishable mumbling about a crash landing in Waskaganish that was not is fault, but had snapped back to reality after the always cheerful crowd of the Black Sheep had given a warm round of applause.

- "There's only one place for you to go kid, it's Ketchikan. There's so much going on over there, everybody is looking for good pilots."

- "Come on, there must be work somewhere closer?"

- "Sure, but money won't come as easy as up in the Misty Fjords. There's a wack of Air Taxi Operators, charter operators, cargo, you name it. You can even make a decent life just freelancing with your own plane. I am telling you, that place gets pretty crazy when the cruise ships start lining up in the harbour in May and when the hunters and anglers land at PAKT. You won't find a spot anywhere else on the planet where there are so many Beavers, Otters, Maules and Super Cubs."

- "Yeah, but it's not like I can just show up there with a "pilot for hire" sign!"

- "No, but damn, you've been flying C-130's for crying out loud! This place IS for you. You would find something in no time! I'll make a deal with you; I am in town for a few more days, visiting my daughter. I'll make a few phone calls. Let's see each other again here tomorrow night."

And on that, the older pilot ordered another draft and started mumbling again as the singer kept on going in the background.

Driving back home that night, Buck had been lost in thoughts. Maybe bush flying was the way to go. He could not envision a life without flying, but at the same time he knew quite well he would not survive in the working environment of the commercial airlines. He realized although he didn't miss the military lifestyle, he sure as hell missed the feeling of buzzing in a C-130 for a tight landing…

The next day, he had decided to "clear his brain" and had rented a C172 at the Ottawa Flying Club. Alone in the air, he had followed his beloved Gatineau River all the way to Grand-Remous. At 3000 feet above the ground, with almost no wind to deal with, and with clear and beautiful skies, David felt at home. Forget about therapists and all the self-proclaimed "personal growth" sessions, this was HIS therapy.

Flying had actually always been a major therapy for him. His ex-wife (the marriage at lasted only a year) used to call it his "bubble". She never understood his passion about it, nor the special bond between a pilot and HIS bird. In her case, the competition had just been too much. One August night five years ago, he had come home at CFB Trenton from a supply flight to CFB Alert (Nunavut) only to find an empty apartment, and not even a note. There were no kids involved, and the divorce had been painless.

Low and slow, watching the world unfold under him, David Wilson decided somewhere near the Maniwaki airport that he would jump on whatever that weird bush pilot might propose to him tonight. Maybe Alaska was indeed the best place for him at the moment.

He arrived at the Black Sheep Inn at around 8:00pm. The grey haired pilot was already sitting at the bar, and David was pretty sure he had been on that stool for awhile.

- "So you showed up young man!", Todd yelled out. "We need to talk."

He then started chatting about Ketchikan, and the year he had lived there.

- "I flew all around the world kid. And I met all sorts of people. But I left my heart in the Misty Fjords. It's tough to describe the feeling you get when flying over there. The weather and the air are unique. Sometimes, when I would be picking up clients in a small cabin somewhere, I would just stand at the end of the dock, close my eyes, and just absorb it all. It's priceless."

David figured the old guy was getting drunk and sentimental, but he did have to admit that he felt attracted to that place.

- "Anyways", he said suddenly coming back to reality, "I made some calls. There's this girl I know over there. She's quite the character, but she owes me a few favours."

And so Todd Hunter introduced him to the "legend" of Ms. Patsy "Misty" Fletcher, owner and operator of "Misty's Place", the best hangout spot for pilots this side of Juneau.

***

She was quite the character alright. In her mid 40's, she was born in Ketchikan, and the further south she had ever been was Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Her father, Bill Fletcher had moved to Alaska after WW2, and had numerous "brief" encounters with the ladies of the area.

One foggy and rainy June morning, still hung-over from the previous night, he had found a little baby girl in a basket at the front door of his "shack", "She's your daughter, good luck", was the only thing written on the note that hung on the basket, and he had fought the urge to run away after he had picked up the baby… with a wet diaper!

But he had not run away, and the new arrival had changed his life. He had quit drinking, and promised to himself he would make sure his little "misty" baby would be raised straight.

He had sold everything he owed except his Beaver, plunged into his life savings and his veteran's allowance, and opened Misty's Place, a small general store located in Thorne Bay.

With the Misty Fjords National Monument area expanding and starting to attract more and more people, his little operation became the local hangout spot for pilots, and whoever could get there.

After he passed away in 1994, Misty Fletcher had naturally decided to run the place, since it was the only thing she had ever learned to do… right! Misty's Place was now a coffee shop/restaurant/bar/general store/boarding house/repair shop, where locals and outsiders would drop by for a good cup of coffee, an excellent meal, gas, conversation, a set of spark plugs, or an engine overhaul by Hank the mechanic. In the 80's, Bill Fletcher had even build a 2500' dirt runway for wheeled airplanes, and a small marina so that all the boats that passed by could stop.

All Misty Fletcher was trying to do was run a "man's business" in a "man's world" ... and she was doing a darn good job of it. She could hold her own with both the mechanics out in the hangar and the guys that stayed too late at the bar. And she could "smell" when the conditions were REALLY not decent for VFR flying!

Now 44 years old, Misty woke up with a smile every morning, thinking about, as happened again last night, the long string of bush pilots that had tried to navigate their way into her bed. Yes, they were a bunch of rascals, but for Misty, they were still the guys with the most class, at least in this part of the United States. She just could not stand the guys who worked in the lumber mills, and the fishermen… all smelled like fish!

One day, she had crossed path with Todd Hunter. He was quite younger back then, and had something different than the other "flyboys" she was used to meet. Todd flew a big Super Otter for one of the lumber companies, and had become a regular at Misty's Place. Good time they had shared for more than six months (quite a record for Misty), before he had one night left town to go back east.

She still had a special place in her heart for Todd, and was shocked when he called her (after more than 10 years) to ask a favour.

***

The conversation had been awkward, like those always were. After the small talk and the bad tries at excuses, Todd had mentioned to Misty he had befriended with a young pilot looking for a new beginning, and that he thought the kid had a good heart.

It just so happened she was looking for help. The guy that had been her "pilot/jack of all trades" for the past two years was about to leave her for something better (at least that's what he thought it was), and she needed a good lad to help out, mostly to fly around the small fleet of airplanes she owned (including her father's beloved Beaver) and used for cargo, charter and to fly in stuff from "down south". If he could get to the Misty Fjords at his own expenses and not mind living in somewhat "tight" quarters for awhile… and especially if he was more pleasant to look at than her ever-frowning mechanic Hank… Misty was willing to give him a break.


***

The friendly smile of the lounge attendant that came to remind him it was time to board his flight brought David back to reality. It was only a quick walk to the plane, so he rapidly found his seat in the tight Beechcraft 1900D that Bush Flying Unlimited used for its daily "milk run" flight from Vancouver to Anchorage.

David hated to be a passenger on an airplane. For most of the five and a half hour flight between Ottawa and Vancouver, he had closed his eyes and visualized the operations in the flight deck of the Airbus. He had never been a fan of the "heavy irons", and had always wondered how a pilot could keep his flying "edge" while letting a computer do the work.

Not long after buckling up, the first officer was on the intercom to announce that they would be leaving the gate on time. "Not bad for a small operation like this", thought David.

While looking for a good deal to get himself to PAKT, he had stumbled upon this new service of BFU. Well know in Canada and the US for its various charter services, Bush Flying Unlimited had started last year to offer a limited number of regular passenger flights, mostly in BC and Alaska. Reliable, trouble-free, and cheap, the experience had caught on and BFU now planned to double the service next summer.

As the dual Pratt & Whitney engines came to life, David settled in his seat and smiled that the one next to him was not occupied. In this plane, that was almost like a first-class ticket! Since he had slept for most of the flight from Ottawa, he decided to catch up on some reading, and pulled out some documentation on Ketchikan and the Misty Fjords area, as well as some maps that Ms. Fletcher had mailed him.

As he always did (when he was not in the cockpit), he closed his eyes for a few seconds as the pilot pushed the throttles forward, released the brakes and the plane slowly started to roll down the runway.

From what he could see from his seat, he figured they were taking off from runway 26L. The cloud base was pretty low, so he had only a few minutes to admire the beautiful Vancouver area from his window seat.

The first officer was back on the intercom to announce some general information about the flight. They would be cruising at 20 000', but a strong head wind would have an impact on the flying time, which was now estimated at two hours and fifteen minutes. Weather was nice in Prince Rupert and Ketchikan, but they did expect some light turbulence on approach, since they would be flying through some bad weather over the Coast Mountains.

David's only regret was that he was sitting on the left side of the plane, looking west, instead of east. He was missing out on the scenery, but he knew he would have many other opportunities in the near future to admire the mountains.

About two hours after take-off, the first officer announced they were starting their descent to Prince Rupert. "These guys are good", David told himself, as the Beech kept descending towards the mountains in what looked like a thick fog cover. Upon reaching the coast again, and has the plane turned to line up to land on runway 13, he even had a great view on Big Bay.


At 13:57, the main wheels gently kissed the runway, and the 1900D rapidly exited the runway for what David hoped would be a quick stop in Prince Rupert.


***

The last of the three passengers debarking in Prince Rupert had just finished going down the stairs when a member of the ground crew climbed aboard and started whispering something in the ear of the flight attendant. As the burly man was talking to her, David had the strange feeling he was the topic of discussion, since both of them were staring at him. When they finished talking, the attractive young lady started walking towards him, and Dave could fell that ALL eyes were now on him.

- "Excuse me Mr. Wilson, but it seems you are requested in the terminal"

- "Huh….?", he simply replied, wondering what might be going on.

- "All they told me was that you would not be continuing the flight with us."

That got Dave somewhat concerned. In his only phone conversation with Misty Fletcher, only two days ago, she had assured him that customs and immigration would not be a problem. People easily "disappeared" in this part of North America! If that was the case, why the heck would he need to get off here?

He reluctantly picked up his small carry-on bag and put on his Gore-Tex jacket. Walking down the small stairs, he noticed someone was waiting for him just a few yards away, with a hand on his Lowe backpack.

- "David? Hi, name is Larry Campbell, I am the assistant manager of the airport."

Both men started walking towards the small terminal, as Mr. Campbell explained.

- "The manager of one of the local lumber mills left yesterday for a few weeks in Hawaii. While he's gone, he made arrangements so that Hank would do an overhaul of the engine of the Scout he uses to go fishing. Hank is too busy to come over and pick-it up, so Misty said you could fly it back up to her place."

- "And who might Hank be?"

- " Sorry! I forgot you were new around here! Hank is God!", Campbell said while laughing out loud. "Seriously, he's the mechanic at Misty's Place. He's a magician. Guys frequently outbid each other just hoping he'll have some free time to work on their planes."

- "So I guess I will be working with Hank then."

- "Actually, nobody works WITH Hank. He's quite the character. Goes along just well with Ms. Misty. Heck, I've know him for 10 years and he still barely says hi. I think the only word he knows is "thanks", and that's after you pay him for the job! Odds are you'll become his new test pilot."

The two of them crossed the terminal and headed for the GA hangars. Larry explained that the Scout David was about to fly into Thorne Bay had a lot of "history". The engine had been rebuilt a few times, and there were not many lakes in the area it had not landed on. "One tough little bird" he had added.

As they entered the hangar, David started realizing he had absolutely NO clue of what he was getting into. Here he was, a long, long way from home, getting ready to fly an amphib plane in an area he didn't know, and to a destination he didn't know. The only good news was that the weather conditions seemed pretty good for this part of the world.

- "Anybody around here that needs a lift to up there? I wouldn't mind a guide in the back seat", he asked.

- "Well, everything is pretty quiet around here today. None of our regular GA guys are around since they all left earlier today for their weekly group flight. Many showed up actually, 'cause this is the best weather we had in many weeks. But don't worry; you'll get there with your eyes closed! Around here, most pilots have GPS's with a good local database and this plane has one also. Once you reached Ketchikan, you can dial the Misty's Place NDB. You should pick it up not too long after that. Let's go for a coffee, and I will walk-you through the sectional map. You'll see… a piece of cake."

While drinking some lukewarm coffee served in the office of the assistant manager, David started studying the sectional. This did indeed look pretty straightforward. Nothing too complicated in flying over water, and it would give him an early glance at the area that would become his new home.

So Ms. Misty didn't want to wait to get him busy he told himself. Oh well, why not! The unexpected had been part of his military life for a long time anyways.

After about 30 minutes of chatting and plotting, Larry recommended to him that he should start thinking about leaving, since this would probably be the best weather conditions he would get today

David grabbed a can of Coke and a bag of chips from a vending machine, and walked again towards the hangar, with a light bounce in his step. He was coming here for adventure, and it sure looked like adventure had found him! Larry wished him good luck, and told him he would give a call to Ms. Misty to tell her he was about to leave.

After a somewhat long walk-around and extensive checks, he climbed aboard the small cockpit, fitted his big frame inside of it as best as he could, and turned on the master switch. The Scout quickly came to life, and he turned on the avionics and the Garmin GPS. In just a few clicks, he had on the screen a direct-to flight path to Thorne Bay… and he was ready to start the engine!

Taxiing towards runway 13, his biggest concern was getting used to handling an amphib plane. This WAS weird. He heard cracks and squeals from everywhere, but it seemed to be staying in one piece!

David did a quick scan of the instruments and took yet another peek at the sectional map, while rolling towards the hold-short line. He then announced his takeoff intention on the CYPR traffic channel, and proceeded onto the runway. He kept telling himself this would be a piece of cake, but also knew damn well the last thing he wanted to do was to botch his first landing at Misty's Place. That would not make a good first impression!

He pushed in the throttle and the Scout started rumbling down the runway (not too gracefully he would add!). He was rapidly airborne, and was immediately enchanted by the Scout and how it felt in the air. With no significant cloud base to deal with, but a somewhat limited visibility in the immediate vicinity of the airport, he settled in at 2500' and easily trimmed the plane for cruise.

The remaining 75 minutes of the flight would stay engraved in his mind forever. What he was witnessing was not spectacular, it was breathtaking! Cruising along at this low altitude, he decided to just let the surroundings sink-in. For all the research, pictures, and conversation about this place, this flight was the most amazing first impression he could of have. He even wondered if Ms. Misty had not planned it this way.

Since he was in no rush, and now REALLY enjoying the Scout, he decided to casually cruise along the east coast of Chatham Sound, then the Revillagigedo Channel as far as Ketchikan. A quick glance at the sectional confirmed it would not be a complicated route to follow.

He kept listening closely to the UNICOMM frequency, trying to stay at a good distance from the other traffic. It was a somewhat difficult task, since he was not familiar to the region and sure as hell didn't want to come face-to-face with a Beaver coming out of one of those valleys! The one good news was that the flying conditions were amazing for this time of the year, and that the fog that had been hanging around Prince Rupert was lifting fast as he was flying north.

Approaching the PAKT airspace, he contacted the tower to request a Class D airspace transit, and then proceeded towards Tongass Narrows to fly over Ketchikan. He then turned to the northwest and towards Thorne Bay.


With visibility improving more and more as the minutes passed, David wished he had not left his digital camera in his backpack. He was now flying over Clarence Strait, along the Kasaan Peninsula. From what he saw on his GPS and the sectional map, it would soon be time to start thinking about his approach to Thorne Bay, and to Misty's Place.

Now at 1500', there was no need for a long descent as he reached Tolstoi Point. He contacted Misty's Place on the UNICOMM, and was surprised to hear Ms. Misty herself answer back.

- "Glad to hear you made it in one piece son. Winds are calm at 2 knots from the 040. We are doing some minor repairs on the runway this afternoon, so just go land in the bay, and Hank will roll the plane in tomorrow."

- "Roger that. Winds at 2 knots from 040, clear to land in the bay. See you in a few minutes."

- "I'll be on the dock!"

Reluctantly, David reduced the throttles and started the short descent, while lining-up to land right in front of Misty Place's which he now had a visual on. He also took a peek at the small community of Thorne, just across the bay, which he figured would soon become his new "hometown".

The Scout was indeed a joy to fly, and he hoped he would do so again in the near future. With calm winds to deal with, he double-checked for any objects he might have missed when he flew over his landing area and adjusted his power while on short final.

With a lot of water to work with, he gracefully touched down close to the dock (and of his new boss) but was somewhat caught by surprise by the "tippy" attitude of the Scout when he tried to turn a bit too abruptly towards shore.

Ms. Misty guided him in, and grabbed the plane herself when David reached the dock. In no time, she had secured it, and he was climbing down the Scout.

- "Welcome to Alaska kid! That was a nice landing."

- "I always believed in first impressions!"

- "Well, that was not bad then. Let's go inside, you must be starving!"

And on that, "Buck" Wilson grabbed his backpack from the empty back seat, and had to run a bit to catch up to his new boss.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Go to Chapter 2


©2005 Bryan Kirk