Sapporo to Petropavlovsk to Nome
June 23, 2008
One night in Sapporo, June 23, 2008 It is a short flight, relative to our normal legs, to Sapporo from Seoul. We check in to our on airport, Japanese style Microtel. A little Spartan for our hotel rooms at Missouri River Aviation, Jim. They are nice enough however and very efficient. This is a modularly constructed hotel. Unfortunately, you have to step up 4” to go into the bathroom. Oddly, none of us could remember this important detail of Microtel living in the middle of the night. We were all a little gimpy with stubbed toes next morning.
We took the high speed train from the airport into the Sapporo downtown train station looking for dinner. There is not too much English spoken here so we struggle a bit getting our bearings. We are assisted by this very cute, train station hostess in pillbox hat and red suit. Not much English but she aimed us at the ATM machine and the taxi cabs with a great big smile.
We are off but know not where. We have not eaten for many hours so we are getting desperate. Nothing is open yet, it is 4:00PM local. We finally wander in to a #10, crab restaurant. Traditional Japanese in every respect. Beautifully dressed staff in kimono point at pictures of crab prepared in every way imaginable. The food was great and the Sake better. We decide to take taxis back to our Microtel in that we had no idea where we were. This is I am sure a generalization, but the gentle and respectful nature of oriental people, Chinese, Korean and Japanese is so refreshing and appreciated.
We are now almost done with this great adventure around the world and what is most striking to me is how wonderfully we have been treated by all we have met. People don’t make war. Governments and wacko’s do. People are pretty much the same. There are huge economic differences, but at the end of the day from the poorest to the richest we all just want to be able to live and prosper in peace.
My goal is to study more about other cultures. To date, I have based my world view and opinions on too little information, handed to me in sound bites by organizations which are influenced by agenda or economic situation. I finish this trip much more optimistic about the world. Huge problems exist and finding solutions is way above my pay grade. There will continue to be horrific events in many areas of the world. There always have been. I continue to believe that 99.9% of the people on the face of the earth are good. We just need to coordinate our efforts a little better to deal with the .1%.
I am looking forward to getting back to my wonderful wife, Mary and our family and friends. I have missed them greatly. I have the best clients imaginable and they have been so gracious in letting me take this time away from the office. I have seen a lot of architecture and dozens of FBOs. Brace yourselves. - Mercer
Catching up on some of the end game stories- A career first! My leg to Petro with Captain Chris on the radios. We copied down our clearance to taxi out of Sapporo. We were sure the guy had missed something- namely giving us an initial altitude to climb to. As we were nearing the end of the runway and had things squared away, Chris asked the controller to please give us our initial altitude to be assigned. The controller responded that we had been given the clearance to cruise at Flight Level Four One Zero and that was exactly what he meant! I have never in my life been cleared to my final altitude from the takeoff clearance before! We sheepishly acknowledged his somewhat put out response and took to the runway, dialing in 41,000 feet on the autopilot for our “initial climb.”
An interesting sight on this flight occurred about 300 miles after takeoff. I was watching a large contrailing aircraft approach, both visually and on the TCAS system, indicating that he was 7,000 feet below us- therefore cruising at 34,000. It looked at a distance like a 747, with its bulbous front end, but it didn’t look right- it looked “crooked.” Well, as it passed below us, I figured out why. It was indeed a 747, but it was operating on only 3 engines instead of 4.
Thus, the thick contrails of condensed moisture were emanating from only 3 engines- two on the right side and one on the left, leaving an imbalanced trail behind him as he flew on to Japan. Yes- a 747 can operate quite well on 3, just not as high or quite as fast as with 4.
Mercer provides herein the pictures of the Russian soldiers that met us in Petropavlovsk and some of the pictures of the Foxbats and other machines that were scattered about this cold war base.
There were spectacular cone shaped volcanic mountains all around “Petro” as we arrived from Sapporo, starting with one sticking up through the clouds above an island about 100NM south of there and on three sides of the airport as we descended. An intricate arrival and approach- you fliers should look up the ILS at Petro (Identifier UHPP) to see the descent plan around the rocks.
Landing in to the wind seemed of no importance to them either, but with over 10,000 feet in front of us, we obliged rather than cause an international incident by asking for the other runway… I had stayed with the plane to oversee the refueling as the other guys went in to the terminal in a van to get the paperwork handled.
After the fueling was done, I pantomimed the need for a men’s room and asked if I could just walk over the 300 meters to the terminal. No, but the lady in uniform would lead me to another building. She strode ahead, I dutifully followed and went into what looked like a small TSA security type site in a very small old building. She pointed and I went in to the one -holer men’s room.
As I came out, I noticed that there was a small security camera attached high up on the wall. It was in a white plastic housing… the brand was written clearly on it- Radio Shack! - Bob
Nome was “Half Ready” for us.
Jim and Chris took the leg from Petro to Nome- this day being by far the longest travel times of the entire trip. I was reading my book and noticed that the crew was getting quite busy- looking again and again at the approach plate which is displayed on the center screen of the panel. I went up to find out what was what and was told two interesting things:
That the runway was “half closed.” Not half lengthwise, but half widthwise! They were looking at the charts and trying to make sure that we would be able to make a safe arrival on the open half. We need to figure that out BEFORE we begin the descent to Fairbanks, as our alternate airport was a good distance away and we would want to shepherd our fuel reserves carefully. The best way to do that is to make your mind up while you are still at cruise altitude.
The second part of the challenge was that the last half of the runway was only going to be open for 30 minutes after we landed. The question then was; can we get fueled and through Customs in that time or would they allow us perhaps to clear Customs at the next stop in Anchorage?? Tower folks said that we would stay “sterile” and clear Customs in Anchorage, but as we rolled out on final- I could see the guy in the blue uniform with the gold badge over by the “fbo.” It was going to be a challenge we thought. I had thought as far back as Seoul, when we were once again dealt with by very courteous Customs people that my most unpleasant experience at the border would be- as it usually is- upon re-entry to the United States. I can still vividly recall an entry in 1981 coming back from Australia. One of the singularly most unpleasant experiences of my life was putting up with the jerk behind the badge in Honolulu that treated us as convicted killers when Kim and I came back from Australia. WELL, I worried about nothing, as we were met by a most delightful gentleman in Nome, the sole member of U.S. Customs in the city- meeting us at midnight his time no less, with a cheerful and professional manner that – when combined by a great quick turn performance by the native Alaskan lineman with the credit card machine in the truck cab-had us back on our way 26 minutes after touchdown! Thanks, Officer Bob! You and the line guy have proved to me that Nome needs another and better visit some day. - Bob