Frank Whaley was interviewed by Kay Kennedy. In this interview, he talks about the origin of the term "bush pilot" and "whiteout," adventures in flying in the Arctic, and landing and taking off in remote locations. In paticular, he discusses tieing down airplanes on ice and in windy conditions, and marking "runways" for easier landings.
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The origin of the term "Bush Pilot"
Learning to land on less than ideal runways
Bush pilots learned from their mistakes
Cooperation between pilots
Constructing an ice bridge
Different methods of tying down a plane
Planes could take a beating on the ground
The hazards of Arctic flying
You cannot turn around on glare ice
The use of a skag
The danger of overflow on ice
Landing in the summer with high winds
Whiteouts are deceiving
Origin of the term "whiteout"
Standing children served as runway markers
A lack of radio communication
Setting the plane down and waiting out weather
Using lamp black to make a ground marker
Hans Mirow used a red fox to plan his landing
Arctic landing conditions are always changing
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FRANK WHALEY: -- when they first started using the term bush pilots was by Canadians where the pilots, in order to get into and out of small airports -- say you had a 700–foot river bar with willows, which is the case when you're landing in the summer on willow bars, willows extending up at either end, if you used a normal glide pattern to clear the willows, stayed over the top of them, you'd use up the 100, 150 feet of your run before you could touch the ground, and you wouldn't have enough space left to get stopped.
So once you had drug the field several times, checking very closely down through the willows there was no logs laying there, then we would make an approach with the wheels hanging way down in the willows.
If you had the willows 5, 6–foot high, why, you'd actually be down clipping these willows with your prop-- your tail group would be in this particularly because you're coming into a stall. So the tail is down and the tail wheel, the landing gear, and the wire -- guy wires, some of it, the tail flippers would be clipping and collecting these willows.
When you landed, you finally come to a stop, you'd have a couple bushel baskets full of these willows hanging on to the tail. These bushes hanging all over your airplane. The same would apply, even though you picked them off, and then at a short field on your takeoff, your tail would be dragging down through these willows getting out of there.
You'd come back in from such a flight, and the -- the comment, well, Pete, I see you've been out in the bushes again. So the term "bush pilot" developed from that. The guy that really got out and flew the bushes brought them home on the landing gear and the tail group. I think this would be interesting there because a lot people, what designates a bush pilot?
KAY KENNEDY: Um-hum. How'd it get it's name.
FRANK WHALEY: They were pilots that seldom had the opportunity to use an airfield, the old original, but there were no airfields. You had to scope out yourself what was gonna be your best bet for a landing, particularly in the summer. And most of them involved landing on river bars.
KAY KENNEDY: That usually had the willows.
FRANK WHALEY: And many of them had the willows. This particularly was true all through, well, through in Canada and the same up here.
The other thing that we perfected particularly in the bush flying because I know it was a terrible shock to me, using airports that wasn't at all in a straight line. We -- we perfected, or I found out I had to to get by. You couldn't find a straight river bar that's 6 or 800–foot long lots of times. It would be at a half moon.
So you would have to come in there and you'd land to take advantage of the straightest section of it, but shortly after you got on the ground, you would have to usually control this with the rudder. You -- you the bar itself, the sand was so soft that you could not use much in the way of brake action because it would dig in this soft sand and flip you around or ground whip you.
And we would have to use our rudder, and even at times with a little bit of power we'd have to kick on it to help make this turn. We'd have to blast it with power it to make this half–moon turn on a river bar. And then --
KAY KENNEDY: Then on takeoff.
FRANK WHALEY: And on takeoff. The takeoff wasn't so bad. You had much better control on a takeoff because there you got your --
KAY KENNEDY: Power.
FRANK WHALEY: -- you've got all your power, you've got all this blast back over the tail, the rudder will respond, and you could make a, oh, 45–degree turn on a takeoff with power on. But it's your landing that gives you the most problem having to turn with it.
And of course, depending on whether or not you can use any brakes in this area that you're on.
The trouble is, we didn't know in most cases, unless you'd been on the field before, if you were landing on a river that you weren't familiar with on bars, it would -- they could look very much the same from the air, and there would be some fairly heavy gravel on top, but in an inch or so, well, this you'd break through in the soft silt stuff. And we've all been trapped a number of times on that. It was completely deceiving.
All these things it was necessary to try out and kind of learn by trial and error methods. And that's one of the reasons that just about all of us have left airplanes stacked around the country because there was no book already written to go by.
When I first came up here, I got a look at the type of flying they were doing, and to me, it seemed most of it would be classed in the safe side as acrobatic or stunt flying is -- would be a better term for it.
I used to do quite a little barnstorming in which we did a lot of stunt–type work there. But that was my first impression that this stuff is more like stunt flying than it is any conventional flying. And no one was able to convert right from stateside flying to this bush–type flying that we do up here in Alaska all in one big jump.
You had to take little bites at a time and master the different things that you did. First of all, convincing yourself that it was practical or safe, that you could get away with it.
KAY KENNEDY: Well, you learn something from every crackup.
FRANK WHALEY: Yes, that's very true. And this was another thing. We did get together, the pilots, and would brief one another pretty well or fairly cooperative as to what caused it and what they might have done to avoid the situation.
There was, however, a great deal of jealousy. If a new pilot came into an area that was already being served and became another competitor, why, it was a pretty rough go. You didn't expect much help there, and you didn't get much out of it.
KAY KENNEDY: Until he proved himself and was one of the gang?
FRANK WHALEY: The one thing that was kind of par in the course was that just about every pilot here in Alaska would go out in the event the person were missing and a real problem, they'd devote time and effort to try and locate him. They were very cooperative in this respect, even though it meant flying off and deserting their own business.
And as much as anything else, the reasoning was that I better help out of this one because I might be next.
Will your speaker pick this up now?
KAY KENNEDY: I hope so.
FRANK WHALEY: From this distance?
KAY KENNEDY: It's -- it's pretty good.
Then of course, there were these trips in winter flying, such as your ice bridges and things you've told me about. And --
FRANK WHALEY: Do you have a fix on those now so you know pretty well what that -- to be able to describe it?
KAY KENNEDY: An ice bridge? FRANK WHALEY: Yeah.
KAY KENNEDY: Yes. You dig -- you know, you dig down and you leave this and you put --
FRANK WHALEY: We all carried -- We all carried an axe, and usually a type that would be suitable for chopping. Some of the fellows had a special tool or special -- kind of like a mountain climbing axe. But all of us had a -- a regular axe that we carried for different purposes.
But you could dig a bridge down this way here. You'd have to have it at minimum of 12 inches deep here. 12 to 15 inches was better. See, this was the ice. And then you'd start over here chopping. You'd start you out a straight line. Then you chop on an angle here, leave this 15 inches or so here in the center, and start another bridge over here.
And this -- when you -- as you got down low, then this became quite a little chore to get it down low enough to -- and hold your -- your cross hole through here, then getting this hole through here. That's where some of the fellows had a regular pick axe type of thing, a mountain climbing axe that -- that was shaped --
KAY KENNEDY: Yeah.
FRANK WHALEY: -- more like this, you see, that you could take and use to -- to pick with it. But you could take --
KAY KENNEDY: You could use that for your tie down?
FRANK WHALEY: You could use that for a tie down. Pass your rope around under the bottom of that, up to your wing strut. Now, we used to use three of them, one on each wing and one on the tail. And cinch the tail right down steady. You'd tie right down around the tail wheel.
KAY KENNEDY: When did you pour water around to freeze around there, pour water in there -- FRANK WHALEY: Yes. KAY KENNEDY: -- to freeze it? FRANK WHALEY: Oh, no. No, this -- KAY KENNEDY: Oh.
FRANK WHALEY: No, this -- your rope is free here. So your rope passes through there and comes right up here to the top and goes on up to the wing. No, that's just a -- now, there are other ways of doing it. The other one, on this freezing in, now if you had ice, you say that you're on a lake that's only 6 or 8 inches deep, you wouldn't have enough depth to do this, you see.
And what you can do on any place -- and we do this out on the tundra, too. If you say you had a forced landing or anywhere you were out in the cold weather, you didn't have ice to dig to tie to, you could take and scrape or shovel the snow off from the area, get it down to bare tundra. Then with your axe cut a little V in the ground, maybe so deep, right in this frozen ground. Just chip this axe out, ice out -- actually ground out, an area so long.
And then we would usually tie 4 or 5 knots in the area that we were going to bury there. Then with your heating pot and a container that we always packed, a little bucket of some kind that we used to make soup in or anything else or melt water in, you'd melt water and pour the water -- you pour enough just to wet down the rope and wet down this surrounding grass, and then you -- to conserve on water, and then you'd take snow and put on top of that and pat it all down real good.
And then -- then you'd put another little layer of water on it and more snow and build this up to where you had quite a little hump there over your rope tied down, in this rock like --That would be just like welding a piece of steel to this frozen earth. And this was an excellent tie down.
On real thin ice on a lake, you could cut a hole down through the ice, take a rope tied to a good husky stick, whatever it might be, a good, like a willow, down through the center, and shove this down through here, and let it tip and it will come up against there. See. It will make your tie down there. All these situations depending on the conditions.
KAY KENNEDY: Those are the things that you figured out.
FRANK WHALEY: -- you had to learn and perfect yourself because they -- I say there was no book on it.
KAY KENNEDY: That is still today, isn't it? FRANK WHALEY: No.
KAY KENNEDY: Why don't you write one?
FRANK WHALEY: Well, there's still a lot of things -- Oh, I'm sure that the search and rescue must have a lot of data out, but I -- I question that they covered all the various procedures that we used to use there. I -- I -- for sure a lot of the methods we used to use in the Arctic that have never been covered, especially --
KAY KENNEDY: Well, I'm sure it hasn't either.
FRANK WHALEY: Now, the other way on this winter tie down. I say we would tie both wings and the tail. It was necessary to tie that tail because the extreme wind would -- would blow and put an awful strain on the wing. If one wing were holding all the load out here and this tail could get swung around, it would start working and give an awful pull on this strut.
By tieing and cinching that tail down real tight, this would keep the airplane really cinched down.
The other thing that we, of course, had to do and they do yet is to put on the controls -- they have control locks, or stops they call them, control stops, on the ailerons. Where the ailerons fasten into the wing, there's a -- say this was an aileron that moves down here, we'd take and had a thing, little plywood clips usually, or one–by–fours, 8, 10 inches long, and slip that thing with a bolt down through the center of it.
One piece here, a piece down here, a bolt through the center, and force this up over this slot between the wing and the aileron, see. I'm not sure, it's a little difficult to explain here.
But you know, on a -- where an aileron works on the airplane --
KAY KENNEDY: Yeah, that's -- FRANK WHALEY: Yeah, that's -- that's the control that you can tip.
KAY KENNEDY: Out at the end. Not -- not the flaps. FRANK WHALEY: No.
KAY KENNEDY: But farther out. FRANK WHALEY: The aileron. But where they move, you see, there's got to be some action potential here. This thing is hinged here. Say this is the wing. So we take this board here.
KAY KENNEDY: Oh, I see.
FRANK WHALEY: This piece of flat plywood with a bolt through it, and slip it right over this to lock these, so that this thing can't -- can't get away, you see. And it would have a wing nut, adjustment nut on it, once you run it up there as far as you could, then you'd turn this wing nut on it real tight to really -- it would be like a clamp, that would clamp that aileron where it could not get loose and allow that control to flip.
Now, we had the same type of an arrangement on the rudder to lock that rudder to keep it from whipping around like -- to where the controls get beat to death and stretch all your control wires.
KAY KENNEDY: Well, they used to say the airplanes aren't worn out in the air, they're worn out on the ground.
FRANK WHALEY: Yeah, because they would really take a beating. This drifting snow, which is -- kinda gets sandy, it's cold, and it just sandblasts the paint off of it, just about. I'm trying to think now.
In the summer operation, what --
Well, we'll go one more item on winter. Several things. I don't know whether these are points that -- have you covered these or would you be interested in them?
KAY KENNEDY: I'm interested in them and I haven't covered them.
FRANK WHALEY: Yeah. I think they are enough probably different than some of the other pilots that's given here. KAY KENNEDY: Yeah.
FRANK WHALEY: And this -- this stuff applies to the Arctic. This -- my flying primarily was there, while I used to come in here, and down to Valdez, Anchorage occasionally, but mostly I based in Nome and on into the Arctic Slope, so it would apply that type of flying. And you can't use a statement, here's what you do flying in Alaska, flying skis in Alaska because the conditions are so much different.
First off, they very seldom get glare ice in this area. By the time it's frozen up tight, there has been enough snow that there's some snow on it. Where over in the Interior, glare ice is a very common hazard that you face where it blows so much of the time. And you have great big stretches of your lakes and just no chance of -- of the snow sticking. It's just wind blowing all the time over there.
KAY KENNEDY: It's polished.
FRANK WHALEY: Yeah. Just man, it's glare. KAY KENNEDY: You can't stop.
FRANK WHALEY: You can't walk across it. You've got to -- when you walk across it, you've got to go along like this.
You can't begin to take a step in it. Then you take a 30, 40–mile wind blowing in it, you can imagine how difficult it is. And we used to have to face this.
KAY KENNEDY: Land in that.
FRANK WHALEY: Landing in it and trying to get to the post office with the mail to deliver it.
One place down at Solomon, it would blow there almost all the time. That's 30 miles out of Nome, it was one of the mail stops. And I used to land, I'd back right up and it was always blowing 30, 40 mile an hour, and I would -- it was a very small lake. You'd look at the thing, you didn't think you'd have a chance -- you'd never get the plane even down on it.
But most of my landings there under those conditions, I would land right on the edge of this. And this is both wheels and skis, land with my tail. It was rough all along here, you could land out here yet, and the snow had whipped off the tundra, but I could land and use up less than half of the lake on a landing.
I'd have to leave the engine running, and the -- I had an arrangement with a dog team driver, the post office, the little village over here, he'd come over and I would have to sit there and idle until he got over there, and then I'd get out of the plane if I could leave it at all, and give him the mail and get the mail bill signed and so forth. Then I could take back off. But this whole -- this little lake wasn't -- wasn't 800 feet the length of it, the total length.
KAY KENNEDY: Glare ice.
FRANK WHALEY: And I never turned around. You couldn't turn around at all. There was no chance, you see. We -- KAY KENNEDY: The wind --
FRANK WHALEY: Yeah, the wind wouldn't let you here. Even if the brake's on. You put the brake on over here, this brake, and it would just slide, you see. And you just would go like a ski. It wouldn't do a bit of good.
And just the minute you got the airplane cocked around a little bit so that the wind would get a crack at the side of the fuselage, well, she'd just weather cock you right back into it. There's just no chance.
KAY KENNEDY: And you always went into the wind?
FRANK WHALEY: Yeah, always. Yeah. You had to on takeoff. But many times I've gone in --
KAY KENNEDY: Well, what did glare ice do to you there, then?
FRANK WHALEY: What's that?
KAY KENNEDY: We're talking about the glare ice.
FRANK WHALEY: Yeah. Well, I mean, this would be -- this is glare ice I'm talking about. KAY KENNEDY: Oh, I see.
FRANK WHALEY: This used to blow and drift this all off. This would be the glare ice condition there.
This trying to control an airplane on the ground under glare ice conditions is very, very difficult. We had to use that, what they call a skag. Have you ever heard of the term? A skag? KAY KENNEDY: Huh–uh.
FRANK WHALEY: On the bottom of the ski. I didn't know this until Joe Crosson told me how to cope with that thing. I was having nothing but problems up here trying to -- when I first come up here and trying to keep an airplane going straight on the ground, the damn thing decided to swish it all over the place. I couldn't control it.
At that time they were using about a three–quarter piece of angle iron, turning it and welding it to the metal on the bottom of the ski. It looks -- it looks just like this deal here. And this would be riveted or welded to the bottom of the ski. And this sticks right down, a sharp edge. So it could dig right down into this glare ice just like an ice skate, or with the weight of the airplane. It's just sitting right on the bottom of the ski.
KAY KENNEDY: Oh, I see.
FRANK WHALEY: And this would keep you going directionally straight. Without it, without it, it is all over the map. And I say that, S–K–A–G, a skag. As far as I know, they're still using them.
KAY KENNEDY: Well, that's quite a deal. I've never heard of those.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Maybe that's where Skagway got their name, huh? KAY KENNEDY: Yeah.
FRANK WHALEY: Dragging. But on this glare ice, you'd see these two cut runners just the width of the skis, and they just look like somebody had taken an axe or something and run it along down there, and that'll keep you going straight.
KAY KENNEDY: Well, you had 400 feet to land and 400 feet takeoff.
FRANK WHALEY: Yeah. And –– but I say the other thing, boy, this become real difficult. You take where you're landing on a river, glare ice, and a curve with it, and you start adding all these up and a crosswind, and boy, it really becomes a problem.
KAY KENNEDY: Well, that's where experience counts.
FRANK WHALEY: Yes. Uh–hum. And it takes it. I've got some pictures of Sig Wien landing up at our mine on glare ice with a dog team that had come out to help him out there or something. I'm sure Sig must have many experiences on glare ice that would curl your hair, too.
The other thing you've got to be real careful about in the Arctic particularly, the rivers will overflow, freeze up in here. Then they'll get a period of overflow, and the water may be a foot, two feet higher than the river. Here's the ice level down here, this overflow has occurred up here, and frozen a new top capping up here.
Well, you look at this from the air, you think you've got the bottom ice. But this is -- this stuff -- and there could either be water running in it or in most cases, the water will have drained off after but it leaves this cap up here.
And they land on this thing, break through this stuff, you're fine when you first sit down, and the weight gets on it, crash, you go down through this stuff, and it could be maybe two, three inches thick and really start creating hell, one side digging in deeper. This is something that is an extra hazard in coping with -- with glare ice conditions and overflow.
KAY KENNEDY: And that usually takes place in the middle of the river -- FRANK WHALEY: Of the river. KAY KENNEDY: -- where the ice kind of settles down, is it, or where side streams come in?
FRANK WHALEY: No, this -- this occurs -- an overflow condition, the water freezes to the bottom. KAY KENNEDY: Oh.
FRANK WHALEY: A shallow river freezes all the way to the bottom. KAY KENNEDY: Oh, I see.
FRANK WHALEY: Maybe the river's two, three feet deep. It freezes to the bottom, stops the flow there at that point, then the river will boil out on up above that, and then come up and make a new decking up on top of it. And then as the water source finally dries up or freezes up, that water from the top will drain off leaving you a false top on it. Instead of a false bottom, it's a false top.
You can be fooled with that just trying to walk across this stuff. You get out partway, and then crash, you go through. This used to happen to us up there at the mine in the spring.
KAY KENNEDY: Well, it's bad on dog teams, too. FRANK WHALEY: Oh, yeah.
KAY KENNEDY: They always used to say out of here, watch the overflow on the Tozer -- the Tozi.
FRANK WHALEY: Yeah, wherever that they -- There's certain areas where this condition exists a lot. Now, let's see. Another --
I'm trying to cover some of the other points. A system of tying down in the summer, of course, so you get -- in our area, they don't have this wind problem near to the degree here that we have on in the Arctic, but you could just about any time you put your airplane down over there, the first thing you're concerned about is, well how in the hell am I going to keep it from blowing away on me, because you know if you're there very long, it's going to blow.
And in the summer, I used to carry with me four or five empty flour sacks -- or gunny sacks, the type that they would use for flour, close–woven gunny sack. And if you're down on a river bar, nothing to tie to, which, you see, we're in an area where there's no timber, nothing you could get ahold of to tie on to.
And you can take this gunny sack, fill it with sand off of the river bar, and put about three on either wing and -- and one on the tail. And you've got -- that gives you pretty good weight on either side.
We would also on the sand -- leave it on the sandbar where the wheel is, say your wheel touches the ground, and so if you were going to be there some time, then we would take and shovel off and work this off. Just shovel the sand out around the sides of this wheel, and get over and work the airplane, and it'll start settling down so that you could drop this wheel down in the sand this much, you see. This also gave you another little footing.
But your weight on the wings is so important because it isn't at all uncommon you get enough -- if you had an airplane sitting there, even though you had the blocks on it and had it blocked in front and back the way do you do, you get a side wind on that thing, it will pick this wing right up and flip it on over. And you come back and you've got your wing busted.
Of course, the other thing, if we could get at an area to where we could taxi up on the edge of these bars, to where you can get at a -- willows, good, husky willows, take and secure to those. This is a way of securing it. Even in the Arctic, some places there -- most places -- (pause in recording)
Now, this is a -- a very unique situation there in the winter. I doubt if you've run across anyone who has used it. In the Arctic, where the snow drifts extremely hard as a result of winds 30 to 50, 60 mile an hour, and at 23 mile an hour it'll start drifting, the snow will start moving along the surface. The harder it blows, the higher the drift will be.
You take a real heavy wind, you're going to have 20 feet of drift solid. Just looks like the whole sea going over the tundra, over the country. And this is very deceiving, and you can't find your depth for landing and it makes it real difficult. But this snow is so hard, that all the old–timers up there, and I've seen it there at Nome, you can drive a team of horses right across a 20–foot snowdrift and hardly leave a track in them.
They can use a motorcycle and go across country in the Arctic across these drifts. It's drifted that hard.
So we get this whiteout condition. Incidentally, I was in on -- at the time this word "whiteout" was coined in Nome. They had this situation over there where it's extremely bad because you don't have any timber or anything underneath you like they have in the Interior in most of the areas.
Even under real rugged conditions here in the Interior, and most of the time you're following a riverbank or you're over timber, this dark underneath here that will contrast with the snow. But in the Arctic when the snow and the horizon get exactly the same color, which is the majority of time under snow conditions, it's impossible to tell whether you're even standing up straight or not.
You can be walking along -- Kay, this is hard to believe, but you could walk along -- I've done this -- you can look out here and you'll see mountains 10 miles away, you can see the black face of this mountain, and you start walking over that way and maybe just a little not straight in line of where your vision went, and walk your face right into a vertical snowbank. Just wham. Of course, you hit just like that. It's that -- it's that deceiving. This is hard to believe, but this --
KAY KENNEDY: No perception at all.
FRANK WHALEY: And this cut bank is -- blends so perfectly with the horizon and everything else with you, that there's just no way of telling that it's there at all. And this is, of course, what clobbered so many pilots who would go to land in these conditions and assume that they were in the clear and line right up with the obstruction or a great big vertical drift.
These vertical drifts occur particularly around any obstruction. The wind will blow so hard that it'll form a drift that extends right on across. If you hit something like this and you'll -- KAY KENNEDY: Like a sand dune --
FRANK WHALEY: -- and run right out there a long distance out, just as straight up and down here. And it'll all whip out clean on this side of it, down to glare ice here, and leave this vertical drift there that --
KAY KENNEDY: Well, like Ross Snell was flying out, it was over Iliamna Lake. Of course, it's what, 90 miles long. And he thought he was in the air, but he was right on the ground. I mean, on the --
FRANK WHALEY: Hit the deck.
KAY KENNEDY: -- on the ice, but I guess there weren't enough drifts. There wasn't enough snow there. And he finally discovered, you know, when he tried to --
FRANK WHALEY: I better shut the power off if I'm going to keep flying.
KAY KENNEDY: Yeah, when he was trying to put it down a little bit, why -- FRANK WHALEY: Yeah, he'd already. Oh. Yeah. KAY KENNEDY: -- he was -- he was there.
FRANK WHALEY: Yeah, this happens very easy.
KAY KENNEDY: Now, how did the word "whiteout" get its name?
FRANK WHALEY: Take a break a minute. I'm going to try to -- KAY KENNEDY: Okay.
KAY KENNEDY: It originated in Nome you said?
FRANK WHALEY: Yeah, yes. As I understand, this was the first that it had been used. And I remember Hans Mirow was flying there at the time. Chet Brown and myself. And there was some official with the Weather Bureau came up, I believe, from Anchorage or Fairbanks trying to come up with a term that would describe the condition that we faced so much of the time there, in the Nome area particularly and on in the Arctic.
And there were -- they called a meeting at the Weather Bureau, and the weatherman's name was MacKenzie, called him Mack. And as a result of our session with a number of the pilots, we were discussing all the different possible terms, and -- and the condition that existed.
And in discussing it, the comment was made, well, it's just a -- it's just like a blackout that occurs, except that it's -- it's whiteout. To the point to where you can see nothing. And we all resolved that this would be a suitable explanation of the condition that exists, the term "whiteout."
KAY KENNEDY: Do you remember what year this was, roughly?
FRANK WHALEY: It was around '41.
KAY KENNEDY: Before the war?
FRANK WHALEY: Well, this was in connection with the war because I was thinking of this term "blackout" was being used there. Nome had blackout conditions existing then.
KAY KENNEDY: Well, that would be '42, right?
FRANK WHALEY: Yeah, maybe '42.
KAY KENNEDY: Approximately. FRANK WHALEY: Yeah.
KAY KENNEDY: Well, that's a very descriptive word.
FRANK WHALEY: Yes, it is, because it's -- my expression is it's -- it's like walking around in the -- with a flour sack tied over your head and the string pulled on it because you have no perception whatever. I'd say whether you're even standing erect, you'll find yourself leaning way forward when you're walking or you're tipping back or off to the side.
And a very good friend of mine driving a D6 tractor on a trip across country, and he was quite familiar with the -- the trail, but he drove his tractor right over a 150–foot bluff. KAY KENNEDY: Couldn't see.
FRANK WHALEY: With no -- he thought he was in a different area, way off in the flats. And of course, it killed him -- the drop.
KAY KENNEDY: Sure. 150 feet.
FRANK WHALEY: And it's -- it's a real hazard that exists there.
KAY KENNEDY: Well, that's why they take these little trees and put them down along that airfield.
FRANK WHALEY: Yes. To give you some object on the ground. A little tree. And the other thing, the barrels -- KAY KENNEDY: Or oil barrels.
FRANK WHALEY: -- or oil barrels will do it.
And the other night on the air, I told of this situation at the town of Shishmaref particularly, this is just was one that I mentioned, but we had this arrangement with a number of the school teachers in the area.
KAY KENNEDY: Oh, yeah.
FRANK WHALEY: When we came over the village and needed help for a landing, we would have prearranged with the school teacher, and they would dismiss school, with usually 15 to 20 of the larger kids, and had them clued into the procedure. They would have selected or would at that time select an area where the drifts were the least severe.
And where we could land into the wind without crossing these rows of drifts. And station these kids maybe 100, 150 feet apart, a 75 to 100–foot wide runway. And these kids would be the border markers.
And we would wait there and cruise around until they were all into position, and then come in and use the children as the markers. Then the other advantage, then they would be there to help you steer the airplane back into the village because in most cases the wind would be blowing to where it would be very difficult to taxi your airplane without help.
We would then take a good size rope, usually a three–eighths, a half–inch rope, tie it to -- one to either strut, out to the tip of the strut, and half of these kids then would get on either rope. And then we would signal from in the plane, if you wanted this group to hold, put tension on there to help steer you, or the other side. And these kids would get pretty sharp at maneuvering this thing to help you get in.
And this is the way we would get back into the village because without it you're just about helpless out there attempting to steer an airplane in a 30, 40 mile–an–hour wind.
You see, we don't have any brakes on the skis. No brakes. You just depend on your forward momentum and the thrust of your slip stream, and the rudder to turn you. But if the wind is blowing stronger than the rudder, you -- in the wind you can get back on your rudder, say you've got a 40 mile–an–hour wind, you can't -- you'd have to get up enough speed, 40 mile an hour, to offset this to be able to turn away from the wind.
Well, if you're doing this, you're -- you're defeating your purpose. You're just about flying again, or you get out into rough ice and it gets clear away from you.
KAY KENNEDY: Well, they still have the same problems up there now. FRANK WHALEY: Yeah. Yeah. KAY KENNEDY: They haven't changed very much.
FRANK WHALEY: They've had a lot of changes except they have communications now, they can determine by radio. See, we didn't have radios in those early days.
KAY KENNEDY: When did you get your first airplane radio?
FRANK WHALEY: Oh, I think it was around -- they started coming in a little around -- in my case around '35 or '36. I had one in the Travel Air that worked once in a great while. But little by little they were perfecting them and getting them a base that they could work with of communications. But --
KAY KENNEDY: And what was your ground contact?
FRANK WHALEY: Usually, it would be the school -- the school would have that. We would notify them through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
KAY KENNEDY: And that would be voice contact, wouldn't it?
FRANK WHALEY: First it was code. KAY KENNEDY: Or was it just by code? Uh–hum.
FRANK WHALEY: And we got very little in the way of weather reports. Like if you wanted a report from Kotzebue or Point Barrow, you might get possibly one weather report a day. And gradually it --
KAY KENNEDY: It changed so fast, it wouldn't be any good.
FRANK WHALEY: Oh, yeah. And in the short days and all, too, you know, it was very, very difficult. And then a lot of the places -- this would be to the bigger villages. This would be Kotzebue or Barrow, but you take all -- take Point Hope, Icy Cape --
KAY KENNEDY: Point Lay. FRANK WHALEY: -- Wainwright, Point Lay, none of those had anything, so you just were on your own. And hope you get a little general idea.
We didn't have the gas capacity cruising range that we could go take a look at it and come back if it wasn't good. We'd -- if you -- the airplanes that I was flying up here first had 350 if you were lucky, you might stretch it to 400 miles, it's a real long flight.
Well, bucking the wind, quite often we'd find that we had already gone well over half of our fuel, and we couldn't turn around and go back home for more fuel.
KAY KENNEDY: You had to go where there was the fuel so you could get down.
FRANK WHALEY: Yeah. And we had to -- we couldn't afford to play around trying to get around the storm. So quite often we'd just have to land and wait it out. This was common procedure that we would have to watch our timing real close and we'd come to the point of no return, well, we've got to sit down and wait this out now because we can't stay on this heading any longer. We've got to get through to where there was fuel.
And we would sit down -- I've done this many times. Select a situation, I'd be so far away from any others that -- KAY KENNEDY: There's your phone.
FRANK WHALEY: If you were in an area that -- a long ways from a village, which was the case most of the time, or weather would not permit you to get into another village or source of fuel, why, you'd have to plan to sit down and wait it out.
And in which case, the first thing immediately when we got down, we would -- usually we'd take everything into account that the wind may change. It wouldn't work to land on a long lake here because the wind was blowing from this way because before you get out of there, you might have wind straight across of this.
The drifts will form in just a few hours. And we'd get snowdrifts that were this high, just -- just one dip after the other, you know, just tear your airplane apart if you had to take off across those drifts. You've got to line up with them.
And so we had to plan a landing in an area that would permit us to get out, even though the winds were completely different than when we sit down.
And here's where we would be in trouble, particularly if you run into this whiteout condition, because then you couldn't see what you were getting on. You couldn't -- you didn't even know where -- where the land was, where the ground was.
I used to carry with me -- and I tested this out right around the home base before I relied on it, would buy lamp black. Such a thing as lamp black, a little powder material. Put them in little paper sacks, just a little small paper sack, lamp black, would use little gravel or pebbles, anything I could scrounge, and pick up, dig out from underneath the snow on a river bar, or wherever it was, put a weight in each of these sacks. Line up into the wind. And because you could tell the direction the wind was blowing because the snow would be drifting.
And then when I had an area selected that I felt was most suitable for landing, would drop one of these out the window. Roll the window down, and drop one of these out, so they'd hit about every 100 feet apart. These would hit the snow, snow would be that hard, it would not penetrate in it but it would break the sack, the lamp black would give you a smudge, maybe 6 or 8 feet long.
Make an ideal marker to find the ground. And then line up and come back and land using that for your mark -- border markers. I don't believe this subject has ever been covered, I don't think.
KAY KENNEDY: Uh–hum. Never heard of it.
FRANK WHALEY: I remember one time Hans Mirow over there flying out of Nome got caught out in a real bad whiteout in the middle of Seward Peninsula. And he -- well, he just couldn't find the ground at all. He didn't know where it was, and he really was very much concerned about attempting a landing in it.
And he spotted a fox, a red fox running across. And he spun around real quick and lined up with this fox -- fox, and managed to plan his landing so that he was just about alongside of the fox by the time that the wheels -- skis got down on the ground. He knew this fox was on the ground and he'd go up the swales and down and planned this -- planned the landing to -- to use the fox as a way of finding the ground.
This doesn't -- this don't work with a snowshoe rabbit. They don't stand out against the snow.
KAY KENNEDY: No.
FRANK WHALEY: And of course, if you're in a -- you start getting in the Interior, now, even down on the Yukon River, as you start getting inland where there's timber, and even out on the river, it's most difficult there even to -- in a real bad snow condition, snowing real heavy, to find the ice depths. So there they would take little spruce trees, so high, and leave the stem on them and freeze those in. And that would be a standard landing field.
And they would mark out a field there. Whether or not it's subjected to a lot of wind, they could mark out a strip out in front of the village and you could use the same strip all the time.
But in the Arctic, you might make ten landings in a village in a month's time, and every landing would be made in a different place because it would depend on the direction of the wind and -- and the drifts that may have formed that would completely wash out a runway you'd used yesterday.