Friday, May 15, 2009

King Salmon, Alaska

My job takes me all over the State of Alaska. I was in King Salmon this past week and I thought I'd throw up a few photos of the area. First of all, Alaska is a huge state and the majority of the tourists don't see the state, they only see bits and pieces.

My travels are all by aircraft: we don't have roads for most of the state. We don't have big aircraft, like jets, traveling around either. So photos often have props in the image. Sorry about that. Below this Metroliner is a large lake. It's the middle of May and the ice is still there. It's not thick enough to walk on, anymore, but it's still holding fast.

Where the ice is really thin, it's blue. You're probably looking at ice that is measured in inches, instead of feet.

From the air, Alaska is a patchwork quilt of ponds, tundra, marshes and lakes once the ice and snow is gone. Right after breakup the ground is mostly brown because it hasn't warmed up enough to turn green.

The mountains are almost always covered in snow and ice. Even after a warm summer, the tips are still white with years old rivers of glacial ice snaking into the valleys.

Alaska is part of the Pacific Rim of Fire. Which means we have lots of active volcanoes. This photo is the steam plume from Mt. Redoubt which is a little over 100 miles from Anchorage as the crow flies. It is currently erupting. Over the winter months Anchorage was dusted with ash. The lava dome that is currently building will probably collapse shortly and another explosive eruption will happen. If the wind is right, Anchorage could get ash again. The mountains around the volcano are brown because ash has covered all the snow. The plane I'm in flew low to give a birds' eye view of the restless mountain.

King Salmon's claim to fame (besides great fishing) is an Air Force base that closed years ago. But because the runways are still there and the State keeps the airport ready to handle the military aircraft the F22 Raptors can pay a visit. Today they are checking to make sure the runway arresting barriers are working.

Everything is painted in subdued colors and emblems. It's all about stealth and not being seen.

The cockpit is a single seater. Everything is digital heads up displays. Joy sticks on the sides of the cockpit to control the plane. Gone are the dials, little airplane symbols or buttons to push or status readouts.

My job allows me to spend some time with the aircraft. The King Salmon Airport crew got to prowl all over the plane, getting some familiarization with the complex systems and an idea what it would take to safeguard this aircraft if all the high-tech equipment failed.

The Air Force technicians gave us a tour of the aircraft. It is a lovely plane, with marvels that rival an X-wing fighter. Being a mechanic on the F4 Phantom 30 years ago makes you appreciate what the technology has become. 30 years ago I couldn't even image this plane, Star Trek or Star Wars, notwithstanding.

When I was in the Air Force, leaning against the nose wheel in the sun was a favorite spot for a catnap. It still is. Amazing that you could fall asleep on the concrete, leaning against a wheel, with all the noise a flightline has. Oh for the good ole days when I was young.

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