Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Pilot’s Mecca


Hood Lake Seaplane Base & Gravel Strip
Leonard enjoys reading pilot magazines and had read about the general aviation facility called Hood Lake Seaplane Base & Gravel Strip located next to Anchorage International Airport; it was high on his Must See list and after all, it was Father’s Day!  The Lake Hood Seaplane & Gravel Strip facility is the world’s busiest seaplane base, handling an average of 200 flights per day.  At the same facility, land based planes are busy flying in and out of the adjacent gravel strip.  After our visit at the nearby Earthquake Park, we drove out on the peninsula where we could watch planes depart from the International Airport, roaring directly overhead which is always a thrill.  From there it was a short drive next door to the Hood Lake facility.  

Moose and Calf at Hoods Lake Facility
As we drove along the fenced frontage road by the gravel strip, Leonard was intently studying the endless rows of private airplanes parked along the boundary; he didn’t even notice the moose and calf running amongst the planes.  “Look, a moose” I shouted.  What a surprise.  We had traveled hundreds of miles from Haines to Anchorage and hadn’t seen a single moose, elk, or caribou; all we saw were squirrels scampering across the road trying to create an insurance claim.  

Mother and Calf trying to find their Way Out
What a treat, moose and planes in the same place, a double Father’s Day gift.  Leonard decided that moose also like the airport, lots of planes but no hunters.  
Baby following Momma
After snapping a few pictures, we made our way through the maze of roads and taxi-ways around the air strip.  
Cars must Yield to Aircraft, note gate at right for planes
One of the most interesting aspects of the Hood Lake facility are the posted signs for motorists that say “Yield to Aircraft.”  Visitors to the airfield and pilots who must access hangers and parking areas must cross over the same roadway, creating a traffic conflict.  
Note Gate Opening on right for a plane
When a plane is crossing  the roadway, lights flash and an alarm sounds while the gates open for the plane to cross over the road, cars must stop and wait, similar to a train crossing.  Pilots open the gate from the taxi-way by using their aviation radio set to a special frequency, clicking the microphone five times opens and closes the gate.  We made our way across the taxi-ways and then came to the seaplane base where finger docks line the lake, similar to boat slips.  
Seaplane Moorage Slips, note Tower at International in background
Each seaplane moorage slip comes with a storage shed and vehicle parking space.  Picnic tables near the lake stand in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of plane activity.  
Storage Sheds at Seaplane Moorage Slips
Float planes were taking off from the lake, land-based planes departing from the gravel strip, and commercial jets leaving from Anchorage International, all within close proximity of each other.  Soon after taking off to the north, planes enter into military airspace where fighter jets have left from Elmendorf as well as encountering traffic from the Merrill Field Municipal Airport in downtown Anchorage – Leonard was grinning from ear to ear, he was in seventh heaven.  
Land-based Planes around Lake Hood Gravel S
If you live in Alaska you either need to be a pilot, know someone who is, or at least speak the pilot lingo; I think Leonard was entertaining the idea of moving to Anchorage.  There are nearly 11,000 registered aircraft in Alaska and over 8 thousand licensed pilots.  The Lake Hood Seaplane Base started out as two smaller lakes, Lake Hood to the west and Lake Spenard to the east.  The State dredged out a canal between the two in the 1970’s creating a water lane for longer take-off runs for the seaplanes.  A control tower operated at the Seaplane & Gravel Strip in addition to the control tower at Anchorage International.  During the 1964 Earthquake, the tower at International collapsed and the Lake Hood tower took over the entire airport structure until an emergency building was set up to split the workload once again.  In 1977 a new, permanent air traffic control tower opened on Anchorage International, which now controls the entire airport facilities.  The history of Merrill Field, the municipal airport near the center of town, is also interesting.   Merrill was the first airfield in Anchorage and had the first aviation beacon in the territory of Alaska.  Established in 1930, the field is named in honor of Russell (Russ) Merrill, an early Alaskan aviation pioneer.  He disappeared in 1929 on a flight, carrying heavy machinery to Bethel Alaska located 400 miles west of Anchorage.  Approximately 46 aviation related businesses operate from Merrill Field. 
Jetliner Departing Anchorage International
Of course, Anchorage International takes the spot light for volume.  Anchorage’s location on the globe puts it within 9 and ½ hours by air to nearly 90 percent of the industrialized world and is a common refueling stop for many international flights.  Millions of passengers fly to and from Anchorage International each year, employing nearly 16,000 people.  Anchorage International ranks number 2 in the U.S. for landed weight of cargo and serves as a Fed Ex and UPS operations hub.

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