Expedition Update #5


 

Inuvik, NT and Tuktoyaktuk, NT Canada

 

We had landed at Mike Zubco airport in Inuvik, NWT (CYEV) late in the day June 20. The airport is named after a renowned bush pilot Mike Zubco who was a pilot, aeroplane maintenance engineer and radio operator, who among other accomplishments completed literally hundreds of high-risk medivac flights in an area of roughly 388,000 sq.kms (150,000 sq.miles). More details on his incredible career can be found at the Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame site HERE.

After securing the airplane we got a taxi into town and to our hotel, and then started to forage for food. We heard about the Roost and walked into town, arriving just before closing time, to order big plates of pasta and burgers. Well fed, tired and happy with our day's adventures, we returned to the hotel and - after blocking out the brilliant midnight sunshine flooding into our room - called it a day.


The plan for Day 7 was for a relaxing day exploring Inuvik, after all it was June 21 - summer solstice - the longest day of the year and 24 hour daylight. We wanted to keep it chill as the plan was to take advantage of the midnight sunshine and fly VFR to Tuktoyaktuk late in the day and return early in the morning on June 22.

We didn't know this before we arrived, but June 21st is National Indigenous Peoples Day - a time for everyone in Canada – Indigenous or non-Indigenous – to reflect on and celebrate the history, heritage, and diversity of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples across the country.

 

Indigenous Day

As we walked into the town of Inuvik, hoping for just a coffee, we stumbled upon a huge celebration for the holiday. There was food, traditional games, singing, dancing and lots and lots of people. It felt like the whole town was out for the celebration and we enjoyed chatting with the locals as we lined up for smoked tea, BBQ'd arctic char and goose soup.



Drumming, singing and dancing was taking place in a central pavilion. Samantha broke out some impressive dance moves while Chris and Ian watched from the stands, and we enjoyed meeting interesting locals and their puppies.



 

Northern most point of Continental Canada

Heading as far north as the Arctic Ocean, you get used to the 24 hour daylight. As VFR pilots though, we had a goal in mind of flying VFR at night above the Arctic Circle. It’s safe to say this goal was fulfilled - except not only did we fly VFR at “night”, we flew VFR at “night” from Tuktoyaktuk (the northernmost point of continental Canada) back to Inuvik, taking off one day, on the Summer Solstice (the longest day of the year), and returning the next. We hadn’t planned the summer solstice part, so how is that for some crazy awesomely good timing! ​ We took off from Inuvik and landed on runway 10 in Tuktoyaktuk (CYUB) at about 9:30pm, approaching over the patches of sea ice still present in Kugmallit Bay. We had at least 2 hours to explore the town before we could start flying back to Inuvik and land the following day. We walked from the airport to the beach near ‘Grandma's Kitchen’ (one of the few food places in town that was unfortunately closed) and dipped our toes in the Arctic Ocean.



After feeling the water Samantha and Chris decided not to go swimming, and just settled with dipping their toes it. Yes, it was cold, it’s called the Arctic Ocean for a reason. A popular theme for those making it all the way to the Arctic Ocean is to swim, and while there was some big talk from Sam and Chris at the start of the flight saying they were going for a dip, a 15 knot wind blowing from the east, the 30 minute walk to the airplane and pack ice offshore were all enough to convince them to leave it for “next time”.

On departure from Tuktoyaktuk, we were surprised that Tuk Radio was still active (I think they were either waiting for us to leave or shut down at midnight, as there were no other planes in the area) and we let them know we would be departing runway 10 and would then be orbiting Pingo Canadian Landmark to take photos.


 

Pingo

A Pingo is a unique arctic landform, effectively an ice-cored hill that can rise a hundred or more feet above the flat arctic tundra. While that doesn’t sound like much compared to mountains many thousands of feet high in other parts of the country, they are impressively large features on the otherwise flat terrain, and served as navigational markers for Inuvialuit travelling by land or water, and I am sure they also helped early bush pilots like Mike Zubco find his way in the pioneer days of flying in the territory.

This flight also served as another test for our GoPro 360 camera and mount, a

system that can generate unreal photos and video perspectives of the 5intheSky AirVan in flight and the surrounding terrain.


We meandered back to Inuvik enjoying flying at midnight in brilliant sunshine and with no other air traffic in sight or on the radio. As we approached Inuvik airport our chief pilot called Inuvik Radio and informed them of our position and then reported as we entered the ‘zone’, a circular area 5nm around the airport (and from the surface to 3,200’) where aircraft must make contact with the radio station if operational, or otherwise broadcast their intentions on the stated frequency. Inuvik Radio acknowledged our call entering the zone and asked us to report “on final”. We saw an interesting site and decided to make one orbit before lining up and reporting on final, at which point the controller asked why it had taken me so long, then proceeded to scold us for not informing him of the intention to do an orbit prior to proceeding to final approach. As there was no other reported traffic in the zone, nor had we heard a single other radio transmission since leaving Inuvik 3+ hours ago and both pilot and co-pilot were looking out the window (as all VFR traffic is required to do), our chief pilot didn’t think this was such of a big deal. Anyway, we think the operator may have realized he had been a touch harsh, and wished us a good night after we reported down and clear of the active.



We headed back into town happy that we had checked another item off of our 5intheSky “to do” list - an overnight VFR flight from Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk.

Back at Inuvik, NWT, and just 7 days into the expedition, at this point the 5intheSky team has flown a total of 1,995 nautical miles (3,700 km) and logged 20.3 hours of airtime, stopping at 13 different airports.