A6M Zero – Los Angeles to Alaska Day 3 – Fighting Weather
Today was a short cold day. We started out waking up in Watson Lake Canada with a meeting at the restaurant for some eggs and flight planning. The weather at Watson Lake was beautiful and the weather at Whitehorse, our first planned stop, was good. The problem is the weather between the two was not.
We departed Watson Lake at about 9:30 for our 200 nautical mile leg. About 50 miles into our flight we encountered some clouds that appeared to be from about 6000-8000 feet, not a big deal, we chose to climb over them knowing that the forecast at our destination was few clouds. While climbing above 8000 feet it became clear these clouds were taller than that, we continued a climb to 10,500 feet to top the weather. After about 20 min on top of the clouds they started to slope up, we had to decide to continue our climb or descend through a hole in the clouds to fly underneath. We chose to descend below the clouds and stay in a valley following the Alcan Highway, unfortunately this only worked for about 5 minutes. When we got below the clouds we could see precipitation that was likely snow and ice. We then turned back and started to climb back through another hole. By this time we were starting to consider turning back. Instead of going straight back we ran some calculations on fuel burn and the time we could stay aloft. I was fine with over 4 hours of fuel onboard, Jason on the other hand, only has about 3 hour of fuel, so we had to make decisions based on his aircraft’s limitations. We decided that our intended airport was 40 minutes away and he had 15 minutes to make the decision to turn around if he wanted to make it back to Watson Lake. With this information we decided to climb high and continue on. We climbed and climbed and turned South to avoid the clouds. We ended up at 15000 feet to clear the clouds but we were headed in the right direction, West. After about 10 minutes, and getting very close to our forced decision point, I was able to contact radio at Whitehorse to get updated weather. It was good, Whitehorse was reporting few clouds, no precipitation and light winds. We pushed on but had to stay high to remain out of the clouds, this turned out to be the biggest challenge for Jason as there is no heat in the Zero and the temperatures at 15000 feet were -24* C. When I looked over at him on my wing, I could see his breath, he was slowly freezing.
Another 20 minutes churned by an we were getting close to Whitehorse, we found a hole in the clouds and descended in for a great overhead approach to a perfect landing. Jason was still cold but we were all happy to be safely on the ground at Whitehorse.
With the weather in and around the area, our next stop being a international crossing with customs that close at 4pm and us having no pressure to move on, we decided Whitehorse will be our home for tonight. Hopefully, tomorrow we will wake up to clear skies and calm winds, until then we will explore the sites of Whitehorse and enjoy what could be our last day in Canada.