A6M Zero – Los Angeles to Alaska Final Leg – International Border
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
We made it, we are safely in Anchorage Alaska. I haven’t had much time to reflect on the entire journey yet but I will reminisce about today.
We woke up to a very cold morning in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. The winds were only blowing 10 knots but the cold immediately cut to the bone. We arrived at the aircraft and had to force ourselves to stay in the cold to perform a thorough preflight inspection. We completed our inspections and taxied to the other end of the airport to fuel up our airplanes.
This would be a big leg for us, we would be crossing back into the United States, we were excited to headed back to our home country. We had filled out our our paperwork and filed our flight plan. We were scheduled to depart Whitehorse at 9:00am for a 1 hour 40 minute flight to Northway Alaska. We departed right on time and headed West, it was another beautiful flight, what made it really special was crossing that imaginary line in space that said we were home. We landed at Northway and remained in our airplanes as required by US Customs and Border Patrol. We were told “no getting out of your airplanes until a customs agent is there, I don’t care what the reason is, stay in your airplane”, so that is what we did. We were surprised not to see an agent because we had planned our flight correctly and were right on time, it was 9:42. Then, Ken turned on his phone and advised us why the agent wasn’t there, it was only 8:42, we had gone through a 1 hour time change on this leg that none of us caught before departure. So, we waited an additional hour for our inspection but it didn’t really matter, it was good to be back.
After our very nice custom agent came and went we talked to the weather briefer at the airport about our final two legs. The first one was just 37 miles North to a tiny airport for fuel, the one we were parked at for customs had no fuel. The next leg would be our final leg into Anchorage and it would take us 250 miles through some mountain passes and rough terrain. All appeared to be great with high overcast ceilings and not much precipitation. We departed for our short leg and were are sitting on cloud nine. We didn’t know it but we were soon to be in, around and over that same cloud.
Our fuel stop was one of the best on our Journey, the people of Tok Junction were so nice and very excited to see the Zero. I am pretty sure that 90% of the town came out to see it. We were told by the very nice lady running the airport that as soon as we flew over her phone stated ringing, “what is that flying over” she was asked, and when they heard it appeared to be a zero, everyone came down. It was a great welcome, the people of Tok made sure we didn’t leave needing anything.
Our last leg was the most anticipated. We had spent the last several days dodging weather, learning lessons, flying over some amazing terrain and we were ready to make our delivery point of Merrill Field, Anchorage Alaska. We departed Tok and headed for the valley to the West, the weather was still good and we didn’t expect anything different, it soon changed. We were flying up the most beautiful valley, I had never seen entire valleys covered in glaciers like this. The water was so blue in the crevasses, it looked fake. It was an awe inspiring site. Unfortunately, our time to take in this beauty was soon to end, the clouds started to show precipitation and lower visibility and we didn’t have much choice on our route if we wanted to stay below the mountains in the valley. We pushed on but were soon confronted with impassable weather, the clouds were low the snow was falling and there was no getting through, we turned back and started to climb. Our plan was to climb through a hole in the clouds to try and get a look at the top, to see if there was any way around this weather. We soon found ourselves at 16,000 feet and barely on top of the weather. We pushed on West, again having to calculate every minute of fuel Jason had in the Zero. It was only 20 minutes before we would have our answer, but it was an incredibly long 20 minutes. We hugged the weather as we diverted around but soon spotted our opportunity to get back down into the valley through another hole in the clouds. As we descended I was able to pickup the weather in Anchorage and it was good news, in another few minutes we would be in the clear.
We made it safely into Anchorage to be greeted by a banner and a dozen people welcoming the Zero to it’s new home. A Zero has not been in Alaska since 1943 and the people of the museum here are eager to start flying it. It was an incredible journey in two small airplanes and I will reflect on the entire journey after it all soaks in for a bit.
For now I am just happy to be sitting in a hotel in Anchorage Alaska.