Recalling one of my first Alaska Flights

edited April 13 in Piper Stories

Many years ago, I was traveling to Anchorage Alaska for work and looked forward to renting an aircraft and exploring the area north of the city. After studying the unique airspace and a short orientation flight, I hopped into a Cessna 150 for a direct flight from Anchorage to Talkeetna Alaska. With the paper map spread across my lap on a beautiful VFR day, I noted the destination was straight up, due north from Anchorage. So I turned the plane heading 360 degrees and enjoyed the magnificent view and smooth as glass ride.

About 15 minutes into the fight, I had this very uncomfortable feeling. The picture out the window did not quite match the picture in my lap. I attributed the discomfort to the extreme visibility and my not being familiar with the area.

In the next 10 minutes the uncomfortable feeling progressed to "serious concern." I double checked my DG against my whiskey compass. They read the same. I looked at the map again. Yes, Anchorage was at 6 o'clock and Talkeetna was at 12 o'clock, straight UP the Matanuska Valley along the Susitna River, but something was not right.

Then it hit me....I looked at the map for the magnetic variation. HOLY COW! 26 Degrees West !!! Back home, the variation was all but negligible and UP on the map was close enough to a 360 heading to not make much of a difference; especially on a short north or south flight!

I made the necessary correction and then, for good measure, just followed the river to Talkeetna. I had a wonderful afternoon adventure. I brought home a perfectly rounded Susitna river stone about twice the size of a softball we use to this day as a door stop, and a reminder to check the magnetic variation! I know I know, GPS doesn't care. But I still check it, and chuckle.




  • Hi Mike,
    We midwesterners with 2 degrees of variation have no clue what it's like with more variation. Some years ago I went to Denver and did an IFR approach on the front range with about half of the variation you experienced. The only difference was that I had to do an approach to a 200 foot minimum along side of the mountains with that variation. I finally got used to it but I had the same reaction you had. Happy endings for both of us. :) Stay healthy.

    Scott Sherer
    Wright Brothers Master Pilot, FAA Commercial Pilot
    Aviation Director, Piper Owner Society Forum Moderator and Pipers Author.

    Need help? Let me know!

  • I lived in Alaska for a year and when I got to the last sentence of your first paragraph I was way ahead of your story.

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