It’s another year of wildfires in the American West, not unusual but headline grabbing for sure. We’ve just returned from our third annual trip to Afton, Wyoming, home of Aviat and birthplace of our very own Fire Horse Husky! And it’s the second year for smoky transits across Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, and Montana. California makes big headlines for their raging Rim Fire at Yosemite, while Oregon and Utah also do battle with Vulcan.
After refueling at Pocatello, Idaho, I flew north toward Salmon, Idaho, over Craters of the Moon National Monument. Big Southern Butte is one of the largest lava domes on earth, a coalescing of two domes rising 2500 feet above the surface west of Idaho Falls. Take a look as seen from 12,500’ MSL. When I’m shooting my husband flies, otherwise I’d rather be flying than almost anything else.
A rugged, back country taildragger like our Husky can land almost anywhere. It’s a 200 horsepower “pack leader” that’s made for short fields and rugged terrain. There’s a rough strip (U46) northwest of the Big Southern Butte that gives ready access to climbing, hiking and mountaineering as well as amazing views of the Snake River plain and the Rocky Mountains. We’ll save it for another trip in sky clear conditions.
A week later we landed for fuel at Glacier National Park north of Kalispell in western Montana to find a pair of airtankers on the apron at the Glacier Jet Center. It’s a Canadair CL-215 firefighting flying boat designed to operate in the heavy winds and gusts found over forest fires. As for the skilled pilots who fly them, it’s a career for the bold and the brave as it takes mad flying skills while navigating perilously close to active fires, rising thermal currents, and thick smoke.