Frozen in Time
Gloves? Check. Cockpit heater? Check. Engine insulator?
- By Tom Harpole
- Air & Space magazine, January 2006
(Page 3 of 8)
But everyone working for Buffalo Joe acknowledges that he is the man in charge. Any employee who doesn’t measure up to the unforgiving environment—and to McBryan’s insistence on safety, heedfulness, and propriety—won’t last long at Buffalo Airways.
“Don’t take his every word as gospel,” Mikey says about his father, with a grin. “Once he told a reporter that the cockpits are so cold that his teeth ached, so he had them all pulled.”
Every human activity undertaken in the Arctic is made more difficult by the many layers of clothing required. Upon contact with the –40 degree air, exposed skin begins freezing immediately.
When Ken Bews, Buffalo’s chief pilot, prepares for a morning freight trip up the Mackenzie River, he dons heavy fleece long underwear, track pants, another fleece undershirt, a wool flight vest, another pair of wool pants, and a heavy work jacket.
He wears a beaver skin hat, but when he flies, he switches to a heavy wool one that doesn’t restrict his peripheral vision.
When handling freight on the ground he wears leather mitts over thinner gloves and, like the rest of the crew, packs himself into coveralls that seem to reduce normal mobility to less than half. The crewmates toddle, looking as though they are holding oranges in their armpits.
Gloves render hands unfeeling and clumsy, so in flight Bews and copilot Peter Woodbury try to go barehanded. While airborne, they wear athletic shoes rather than their felt-lined boots so they can feel the response of the rudder through the pedals.
At 6 a.m. Bews, Woodbury, and flight mechanic James Dwojak arrive to warm up the Arctic Distributor for a grocery run up the Mackenzie Valley. When the airplane was put to bed the night before, all four engines were hooked up to heaters and wrapped with quilted covers. The rest of the airplane is frigid, however, so the crew fires up two Frost Fighters: 250,000-BTU, diesel-powered space heaters with dirty yellow hoses the size of culverts that blow hot air into the cabin and cockpit. There are 600,000 BTUs of heat pouring into the DC-4, enough to warm a dozen three-bedroom homes.