Groundhog Day?

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Written by Mike Rabe
Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mike RabeNorth (and west) to Fort McMurray Alberta, May 18 - I love basing out of La Ronge, but like all good things, it has to end. Our third stop is Fort McMurray, Alberta; gateway to the tar sands. Known as “Fort Mac” to the locals, this is a boom-town full of new construction and filled up hotels. If you don’t plan this arrival, you could end up sleeping in the plane. Fortunately, like most pilots, Kevin is a compulsive planner and we have rooms waiting when we get here. We don’t have any survey transects to fly in Alberta, but Fort Mac is in eastern Alberta, near the western end of our survey area in Saskatchewan and a convenient base of operations for this leg. We park the plane at McMurray Aviation, which has a well-equipped shop. The mechanic works nights keeping their fleet going, and since the plane is due for an oil change, Kevin schedules it for that evening. This is perfect; the plane gets maintenance at night and we survey by day. In the morning, they inform Kevin that the mechanic found the alternator belt was flipped upside down on its pulley and he replaced it. This is a bit disconcerting to Kevin, since he had alternator belt issues getting to Bismarck and he is worried. I’m not. I am counting ducks in northern Saskatchewan in spring and flying every day. My wife tells me it is over 100 degrees in Phoenix; it is only getting into the mid 60s here. Life is good.

The morning after the oil change, we depart for the next transect, but only get 25 miles out of Fort Mac. “Well, we are going back,” Kevin says and points to the alternator gauge. It shows discharge when it supposed to show charge. No worries, airplanes fly just fine without alternators, but the radios and computers we use to count ducks need electricity to work, and from this moment forward, they are using battery power. We shut down the computers since we won’t need them today. Our return to the airport is uneventful. Kevin caught this early and as we say in Arizona, “this ain’t his first rodeo.” Kevin worries that the problem he had “fixed” in Delaware has returned. Kevin discusses the issue with the mechanic, and they agree to replace the belt again that night. Remember the movie Ground Hog Day? Kevin thinks he is living it.

Kevin Fox in the pilot seat.

Kevin Fox in the pilot seat. Photo by Mike Rabe, Arizona Game and Fish Department