While flying to Koliganek, Alaska on Feb. 11, the Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) reported the wind calm. It was far from calm. I ended up aborting the landing.
Weather reporting equipment failures are but one factor Alaskan Bush Pilots must deal with. Many of the remote runways in the Bristol Bay area have some kind of Surface Weather Observation Station. An ASOS is one of these, with the other being an Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS). These stations are also referred to as Automatic Terminal Information Services (ATIS).
These automated reporting stations report the current weather conditions at a particular airport. AWOS is a Godsend to bush pilots flying around Alaska, because they have their own radio frequencies and they can be monitored by the Flight Service Station (FSS) in Dillingham or any airport with a Flight Service Station or tower.
Before flying to a village to offer Mass I normally go to the FSS in Dillingham to pick up the current weather for the airport I am flying to. Once airborne and within 20 miles of the airport, I punch in the ASOS frequency and listen to the weather recording once more to make sure there are no surprises or changes, like wind direction, wind intensity, fog, or ceiling level.
Unfortunately the ASOS can either become inoperative and/or report erroneous weather. When flying to Koliganek Feb. 11, the ASOS reported calm winds, when in fact the wind was blowing at least 30 knots with unknown gusts of greater severity.
As I approached Koliganek runway expecting a nice leisurely GPS approach into runway 9, I started to realize things were not quite right. See the aborted landing below, or at YouTube.
After aborting the landing I flew south to Clark's Point and landed on an snowy and icy runway 36. The wind was not nearly as bad. For weather updates when landing Clark's Point, I use the Dillingham ATIS because Clark's Point is only 12 miles to the southeast. See the Clark's Point landing here.
The Federal Aviation Administration always asks for pilot reports. The reason why pilot reports are so crucial in the Alaska bush is because some of the weather reporting equipment may not be reporting accurately. Another flying lesson learned.
Fly safe out there.
Father Scott Garrett is the pastor of Holy Rosary Mission in Dillingham. His unique mode of transportation is a 160 Cherokee Warrior, which he uses to fly to the many remote areas within his parish. With the unpredictable weather of southwest Alaska, Father Scott's schedule is always written lightly in pencil.