While awaiting a flight from McGrath to Unalakleet, I snapped this picture of
a group of musher's sleds and some dog boxes used to transport dogs back to Anchorage.
The Iditarod Air Force is made up of private and commercial pilots who donate the use
of their aircraft and time, in order to provide air transportation for the race. They
fly food (dog and people), equipment, and other supplies into the checkpoints before the
race, and fly dogs and people between checkpoints and back to Anchorage during the race.
They are part of a group of 2000 volunteers, who are essential for making the race run smoothly.
On our way from McGrath to Unalakleet, these three Iditarod Air Force planes decide to
stop at the Takotna checkpoint to sample some fresh apple pie, a specialty at this
checkpoint known for its excellent food. We are on the river ice just outside the
checkpoint, where engine covers are being applied so we don't lose precious heat while
we're indulging in the Takotna dessert.
The Iditarod Air Force flies in formation over the Yukon River. These two planes are
Cessna 185's, the workhorse aircraft of the Trail. The photographer (me) is flying
in a Cessna 180 and we're on our way to Unalakleet.
This is the "river edge" of Unalakleet, a fishing village on Norton Sound. The mushers
will leave the river and come up into the village to the checkpoint. New sleds await some of the
mushers (they are allowed to change to new sleds twice during the race).
The population of Unalakleet is about 750. The weather was a little nasty this particular day - the high
temperature was -5F and the low about -25F. A storm moved in and snow was predicted for the next
Here is the other end of the "river view" of Unalakleet. To the left of what is
shown in this picture, is the landing strip area of the river. Just after I took
this picture, I walked over to see what action was happening on the landing
strip. I saw three men and one woman struggling to push a Cessna 185 to
the edge of the ice, out of the force of the wind, for overnight storage. I ran up
and helped the woman push on the wing strut as her side of the plane wasn't
moving too well. When the job was finished, she turned to thank me and only
then did I recognize her as four-time Iditarod champion Susan Butcher, now
retired and working as a consultant for a news/sports network.
Photographer Peter Henning was tying down his helicopter nearby and he reminded
me that coverage of the race will be shown on USA Network on April 6.
Who knows, maybe I'll get my 15 nanoseconds of fame!
Doug Swingley (red hat) is mobbed by the press, local folks, volunteers,
and tourists in Unalakleet.
Doug Swingley wins the Gold Coast Cup, honoring the first musher
to reach the coast (Norton Sound).
This is Zoe, a representative of the National Bank of Alaska, posing with
the Gold Coast Award honoring the first musher to reach the coast.
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