15 October 2014

Flying in Alaska: Mountains, Weather, and Outdated Maps

The Alaska Dispatch News carries the story. Excerpt:

Nikki Kahn / Washington Post
Nikki Kahn / Washington Post
“Have you ever been in 100 percent fog? That’s exactly what it’s like,” recalled Eule, an Anchorage surgeon. “You’re flying blind, knowing there’s mountains all around you.”

Alone in a nimble Cessna, Eule was able to turn around. Stack and Beane, in a larger plane carrying most of the 1,000-pound moose, were forced to press on, eyes glued to a handheld GPS screen, praying its fusion of satellite signals and government terrain maps would guide them to safety.

Unfortunately, the maps were wrong.

Nikki Kahn / Washington Post
Alaska, it turns out, has never been mapped to modern standards. While the U.S. Geological Survey is constantly refining its work in the lower 48 states, the terrain data in Alaska is more than 50 years old, much of it hand-sketched from black-and-white stereo photos shot from World War II reconnaissance craft and U-2 spy planes.
... “Mars is better mapped than the state of Alaska,” said Steve Colligan, president of E-Terra, an Anchorage mapping firm that specializes in aviation safety.  

... The USGS, along with numerous state and federal partners, has launched the 3D Elevation Program, an effort to chart all 50 states with airborne lasers (lidar) or radar (ifsar). The new technology permits astonishingly precise measurements of terrain, buildings and roads, waterways, coastline, even vegetation, right down to individual plants.

Follow the link to see this story, originally from the Washington Post.


ProudHillbilly said...

GPS is only as good as its base map. And mine hiccuped yesterday and told me that I was arriving at my destination when in truth I still had nearly 3 miles to go.

Rev. Paul said...

PH, there's that ... and then there are folks who listen to Tom-Tom (or whatever) and forget to look out the window. Case in point: a tourist who drove her car out of a ferry in Juneau & turned directly off the edge of the dock into the Channel. GPS told her to, you see.

Cathy said...

"Mars is better mapped than the state of Alaska . ." !
Now that's say'n something !

Well Seasoned Fool said...

1969, delivered a Cessna 170 to Anchorage via the Alcan. Stopped in Northway and called the new owner (very expensive then). Told him I was waiting for some experienced local pilot headed that way that I could follow. He caught a ride over and we flew back together. My chart was next to useless.

Rev. Paul said...

Indeed, Cathy. Much of Alaska hasn't been mapped.

WSF, some of those charts are still useless. It's a mess, sometimes.