Scott Ivany volunteers his time and
his Cessna 180 for the Iditarod and
says it's the most fun flying he
does all year.
This pop-up tent is a typical
checkpoint along the trail
outside the villages.
checkpoint stops along
the race trail.
While Scott flies his
C-180 about 250 hours a
year, he said, “Flights
for the Iditarod are the
most fun flying I do all
year round.” He added,
“Part of the fun of flying
the Iditarod is the often
Due to landing sites being on frozen rivers located down low with
higher terrain on both sides, it is not uncommon to have a
180-degree wind shift three times between base leg and the depar-
ture end of the runway.
After the official race start, and as teams move along the trail,
Iditarod Air Force flights become frequent for a number of reasons:
to pick up and transport back to Anchorage “dropped” dogs (dogs
that are being removed from a musher’s team of the maximum starting 16), to replace missing or consumed dog and/or people food
(animals, namely ravens, wolves, and coyotes, are known for “
treating” themselves to the dog food being stored at checkpoints), and to
transport veterinarians, checkers, and communications personnel
back to Anchorage or farther up the trail.
Regarding the veterinarians, they are all volunteers, come from
all around the world, and numbered about 45 for the 2011 race.
It is very clear in all race rules, policies, and procedures that the
well-being of the true athletes of the race, the dogs, comes first
and foremost. At each checkpoint, every canine is given an
examination and each musher must present the required logbook
containing each dog’s status as determined by the veterinarian at the
Chief pilot of the Iditarod Air Force since 2010 is Anchorage-born
and -raised Bert Hanson. A pilot for Alaska Airlines with more than
28,000 flight hours, Bert acted as Iditarod assistant chief pilot for the
three years preceding his advancement to the top position. The
60-year-old has flown for the Iditarod Air Force since 1984 and has
viewed the Iditarod from several angles—he was an actual race contestant with a dog sled team from 1990 to 1993.
Bert said that the 2011 event required the
27 aircraft ( 26 private plus the Caravan) to
fly 1 ,300-1,400 hours to accomplish the pre-race equipment and supply drops, plus race
time transfer of dogs, food, equipment, and
people. “The Iditarod brings a lot of national
and international attention to Alaska, and
I’m proud to be a part of it,” he said.
Bert also talked about the early years
In dealing with weather, the 2011 race
of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. “In the
beginning, 1973, the race was much smaller
in scope, but for about the first four or
five years of the race, all flight operations
were supported by one airplane. Pilot and
C-180 owner Larry Thompson flew every-
Bert’s daughter, Brittany, who also lives
in Anchorage, works as Iditarod logistics and
flight dispatcher. Putting in more than 7 0
hours a week during the race, Brittany’s
duties include scheduling all Iditarod flights,
including the Caravan, and coordinating all
people and supplies that are going to be car-
ried on each flight. Since all flights must be
day VFR only, winter weather in Alaska can
cause headaches for the people who fly and
schedule the necessary runs. Sometimes
days go by without VFR minimums over all
or parts of the trail. In cases such as this, the
PenAir Caravan can file IFR and may fly to
the closest suitable airport, where the load/
supplies are transferred to snowmobiles for
transport to their ultimate destination.
did not experience any lost flight days due
to below VFR conditions—a rarity in Alaska
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race would
be impossible to conduct without the use of
aircraft able to land and take off at remote,
unimproved, temporary, snow-covered landing sites. There are airports at some
checkpoints, but many times they go unused
because they are too far away from the official checkpoint.
While the pilots and aircraft are just a
portion of the 1,800 people who make up the
volunteer Iditarod workforce, without their
crafts and their skills, an event of this
magnitude in Alaska in winter could never
Kirk G. Hart, EAA 200964, is a corporate pilot of a King Air
350 living and flying out of Kalamazoo, Michigan.