Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Mile Zero – The Alcan Highway

Dawson Creek, British Columbia

On December 7, 1941, construction priorities were changed. Within 60 days the construction of a highway to Alaska was approved and heavy construction equipment was moved by priority train to Dawson Creek.

The long highway was completed by September, 1942. The route was dictated by the airfields along the Northwest Delivery Route, which were used to deliver 8,000 lend-lease aircraft to the Soviet Union. The road became impassible again in the summer of 1943. The removal of protective vegetation turned 100 miles of the road to muck after the permafrost melted.

The primary aircraft delivered to the Soviet Union was the P-39 Airacobra. Russian pilots took delivery in Fairbanks and flew on to Nome and Siberia. The mid-engine design was very unusual. The P-39 tended toward flat spins unless the nose was properly loaded with ammunition. It also lacked a turbocharger limiting its effective altitude to about 17,000 feet. The engine drive shaft ran between the pilots feet to the propeller. A 37 MM synchronized nose cannon made this a very effective ground support aircraft.

Aleksandr Pokryshkin flew the P-39 from late 1942 until the end of the war. His unofficial score in the Airacobra stands at nearly 60 Luftwaffe aircraft. His wingman, Grigori Rechkalov, scored 57 victories with the P-39. These are the highest score ever claimed by any pilot with a US-made aircraft. The Russian nickname for the Airacobra was Kobrusha, "dear little cobra".

“Frost heaves” are still common on the highway where sections are uplifted in winter. Axles break and windshields and headlights are shattered by flying gravel. We got a windshield crack today from flying gravel.

We ended the day at Fort Nelson, one of the airfield locations. It's about 1,000 miles to Skagway, launch point for the Klondike Gold Rush.

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