Survivorman Les Stroud returning to televison

Survivorman Les Stroud is back for more!One of the Discovery Channel’s most popular programs, Survivorman, is returning to television after being on hiatus for more than three years. The show, which features host Les Stroud demonstrating survival techniques in extreme settings, such as the Kalahari Desert or Alaskan wilderness, will relaunch with a series of special episodes sometime in 2012.

While Stroud’s list of destinations is not yet known, we do know that the format for the show will remain mostly the same. The episodes are filmed by Les himself, who goes out into the wild alone, carrying all of his camera and survival gear. In the past, he would usually spend seven days living in the wilderness, but according to the announcement on his website, he’ll actually be staying out for ten days on these new episodes. Apparently he’ll also begin filming the first new show in just three weeks time.

Fans of Stroud will be happy to hear of his return, as he had garnered quite a loyal following when the first three seasons of Survivorman were being aired. At the time, there were numerous comparisons to Man vs. Wild, the show hosted by Bear Grylls, which often sparked debates as to which of the men best knew his stuff. While Bear is a bit more theatrical and over the top, Les tends to remain more grounded and practical in his approach. Both shows are fun to watch however and I always enjoy seeing the destinations as much as what kind of trouble the two men can get into there.

The new Survivorman specials are set to air on OLN in Canada, Discovery Science in the U.S., and Discovery Channel International elsewhere. No word yet on when we can expect the shows to hit the airwaves however.

[Photo credit: Les Stroud]

Watch Shark Week on Discovery Channel, have a shark encounter of your own

Shark Week returns to the Discovery ChannelThis Sunday marks the return of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, one of the most popular annual events on any cable network. Now in its 24th year, Shark Week manages to pull in millions of viewers who are both fascinated by, and terrified of, the notorious predators from the deep. And after watching sharks on television all week, if you should happen to find yourself inspired to see them in person, Discovery can help you with that too.

This year, Discovery has enlisted the aid of Saturday Night Live‘s Andy Samberg to help host their fin-filled prime-time specials. Samberg has been named CSO (Chief Shark Officer) for Shark Week, which will see the return of some of the most popular shows from the past, as well as seven new shark-centric programs. One of those new shows actually sends Samberg himself to the Bahamas where he gets up close and personal with some of the local sharks.

Discovery knows that Shark Week is extremely popular with their audience, which is why they also give us the opportunity to have a shark experience of our own. The network’s adventure travel company Discovery Adventures offers four unique itineraries to the Galapagos Islands, where travelers will have the opportunity to see a variety of shark species –including Reef Sharks, Whale Sharks, and Hammerheads– in their natural environments.

For a complete listing of the shows that will air during Shark Week click here, and don’t forget to tune in on Sunday to get your shark fix. And when Shark Week ends for another year, book your own shark adventure to help ease the wait for Shark Week 2012.

[Photo courtesy Terry Goss via WikiMedia]

Discovery Adventures travel company debuts 2011’s Discovery Channel-inspired trips

adventure travel companyArmchair traveler red alert! Discovery Adventures is offering eight new Discovery Channel-inspired cultural trips for 2011, including Greece, Turkey, Italy, France, Japan, and East Africa. Explore archaeological sites near Athens, visit wineries in Tuscany, safari in Kenya, or soak in hot springs in the Japanese Alps. Trips are limited to 16 people, and run from eight to 15 days. Accommodations range from boutique hotels and inns with local character to eco-lodges.

Discovery Adventures has teamed up with adventure travel industry leader Gap Adventures and non-profit Planeterra to offer travelers more opportunities to positively impact the lives of communities around the world. Each trip provides travelers with an opportunity to visit destinations (often traveling by traditional modes of transport such as rickshaw or elephant) and interact with local people in an ecologically-responsible manner. In addition to your guide, you’ll be accompanied by local historians, archaeologists, artisans, and naturalists. Time to get off that Barcalounger!

[Photo credit: Flickr user Arno & Louise Wildlife]

Cockpit Chronicles: Alaska flying – then and now

Flying Alaska Cockpit ChroniclesLast week I found myself flying to London with a captain who had started his career in pretty much the same way I did-he too had worked for a couple of airlines in Alaska, albeit more than a decade before me.

As we headed out to dinner, we happened to run into another pilot I knew who, coincidentally, flew for Era Alaska just as I had. Even more surprising was that his co-pilot flew for an airline in the Northwest Territories of Canada.

We agreed to have dinner together at an Indian restaurant ten minutes from the hotel in London. While waiting for some tandoori to arrive, the subject of the Discovery Channel show, Flying Wild Alaska came up. It led to a few wistful stories about the times when we were doing that kind of flying, twenty to thirty years earlier.

“It looks like a lot of fun and adventure from the comfort of your living room, but it’s not as much fun when you’re low on gas, in a mile visibility while trying to read a map and hoping to cut the Mead River. It makes you appreciate this job (flying a Boeing across the Atlantic to London) so much more,” Hank said.

We all agreed. It’s nice to get a little perspective every now and then, and the Discovery Channel show about flying in the Alaskan bush gave us a not so gentle reminder.

But then someone began to check off the items a modern-day bush pilot has that we didn’t back then. At the top of the list was a GPS. While I had flown with a Loran-C for navigation, its accuracy up north wasn’t anything like the GPS. The other pilots at the table didn’t even have a Loran.

“Just a compass and a map up on the north slope.” Hank said.

Next up, I mentioned the real de-icing equipment they have now, not to mention the hangars. Just a few hours earlier I had been writing the de-icing post for Gadling, so the memories of crawling on the curved and slippery wing twelve feet in the air while scraping the ice off were fresh in my mind. Our de-ice ‘equipment’ at the time was a pump bottle you’d find at a garden store.

As tough as we had it, I imagined inviting perhaps another four pilots back from the past to join us. They would be the early bush pilots of the twenties and thirties who would have given anything to have the airplanes we had. So in deference to them, I thought I’d use a few of my grandpa’s photos to illustrate the differences in air travel in Alaska back then and today.

RUNWAYS


Gravel bars, while sometimes rough, were a preferred summertime runway.

During the first few years of flying in Alaska, there were no official runways. The most ideal landing spot was in Fairbanks, where flying really took hold, at a horse track that was converted into a landing strip. Outside of Fairbanks, landings were made in the summer on gravel bars along rivers or ‘domes’ which were treeless hill tops above a village. Locals made attempts at clearing runways, but their lengths were initially too short or had too many obstacles.
A few towns, such as Nome and Kotzebue were essentially treeless, but runways still needed to be built to accomodate airplanes on wheels since the ground was usually soft in the summer.

Winter flying opened up a lot of areas to landing, especially for airplanes equipped with skis. One concern was at the beginning and end of the season; when a decision had to be made whether to depart with skis or wheels. It wasn’t always obvious how much snow the destination airport would have. The short days in the winter presented a problem as well, since there was no lighting to mark the frozen ‘runway.’

What should we go with today, skis or wheels?

Airplanes with floats became an option starting in the thirties and that combination continues today as a popular way to get around during the five or so months out of the year that allow for it.


Bellanca float plane on the Chena river in Fairbanks in the ’30s

Today the main cities and towns all have runways that are lighted and plowed. So ski flying is used mainly for off-airport operations onto lakes, glaciers and even arctic ice-flows. But the airplane is still the most vital way to move about the state, as few towns outside of Anchorage and Fairbanks are connected by roads.

Kenai, Alaska airport today. Note the float plane ‘strip’ next to the paved runway.

AIRPLANES

Open cockpit flying

Aside from the landing gear choice, a huge number of changes have come about since the early days of flying in Alaska. In 1924, my grandpa, Noel Wien, was operating out of Fairbanks with an open cockpit biplane called a Hisso Standard that could seat two crammed-in passengers in the front seat. They were required to dress as if they were taking a long winter dog-sled ride, as the wind chill, even at 50 degrees fahrenheit, was bone chilling. This, coupled with the air-cooled engine, prevented year-round flying.


Note the two passengers in the front seat. Legroom wasn’t a complaint back then.


Passengers had to bundle up even in the summer when flying in the open-cockpit Standard


Heated, pressurized cabins make it possible to get around in a t-shirt for many passengers.

In winter of 1925, my grandpa toured the states to look for an air-cooled, fully enclosed cabin airplane that would be capable of flying through an Alaskan winter.

Unfortunately, that airplane didn’t exist yet in America. After visiting several manufacturers who insisted they’d have just such an airplane in another year, Noel settled on a Fokker F.III he found in New York. It had no brakes, the pilot sat outside and the engine was still water-cooled. However, the passengers would ride enclosed in a cabin inspired by a Pullman-train that included upholstered couch type seats, and curtains. At least the passengers would be warm. He operated that airplane for the next two winters before a fully enclosed cabin aircraft with air-cooled engines became available.


The first enclosed-cabin air service in Alaska. Although the pilot still sat in the open.


Passengers rode inside in leather armchair style seats

Today travelers flying in Alaska may find themselves tucked in a Cessna with fold down seats and freight strapped down next to them, or they might have the opportunity to fly between the major cities in an Alaska Airlines 737 “combi” configuration that places the freight in the front separated with a wall from the abbreviated passenger cabin.


Passengers behind a wall and freight in front on this Alaska 737 “Combi”

Turboprop aircraft like the Dash-8 and Beech 1900 are a common way to get people and freight around between the towns as well.


An Era Alaska Beech 1900 is loaded with freight from a dogsled

Performance

The 150 h.p. Hisso engine mounted to the large WWI Standard trainer provided enough horsepower to get out of some short strips, but only when the airplane wasn’t carrying a lot of weight. I ran across this video from 1927 that shows my grandpa departing Nome in a fully loaded Standard. I was a bit shocked at the lack of performance.

Compare that to a recent bush pilot competition in Valdez where highly modified Super Cubs and Maules compete for the shortest takeoff roll. Granted, the pilots are flying empty airplanes with a bit of a headwind, but my grandpa would have given anything for this kind of bush plane.

Reliability

The OX-5 and Hisso engines were able to fly between 50 and 300 hours before requiring an overhaul. My grandpa found that he could get closer to the 300 hour time if he changed the oil every five hours (essentially after each trip).

Today, the piston engines flown in Cessna 207s can go for 2,000 hours before an overhaul and the 1,100 horsepower turbine engines in a Beech 1900 can fly for 6,000 hours before being rebuilt.

Continue reading Part 2: Navigation, search and rescue, ticket prices and what HASN’T changed…

25th Anniversary World Punkin Chunkin Championships take place in Delaware

What happens when you combine leftover Halloween pumpkins and big ol’ farm boys with too much time on their hands and extra equipment? A Punkin’ Chunkin’ contest, of course. Held this past weekend in Delaware, the 25th Anniversary of the World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association brought teams from up and down the East Cost to see how far their punkins could fly.

“We had a great, great turnout,” said Frank Shade, the event’s media director. “We’ve had a real strong headwind, so I doubt any records were broken, but we had a lot of good thows.”

Full numbers of attendance were not yet available, but DelawareOnline.com reported that total attendance was predicted to surpass last year’s record of 80,000. Shade commented that the field’s Verizon tower, which normally reports about 750 “hits” per day, was receiving about 7,500 hits, causing some cellular communication issues.

Scheduled for broadcast on the Discovery and Science channels on Thanksgiving, the Chunkin’ contest featured three days (distilled into three hours for TV) of high-flying excitement hosted by “Mythbusters” stars Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. Science will air a “Road to Punkin Chunkin” special November 24 at 10 PM.

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“It’s the highest-rated event on the channel,” said the Science Channel’s general manager of programming and executive vice president Debbie Myers. “It’s pure Americana and ingenuity. The teams take it seriously, and the characters are over the top.”

The main competition centers on 110 teams that use creatively-engineered “chunkers” to launch their pumpkins into space – or at least far, far away. The goal? To get the gourd to fly at least a mile away – a feat that hasn’t yet been accomplished … or at least captured on record. The current record is 4,483.51 feet by team Young Glory III in 2008. The 2009 “Air” winners, “Big Ten Incher” came close last year with a distance of 4,116 feet.

The three-day event includes a “Miss Punkin Chunkin” contest, a chili cookoff, and separate competitions for men, women, youth, and children under ten. Separate categories include human powered, trebuchet, catapult, centrifugal force and air machines.

Lest you think it’s just a bunch of hillbillies running around with their punkins, think again – media director Frank Shade ran for Delaware’s 37th Congressional District in the State House of Representatives this past year.

Want to catch the action? You’ll have to tune in on November 24th and 25th. In the meantime, enjoy the photo gallery (courtesy of DelawareOnline.com).

Or you can practice your singing of the official Punkin Chunkin song (yes, there’s a song, we’re not making this up), written 1989 by William and Dawn Thompson, has become a traditional part of the event’s daily opening ceremonies. It’s pasted below for your viewing pleasure:

It was the end of October, the beginning of November.
The air was cold and clear and I said, Boys listen here,
I think I can make a punkin fly.
John said, Cannot. I said, Can too.
So we put that punkin in a bucket, swung around, away it flew.
John said, No fair. We said, Hell, it’s in the air.
So the challenge was made and the gauntlet was laid
To build a machine to power a punkin through the air.
John said, Springs are the way to go. Bill said, I don’t believe so.
It’s Punkin Chunkin time again.
Come on, all you neighbors and friends.
I’ll show you how to make a punkin fly … rain, snow or blow.
Them punkins are gonna go!