Bob Heath is a pilot who has flown the skies of the Inuvik region for 25 years. That is longer than I have even been on this earth. As he described himself, he is a short fat man with a beard and less and less hair each day. So naturally he sounds like a great guy to me and someone who doesn’t take himself to seriously.
I suppose if you fly around the same place for 25 years you have to find humour in something.
Upon arriving back to the Inuvik Airport and meeting Bob, I also met a couple who were also coming over to Tukoyuktuk for the ride. Graham and Carolyn Downer are from Rockwood, ON and fly all over Canada and the north in their little Cessna aircraft. They have traveled extensively through the NWT and Yukon throughout the past twenty years and have no thoughts of changing that.
As the 4 of us stood at the Twin Otter and waited for the reset of the passengers slated to join us on this sched flight Bob starts telling us about everything. This is an example of a true northerner, a person who has not only been around for a long time but also loves talking about it and sharing it with other people. In my opinion this man should be a tour operator as well as a pilots.
Bob starts off by saying “the first thing you will notice about this Twin Otter is the giant tires we have on it…” The Tundra Tires, as I call them, are over sized tires for the Twin Otter that hold air but not up to the same pressure as a standard aircraft tire. What makes the tires so great is that combined with the Twin Otters ability to land and take-off in very short spaces Bob can land and take-off almost anywhere on the tundra at anytime. He goes on to explain how the tires actually come from a big DC3, like Buffalo Joe flies, but they take several layers of tread off them making them lighter.
While in the plane, Bob hooked us up with headphones so we could listen in to the commentary, which was when the tour really started.
On the way to Tuk we followed the river and Bob told us about everything we saw. The seismic lines where testing of minerals happened, where all the giant trees on the river came from, who and where the reindeer herders are and my personal favourite, how Pingos are actually formed. In the entire 30 minute flight he never stopped.
When we landed in Tuk and had a few minutes before having to leave again, Bob told us about the community. More about the Pingos, the community freezer and how in the 80’s oil companies had a huge presence in Tuk making the community double its size. The town of 900 on the Arctic Ocean Coast even had regular flights to Edmonton and Calgary.
Our way back to Inuvik took us over a lake that spans 150 miles. I don’t remember the name of the lake but it is one of the most popular in the area. It is unique because at the north end of the lake salt water from the ocean comes in and mixes with the fresh water. So one part of the lake is salt water, one part is fresh and the middle is a mix. I guess this makes for some of the best fishing and even more strange is that on the odd occasion whales have even come into the lake. The lake has several seasonal cabins on it for hunting and fishing season. Bob was even able to name almost off of them.
After landing back in Inuvik and parting ways with Bob, Graham and Carolyn, I was still in awe at how much I had just learned about the area in a short amount of time.
The thoughts that were racing through my head were, how do I market this guy. He is a hidden gem of the north but he also represents what the north is all about. Maybe that is what makes him such a gem for those who meet him, he’s not a tourism operator, he is a pilot of the area and maybe that the way he wants to keep it.
Either way, it was an honour to me Bob Heath.