More Junkmail from Bob!

Saturday, August 11, 2001
Important Stuff.


The two biggest U.S. planes in operation are the C5 cargo plane and the 747 airliner. That is, unless you measure by wingspan. The Helios has a wingspan of 247 feet, longer than wingspan of the C5 (220 feet) or the 747(195 feet). Its maximum gross weight is 1653 lbs., which is less than the Aircam's 1680 lbs. It's electric, and is primarily solar powered. The 747 and the C5 have 4 engines. The Helios has 14. Well, they're actually electric motors, about 2 horsepower each.

It's got about 65,000 solar cells on the wings and some batteries to keep it running at night. It doesn't carry any people, but has a payload capacity of 200-600 lbs. (I'm not sure which).

A couple of years ago they tested the plane with batteries at low levels. On July 14th (and 15th) the Helios flew for the first time using solar cells. It flew for 18 hours non-stop, and got a little over 76,000 feet high. Here's a picture of it on that flight.


Tomorrow morning, weather and equipment permitting, NASA plans to fly the Helios higher than any airplane has ever flown, with the exception of rocket-powered planes. It will probably break the current record of 85,068 feet held by the SR-71. I don't think it will break the SR-71's speed record. The Helios cruises at 19 to 25 mph.

They hope to get the Helios up to 100,000 feet. At 100,000 feet the density altitude is 1.4 percent of that at sea level -- in the neighborhood of the density of the atmosphere of Mars. It would be pretty neat to have these planes flying around to survey Mars.

They hope to have planes like this flying around for telecommunications and research for months at a time. They'll be a lot cheaper to launch and maintain than satellites.

St. Lawrence Island

Cathy volunteered me to offer a plane trip at a benefit auction last fall. I ended up taking a couple of people (Bob and Jane) to Anchorage for a few days. After I dropped them off, I took off for the Aleutians.

I planned to go to Cold Bay for fuel, then Unalaska. From there I was going to try to get permission to land at a couple of military airports for fuel and go out to Attu Island.

The weather report at Cold Bay had clouds at about 1200' and improving, and the minimums for the instrument approaches were about 500'. I headed for Cold Bay. The closer I got, the worse the weather got. It was down to 600' ceilings, which should have been OK, but two planes tried to land there ahead of me and ended up doing missed approaches and going elsewhere.

Anchorage Center mentioned that to me, and I said I'd go ahead and try one approach. I asked if they were using the localizer back course approach, and they told me it was out of service. That was surprising, because I checked the notices before I left, on the computer and by phone, and they only thing it mentioned was the glide path being out of service and marker beacon not monitored, which are not used in that approach. I went ahead and chickened out even though the GPS approach should have gotten me in. I figured if the local pilots couldn't get in, I wasn't going to try. So I diverted to Kodiak Island,


with good weather and a nice safe approach.


It looked like I wasn't going to get permission to land at the airbases before the weekend, and fuel was questionable on the weekend, so I headed for St. Lawrence Island. There is a paved runway at Gambell. That is the only pavement in Gambell. It's about 175 miles west of Nome, and 38 miles south of Siberia.


I flew around the island before I came in to land. There's a really neat rock formation off shore to the northeast.


It's a lot bigger than it looks. In this picture you can see a lot of seagulls if you look closely:


The weather was clear and about 53 degrees. The AWOS was reporting 2 mile visibility, but I could see Siberia 38 miles away. The visibility part of it was "unreliable."


When flew over Gambell before landing, I noticed some 4-wheelers headed to the runway. I had to go around once because there were a bunch of seagulls on the runway.


When I landed and taxied back, there were 10 or 15 4-wheelers waiting on me. That's quite a few people considering some of them had more than one person, and there are only 600 or so who live on the island. When they figured out I was the only one on the plane about half of them took off. The rest of them couldn't figure out why I was there. I guess people don't just drop in on them very often.

I had planned to bike around, but the entire village is on a big area, about 1 or 2 square miles, of loose gravel. That's why they all have 4-wheelers. No roads. The only pavement is the runway and ramp. Finally there were only a couple of people left, after I answered a bunch of questions. I asked about a room, and one of them ran the lodge. The other had a room he'd rent for $50, as opposed to $85 for the lodge. I took the lodge, but the other guy's deal may have been better. The lodge isn't fancy, but it's got beds and showers. The bathrooms are shared, like the phone and television.

They stuck me for a $50 "landcrossing permit" that's good for a year. They said that's required for everybody, but I couldn't help wondering if I looked particularly gullible.

My "guide" took me around on the back of his 4-wheeler on a tour of the town and the beach. Even the beach is gravel.

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He was the oldest of the ones who came out to meet me, 60 years old. He told me a lot about the place. He was in the armed services for 27 years, posted on the island part of the time. He said tension was really high during the cold war. He saw a Navy plane get shot down by the Russians in 1955.

He He lived there all his life, except for when he was elsewhere in the service. He was in the Army and then the Air Force. Even though he's been there all his life, he has a satellite dish and keeps up with the rest of the world. He knew about 100° weather in Oklahoma, and a bunch of other stuff I didn't expect. He had a really good grasp about geological time, probably better than the average person.


The people on the St. Lawrence Island are Yup'iks, as opposed to Inuits. The Inuits are the Eskimos that live in Canada, Greenland, and most of Alaska. The Yup'iks are more on the Asian side. Yup'iks and Inuits have separate languages. Everybody I met in Gambell speaks English well.

Here's the Gambell school web site:

There are boneyards around the outside of town where people for thousands of years have left the walrus, seal, whale, etc. bones. The people at Gambell dig through them looking for old ivory to sell and/or carve. I think they find quite a bit.

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The morning before I went to Gambell I was in near Nome driving in the country (one of three roads) and picked up a guy walking into town named Norman. He was putting up sheet rock in the post office and was an hour late for work. But it was OK. The reason he was late is because his friends took him out last night. He is a carver -- wood, ivory, soapstone, "whatever he can get his hands on." Jimmy Carter has one of his carvings. The 60-year old guy driving me around on his 4-wheeler, 170 miles across the ocean, knew Norman.

I hiked up over the mountain, or hill I guess since it's only 647 feet high. I ran across a few graves -- some plywood coffins hauled up and set on top of the ground. They looked kind of old. Later I found out that in the 1930's a guy named Henry collected a bunch of "human remains" that ended up in the National Museum of Natural History. Now they museum is giving the bones back to the communities on St. Lawrence Island, Gambell and Savoonga, as soon as the villages figure out where to put them.

I'm not sure how long people have lived on the island -- I heard 2,000 and 10,000 years.
In 1897 there was a famine and the people of St. Lawrence Island consolidated into a couple of villages. The population of Gambell was a lot smaller 40 years ago than it is now.

People hunt whales, walruses, and other stuff. Here's are the bones from a bowhead head:


They fish with nets, and use boats with walrus skin covering a frame.

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There are some aluminum boats too, but nothing you can't pull up on shore. I didn't see any boat docks or boat trailers.

The ocean freezes over in the winter and there are bad storms in the fall. In the fall, when things start freezing, big chunks of sea ice are blown up on the beach. Then the storms deposit a lot of gravel on top, and it melts in the summer. It looks really funny now where there is ice under the gravel.

People here keep trying to sell me artifacts and ivory. I think that's a pretty big money maker. There's a rumor going around town that I'm a million-dollar buyer. I think they rarely get a plane that spends the night here.

I talked to the council elder, who I think is either like the mayor or a city councilman. I think he was trying to be polite in case I was important, and he was trying to figure out what I was doing here. I met him in the native store, one of two stores in the village, and then in the lodge. He mentioned that a motorglider going around the world tried to land at Gambell a week or two ago. He made three attempts, but it was too windy and he headed off somewhere else. He also showed me a fossil of a large leaf, something like a maple leaf, and we talked about how it could have gotten there.

The native store has everything from groceries to rifles. Three people in there asked if I was the new schoolteacher. He's supposed to be here any day now.

One thing was pretty funny. They have no internet service here, except for long distance calls to Alaska mainland (which probably don't work well), and three people have asked me about the code red worm when they found out I work with computers. It's neat how news is really global now.

There was a guy here doing some telephone work for three weeks who chastised me for not carrying a gun in the plane for bears. I didn't mention that at 29000 feet, after I got over land I'd be in gliding distance of an airport all the way to Anchorage except for 3 minutes. But it is a state law.

It might have been a good idea to carry a gun while I was hiking around the island. A few weeks ago the Alaska Fish and Game people spotted 90 polar bears on St. Lawrence Island from the air.

St. Lawrence Island supposed to be a great bird watching place. There are bird watching tours that come out there occasionally. There are a lot of birds there, and most of them are pretty strange to me. I took some bird pictures, but at the time I had no clue what most of them were.

After spending the night, I got up and it was foggy. Everybody was still asleep in the lodge when I left at 7:30. I took my stuff to the plane, preflighted, and headed back to the room to call weather on the hotel phone. It was locked. 3 kids were sitting out on the front porch. I think they had been inside looking for breakfast -- that's the only "restaurant" in town -- and got run out.  I had left my key inside and had to leave the outside door unlocked. They need a 4-wheeler drive-thru.

During the preflight I noticed footprints on the wings. I mentioned to the kids that some kids had been walking on my wings. They asked if I wanted to buy some ivory. No. Was I sure? Yes. Was that my plane? Yes. Did I want a smoke? No, I'm too young.

I went back to the plane and called Nome Radio on the radio, got some weather, and decided to take off. I got above the clouds at about 1300'. After only about 250 miles the clouds and fog thinned out. It probably would have been a long wait for the fog to clear. That's more the normal weather for Gambell.

There are a bunch of pictures from St. Lawrence Island here, complete with lots of birds:

Annoying Worm

In true Microsoft tradition, MSN Messenger is susceptible to spreading worms. My baby daughter (Melinda, 15) just encountered a worm from MSN Messenger, and managed to pass it on a few times. She did figure out right away that something was wrong. Someone on the Junkmail list has had a copy of the W95.Hybris worm for months now. Every time I send out a Junkmail, I get one or emails sent back to me with that worm.

The MSN Messenger worm doesn't hurt the computer; it just tries to propagate. It's written in Visual Basic. It's pretty clever how it works.

If the writer of this worm faces prison time if caught. I think that's an overreaction by politicians who don't understand viruses and worms. Microsoft is as much to blame as the writer, in my opinion. Microsoft's software leaves open the possibility of someone writing a similar worm that is destructive. But then, that's what backups are for, right? I think jail time might be appropriate for intentionally destructive viruses and worms.

Pictures of Today!

Since I had so many St. Lawrence pictures today, here are a couple I didn't take:

Roy Bliss sent me this one. It's similar to some I've seen, but this one is really neat because you can see the land masses and polar ice caps:


The Cassini spacecraft is leaving Jupiter, heading out away from the sun. Here's an unusual photo of Jupiter, showing its shadow. We can never see it from this angle from Earth.


Bulk Mail

This time and today I sent Junkmail out in "bulk" mode, which means I sent it out to 25 or 50 people at a time, using bcc so everybody doesn't get to see everybody else's email address. I do this when I'm away from home and using a modem because it's about 20 times faster. There are now over 3500 people on the Junklist, and it's pretty slow sending out that many individual emails over a modem. That's why your Junkmail was addressed to "Humanoids" today.

(^) 1955, no rights deserved. Any unauthorized duplication or distribution of this most excellent acreage of cyberspace, by electronic or other means, is hereby authorized.

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I'm Bob Webster and I can usually be located at
Have a good day!