By Lex, on August 11, 2010
I suspect that it’s many a pilot’s dream to fly the Alaskan Bush. The harsh nature of the climate comes with spectacular beauty, and merely navigating from one spot to another carries unique challenges in a region where navaids are rare and communications with air traffic control even rarer. I imagine that it is inspiring, and liberating and exhilarating. I also imagine that it can be more than a little hair raising. I know a guy flew Tomcats and Hornets for 25 years off the carrier who retired to fly the Alaskan Bush. After a year of scaring the hell out himself, he came back to California, and now teaches high school math. The money’s about the same, but the chance of augering in is vastly reduced. Which doesn’t mean that a secret part of me doesn’t want to give it a spin.
Once you get to your destination, you’ve got to find a place to put her down. Once you put her down, you’ve got to hope you’ve got enough to get her airborne again. And always you’ve got one eye on the escarpments, and one eye on the weather. For the granite is ever present, even when you cannot see it.
But there are places no road goes, and people who live at the very end of the supply chain who count on bush pilots to bring them essentials. This makes for a unique brand of flying and a unique customer need, the combination of which is compelling. But it doesn’t make it any easier, nor render the consequences of failure less severe: *
“I once flew for four hours and never got above 60 feet,” said (veteran bush pilot Morton) Mason, 79, who retired in 1985 and wrote a book titled “The Alaska Bush Pilot Chronicles: More Adventures and Misadventures from the Big Empty.”
Alaskan bush pilots learn to land on tiny fields and the thousands of lakes and rivers that dot the backcountry. The water often provides the only landing option for float planes like the red De Havilland DHC-3 Otter, built in 1957, that (former Alaska Senator Ted) Stevens and eight others were aboard when it crashed.
The plane, owned by an Anchorage communications company that also owned the lodge Stevens was visiting, was bound from Lake Nerka to the Agulowak Lodge on Lake Aleknagik when it went down about 8 p.m. not far from Dillingham, in rain and mist that lowered the cloud cover to 1,300 feet.
“I’m surprised that they were flying in bad weather at night,” Mason said. “I’ve got 1,000 hours flying in bad weather and night, so it’s done, but it’s a good thing to avoid if you can.”
I reckon there’s worse ways to go. But you’d hate to take anyone else with you.
** Link changed – 04-16-18 – Ed.