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Flying In Alaska
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Flying in Alaska

Every day there are bush pilots in Alaska that get up and fly their small planes in Alaska’s unforgiving terrain and extreme conditions. Most bush pilots have a home base from which they fly in an approximate radius of 250 miles to supply everything from groceries to gasoline. The landing strips are anything from a standard hard surface runway to a frozen lake. The service bush pilots provide is an essential part of life in Alaska.

With the ability to haul anything to anywhere the bush pilot has reduced the 600,000 square miles of Alaska to a manageable scale. The service the bush pilot provides comes at a price; bush flying has been reported to be the 3rd most dangerous job in America.

Notable Early Alaskan Bush Pilot

Noel Wien was a very early bush pilot who in early 1920s. He was the first to fly from Anchorage to Fairbanks. His first airplane was a “Stinson Detroiter” with air-cooled engine – not susceptible to coolant freezing and an enclosed heated cabin that protected the pilot to allow year around operations in low temperatures. Noel began weekly airmail flights between Anchorage and Nome –the 600 mile trip that dog sleds took three weeks to cover could now be done in seven hours by bush plane.

Bush pilots expand the access to Rural Alaska

By the 1930s bush planes could be seen in all corners of the big Alaska countryside. For many Alaskans they see an airplane before seeing a car. The airplane provided a linkage to the outside world for much of isolated Alaska.

Aircraft Technical Advances to allow Alaska flying

1. Rugged landing gear to include oversize tires to allow landing on bumpy ground

2. Skies to allow for landing on snow

3. Pontoons for landing on rivers and lakes

Modern day Bush Plane

Many Bush pilots use a 1950s model “DeHavilland” Beaver. The advantages of the Beaver is its slow flying wing to allow short field landings and door large enough to roll on a 55 gallon drum.

Flying in Alaska offers many challenges. Alaska extreme weather is a daily test of a bush pilots skill to handle hurricane force winds, white outs and dense fog that are potentially all deadly. The unpredictable conditions offer no room for error. Accessing the weather especially in mountains terrain is one of the most important skills a bush pilot must master. The best pilot know there limits and don’t fly beyond their comfort zone. Crashes are not a matter of “if” but “when”. Over 500 bush pilots were killed over the years; and there are about 100 crashes and 10 fatalities a year. Surviving a crash is one thing making it to safety is in many cases an even more challenging event.

Bush Pilots and their airplanes are synonymous with life in Alaska and represent all that is unique about life in this vast land.

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