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White knuckle scud running

I know, I know – scud running is a no-no. Still, if you fly the Alaska bush, it sometimes seems as though it has become a way of life. During my time at it, we had precious few navigational aids. Contact flying and ADF needles were our fare. So, please cut me just a little slack for admitting to the following experience.

A Tri Pacer is not an Alaska bush plane

Taxiing took almost full throttle, and there was no way in which the plane would take off with the pilot and two passengers. We were now stuck on George’s choice of lakes. I suspected that we might have made the takeoff with a Piper Pacer, but with a nose gear poking down up front, there was no way we were leaving that small lake in our small, four-place tricycle-geared flying machine.

The old, bold pilots of Alaska

We’ve all heard it, and most of us have said it: “There are old pilots and bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots.” I’m here to tell you that such purported wisdom isn’t very wise at all. Not long ago, Alaska was filled with old, bold bush pilots. In fact, if you weren’t just a little on the bold side, you had no business at all in trying to fly Alaska’s great outback.

Robbing two pieces of luck from my box of experience

Impressive mountains were quite near on both sides, and I noticed that there were at least two separate layers of stratus above me. I could see that the lower level shrouded the glacier ahead, obscuring most of it. I could also see that, if I continued beneath the lowest level, I would soon fly into the face of that glacier right at its moraine. Did I mention that I had only 30 hours under a seat belt at that time?

Making an air drop from a Champ on floats – only in Alaska

The weather couldn’t have been better, though it would be a bit breezy in the mountains. I’d be supplying our proposed sheep camp with an air drop from a float-equipped, 65-hp Aeronca Champ. My flight log at the time showed that I had less than a meager 82 hours as a pilot. Confident I was; experienced I certainly was not.

Saying goodbye to a beloved airplane

The flight was supposed to be pretty much a routine trip, though not really a happy one. I was relocating my turbocharged 1984 Cessna TU206G amphibian from West Palm Beach, Florida, to St. Cloud, Minnesota. Economics had demanded that I sell the marvelous ship, and I was delivering it to the buyer.

Are you ready? Flying the Alaska bush

I’m going to fly along with you as you take your Cessna 206 Stationair II for a flight to pick up a client out in the flat country beyond the Alaska Range. Your client lives in a log cabin along the Kuskokwim River, downstream from the village of Aniak. You’ve made sure to have the necessary flight charts with you.

A white knuckle flight – even for an Alaska bush pilot

After having flown the Alaska bush country for more than 35 years, and racking up more than 18,000 hours of such foolishness, the mountains and almost consistently terrible weather had inured me to most flights that stateside pilots would find truly white knuckle experiences. Of my many, many bush flights over the years, this one was perhaps the most sobering.

Pilots really are made, not born… I’m proof

George gave me my first hour of dual instruction that day. Flying over a world covered in the flat white of a fresh snow, I was lost from the moment the wheels left the ground until the engine was shut down an hour later. I knew right then that I was never destined to fly. How in the hell did anyone up there know where he was? I was truly discouraged and downhearted.

The most inherently dangerous of all flying techniques

It’s unwise, it’s in contravention of standing FARs, and it is – without argument – the most inherently dangerous of all flying techniques. It puts crop dusting, aerobatics, and banner towing up in the bleachers. It’s far more dangerous than flying as a salmon spotter for the Alaska fishing industry. Except for herring spotting, that is, which is in a category of its own.

An upside down landing on a remote Alaska strip

When the Cessna went up ever so slowly, pausing when the cowling slipped into the snow cover, I still thought we’d be all right. Instead of settling back to earth, though, the tail paused for an eternity—and then went slowly over to put us upside down on this very remote bush strip. Our world was upside down and we were now really in for it…

An unusual first solo, Alaska-style

It was on a Friday the Thirteenth, in April of 1956, that I soloed out at Lake Hood Seaplane Base in Anchorage, Alaska. I had waited for several months for this date, as I had, for some misguided reason, always thought of Friday the Thirteenth as a lucky day for me. I’d had eight and one-half hours of dual instruction up to that point, and my instructor thought that I was ready.

Really low on fuel in a thirsty Super Cub

The days are short, and quickly getting shorter, in Alaska’s September, and it was nearly dark as I readied my Super Cub for the return flight. I took from the guide’s avgas cache only what was necessary to make the safe flight back to Merrill Field that night. I carried no reserve fuel. I didn’t like to do that, but sometimes we found it necessary in bush operations.

Devil Canyon Christmas

After landing at Anchorage, I tied my faithful little ship down and silently thanked the guys at the Cessna plant for their stable and dependable Stationair. And, yes—it had been a lousy way to spend Christmas Eve…