Thursday, October 31, 2013

Alaska encompasses more than a half million square miles of land which includes glaciers, mountains, and tundra...and a large majority of it is inaccessible by vehicle or boat. To see some of the best parts of Alaska, you must take to the air!

One out of every 64 residents of Alaska has a pilots' license. Whether it is from the need to carry supplies to the far corners of Alaska or simply for the thrill of flying wild over a majestic land, Alaska has garnered six times as many pilots per capita than any other place in the US. The term "Bush Plane" is naturally derived from the phrase "The Bush" usually referring to the remote and most inaccessible areas of Alaska. These small planes are typically Navajos, Otters, Widgeons, Beavers, or Cessnas. Each plane type has its own personality and specialization. For example, the Dehavilland Beaver, often referred to as "The Beaver," is the workhorse of the bush planes. The Dehavilland Otter is known for its capacity and room to haul people and still be able to maneuver and land on small remote landing strips.

Some bush planes sport wheels to land on small airstrips. Others have floats to alight on the state's many small lakes and rivers. In winter, skis can be strapped to the bottom of the plane. Anchorage's Lake Hood is said to be the busiest seaplane base on earth. Similarly, Anchorage's Merrill Field claims to have more takeoffs and landings than any other small aircraft airfield. In many parts of Alaska, seeing or traveling by a small plane is almost as common as traveling by car.

Anchorage is sometimes referred to as the "Air Crossroads of the World." Anchorage's Ted Stevens International Airport sees hundreds of flights a day and has become a major gateway for incoming tourists headed to many of Alaska's destinations and a stopover or re-fueling point for international flights.

The two main jobs of bush planes are typically to act as either a taxi service or to haul supplies and gear to remote regions. Many air taxi's provide services to visitors for flight seeing or simply to get to a promising fishing hole or hunting camp. One of the more popular flight seeing opportunities is to view Mt. Mckinley. Thousands of tourists each year enjoy the majestic view of "The Great One" by taking off from nearby Talkeetna. Air taxis offer trips all around the mountain or even the opportunity to land on glaciers or at the popular "Base Camp" where tourists and climbers alike enjoy a magnificent view. The bush pilots job to haul gear can range from the mundane to the unusual. During the Iditarod, the "Iditarod Airforce" volunteers haul food, supplies, and even dogs to and from the various villages along the trail.

The job of a bush pilot has often been characterized as dangerous and fool hardy in the ever changing climate and oftentimes dangerous environment of Alaska. However, Alaska has recently adopted the "Medallion Foundation" which aims at reducing crashes and improving overall air safety. The biggest challenge is often fighting the "Bush Pilot Syndrome" which is the image of the adventure seeking, risk taking, flamboyant pilot that seems to always just barely escape catastrophe. Through rigorous training and education, the Medallion Foundation aims to reduce air incidents and keep Alaska skies safe.

To view more photos of Alaska bush planes and pilots, visit Alaska Bush Planes at

No comments: