Flying As a Bush Pilot

Pilots · 4 min read · Oct 17, 2021
bush pilot

Bush flying 

To fly an aircraft in remote locations and rough terrain often without engineered landing strips and runways is known as bush flying. This is a widely used method of transportation in Northern Canada, Western Canada and, Alaska. In bush flying operations usually, there are no ATC instructions, weather warnings, instrument landings, and other standard safety protocols of civil aviation. A breed of brave pilots operating an aircraft in such dangerous locations and undetermined conditions are known as bush pilots.  

Who are bush pilots?

An aviator who can perform extensive flights towards remote destinations with very little or no ground support is known as a bush pilot. Bush pilots fly aircraft in rugged terrain and land aircraft at places where no one ever landed. Bush pilots serve remote communities by goods supplies and food even in severe weather and geographical conditions where the is no sign of road and airport.

These brave pilots risk their lives in supplying goods to remote places without navigational aids and radio communication with air traffic control. In case of a crash, rescue missions are time-consuming and critical, often the flight crew is responsible for conveying a message through electronic devices or traditional methods. Generally, bush pilot’s career is divided into two categories known as missionary aviation and commercial operations. It is regarded as a very risky job.

A bush pilot flying a small personal airplane low over a field of crops.

What does it take to become a bush pilot?

For commercial operations, a bush pilot is required to obtain a commercial pilot license along with a type rating. A commercial bush aviator is required to have a good knowledge of the area and experience of operating in the respective region. A recommended practice is to get training for commercial operations, specialized training facilities include courses about float, tundra tire, tailwheel and, glacier.

In missionary aviation, the scope of service focuses entirely on faith-based objectives. Missionary aviation is a soulful and joyful career that involves helping people in remote villages. For missionary aviation operations candidates are required to gain a minimum of 500 hours of flying along with an airframe and power plant A&P license. Commercial and instrument ratings are also required for candidates. Missionary aviation organizations conduct a series of tests in a 10-day technical course where the organization evaluates piloting and maintenance skills along with mental and physical stability tests.  

Aircraft flown by bush pilots

A bush plane is a general aviation category aircraft that is specifically designed to operate in remote locations. A bush plane can carry freight, passengers, or even livestock. Bush planes are rigid and landing gears are equipped with abnormally large tires that are capable of touching down at rugged uneven surfaces. Common characteristics of a bush plane include an undercarriage designed to install floats, skis, or large off-roading tires enabling airplanes to land at unconventional surfaces.

A high wing configuration helps in ease of loading and unloading, improve ground visibility and, increase ground clearance to reduce the risk of collision with objects while approaching or take-off. Piston engines are highly recommended for bush flight due to low maintenance cost and excellent fuel consumption however due to the unavailability of Avgas in some remote locations, operators prefer turboprop engines. There are multiple aircraft built for the purpose of bush flights mainly by Fairchild, Cessna, Curtiss, de Havilland, and Junkers.  

The golden age of Alaska Bush Pilot before World War II  

A panoramic views of a bay surrounded by tall misty and snowy mountains.

In the history of bush flying, Alaska’s bush pilots are legendary pioneers. In 1937, an Alaskan pilot Bob Reeve landed on Mount Lucania to transport mountain climbers. Reeve prepared for take-off after dropping them on the mountain but three attempts to take off in snow and thin air were unsuccessful. Reeve asked the team of climbers to make a take-off run down the cliff, climbers were shocked when Reeve actually did that and flew away. Such brave souls made this an interesting and adventurous sector of the aviation industry. Only 50 pilots flew in Alaska territory before World War II and Reeve was one of them.

The golden age of Alaska’s bush pilots is the period from 1924 to the war when there were very few restrictions from the government and Civil Aeronautics Authority. During this period brave aviators flew airplanes overloaded and damaged parts were fixed with wires, tapes and even worst using tree branches. Those adventurous men flew in unfavorable conditions but they were addicted to these adventures. Once Reeve called his airplane a collection of assorted parts that can fly.

The state of Alaska is almost one-fifth of the size of the United States or approximately two and a half times bigger than Texas. Here, most of Alaska is covered by glaciers, volcanoes, wetlands, high terrain, tundra, and unexplored forests. During winters, the sun rises from the south instead of the east in this state, and the compass show false readings. Much of Alaska has no ground infrastructure for transportation and still today air transport is the most widely used method of transporting goods, medicines, and emergency medical flights.

Legendary pilots flew in the age of open-cockpit without instrumental aid and deicing systems. Dozens of pilots crashed planes for decades in several flights and contributed to the mapping of Alaska. Several brave pilots never lived long enough to enjoy their fame and appreciation for bravery.  

A small personal airplane parked in a field in the countryside.

FAQs

How much does a bush pilot make?

A commercial bush pilot in the United States can make approximately $84,788 on an average annually and as high as $101,376 in California. In Alaska, bush pilots can make up to $350 a day.  

What does a bush pilot do?

A bush pilot flies a small plane to remote areas without a proper landing site or runways. Bush pilots transport goods, passengers, or medical supplies in places where road transport is not accessible.

How long does it take to become a bush pilot?

If a candidate holds a commercial license, it would take 5 to 7 hours of ground training and 5 to 7 hours of in-flight training. An advanced bush pilot course costs approximately $1400 and can take up to 5 days.

Is bush flying dangerous?

Yes, bush flying is a risky job. Flying totally under visual flight rules without operating ground support is dangerous. Bush pilots usually have to land airplanes on uneven and rugged surfaces which is quite dangerous and demands expertise.

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Aeroclass Team
A team of professionals with a deep passion for the aviation industry bringing you the newest and the most striking industry-related news and content.

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