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Thread: So does the Bush Pilot in Ak really still exist or is he part of our lore?

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    Member RocketRick's Avatar
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    Smile So does the Bush Pilot in Ak really still exist or is he part of our lore?

    When I got my license in the winter of '83 I read all I cld about Ak Bush Pilots. Since I've got my 180 I've started rading again and love it.

    I read Griz & FP comments and it's worth discussing.

    In one way what FP says is true. The pilots/explorers in the 20's and 30's didn't have dependable maps, communications, heated cabins or even airstrips to use. Nor engine heaters, they used fires, nor a lot of useful. Many many of them perished pushing the limits and exploring a new way of life. They opened up the interior south and north of the Brooks range. Folk like Sam White some say is best there ever was. Or the Wein brothers & the early missionaries or Joe Crosson etc etc. There's a long list. All new to the natives who embraced and helped them survive.

    I another way Griz is right to in that the folk that truly fly far from help need the skills and tenacity the early pilots had. Now if you break down you can easily call for someone to come help w/o spending days in a freezing plane cabin or trappers cabin..So one still needs the love for it and to hone the skills, to not tame, but live with our land and animals.

    I chalk a lot of it up to adventure and being young. Had I been here during those times when I was 20 or 30 I'd have been right there testing myself & flying if possible. But get some age on ya and you ain't gonna take those chances cause you value life and all it provides. Those that survived the p--s & vinegar days get to enjoy telling the tales.

    Remember the old saying....No bold old pilots. Ha!

    Rick

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    Member Float Pilot's Avatar
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    It all depends upon your perspective and what you think the definition of Bush Pilot may be...

    Pilots like Mudhole Smith, Russ Merrill , Sig Wien, Joe Crosson & Marvel Crosson, were flying back when flying ANYWHERE was a bit risky.
    The engines were kinda questionable in California, much less half way between Fairbanks and Fort Yukon.
    So those old Real Bush Pilots were also gifted mechanics, and carpenters, and lumber jacks, and so on and so on...
    Plus the gas and oil of those days was not so great either,,, when you could find it...

    They would would have a major engine failure way the heck out in the middle of nowhere, make a landing, cover the plane up and then walk for days through the snow until they got home. (all the while with everyone back home figuring they were dead) Then they would hike back out in the boonies with an advanced mechanic and a bunch of parts. After a another week they would have rebuilt the engine and shoveled a runway in the snow..

    They were not worried about certain death, just worried about making the next scheduled dead-line... Because nobody told them they were supposed to be dead.

    No GPS, No VORs, No NDBs, No complete charts, No Radio coverage, No CAP waiting to look for you, No Air Force bases either... No Statewide TV or Radio to explain you were missing.... Not even a telephone in most villages back then...
    Just the mail,,,, and that was on the plane you just crashed...

    Oh Yeah, they had big ones....
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    Member RocketRick's Avatar
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    Yeah FP and from all my reading they did it to make ends meet and of course they loved it. But the strange thing is most of them really didn't make much money and most lived very austere lives in small cabins or road houses if lucky. I reckon the old days are gone huh? Don't mean we can get out there and pretend tho Ha!.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Float Pilot View Post
    It all depends upon your perspective and what you think the definition of Bush Pilot may be...

    Pilots like Mudhole Smith, Russ Merrill , Sig Wien, Joe Crosson & Marvel Crosson, were flying back when flying ANYWHERE was a bit risky.
    The engines were kinda questionable in California, much less half way between Fairbanks and Fort Yukon.
    So those old Real Bush Pilots were also gifted mechanics, and carpenters, and lumber jacks, and so on and so on...
    Plus the gas and oil of those days was not so great either,,, when you could find it...

    They would would have a major engine failure way the heck out in the middle of nowhere, make a landing, cover the plane up and then walk for days through the snow until they got home. (all the while with everyone back home figuring they were dead) Then they would hike back out in the boonies with an advanced mechanic and a bunch of parts. After a another week they would have rebuilt the engine and shoveled a runway in the snow..

    They were not worried about certain death, just worried about making the next scheduled dead-line... Because nobody told them they were supposed to be dead.

    No GPS, No VORs, No NDBs, No complete charts, No Radio coverage, No CAP waiting to look for you, No Air Force bases either... No Statewide TV or Radio to explain you were missing.... Not even a telephone in most villages back then...
    Just the mail,,,, and that was on the plane you just crashed...

    Oh Yeah, they had big ones....
    Goodness, Float Pilot, the "old days" you refer to weren't so far back as all that. I worked with Merle K. "Mudhole" Smith when he was the guy flying between Anchorage, Valdez, and Cordova. We usually used a C-180 to flyo the mail to Seward, and used the "weather station" handled by Luke and Niska Elwell at Upper Russian Lake. You might remember that Nishka Zane was one of the Zanes for which the town of Zanesville, Ohio, was named. Guess we've all heard of Zane Gray!

    The guys with the small planes didn't have radios, 'cause there was no one to talk to "out there." Satellite phones? Nope. Cell phones? Nope. VHF radios and VORs? Nope. What good would they have been without repeater stations all over the place. When we flew south of King Salmon headed for Heiden, we were supposed to file a DVFR flight plan, and follow it to a nicety of 5-miles or 5-minutes. That's because we'd be crossisng into a Coastal Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). But, who on a bear hunt could predict within five-minutes where he'd be in the next seven days anyway? We just flew at 20-feet to avoid the radars, and went on south, that's all.

    And yeah, we pretty much repaired what we could in the bush. Ever use 5-gallon avgas cans to rebuild a vertical stabilizer in the bush? Some of us have. And tied broken Super Cub tail wheel springs back in place with whatever wire we could find. If you read my first book, you know that I straightened a bent prop between cottonwood logs. Wasn't pretty, but it flew.

    I still think the "real" bush pilot is among us. And until Alaska is ruined by thousands of miles ofo highways, I think they'll be with us for a while more. My question about that is: how long will flying machines be avilable for them? And at a cost that may be affordable. It's not every pilot that can afford a turboprop Otter . . . . .

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    Member RocketRick's Avatar
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    That's interesting Griz. Mudhole came up in '37 and retired in '79 died in '81. So just how old are you then?

    do you still fly?

    Tell us some more about the old days, so to speak.

    Rick

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    I certainly think that a lot has been done to make it "safer" but just look at the stories from this past year. Multiple accidents, several with dire consequences. Another pilot landed on a glacier that looks like it would destroy a bowling ball if dropped on it. It would be hard for anyone to convince me that Rolan or the boys at Andrews air who spend their days flying round that rock in the gulf aren't bush pilots of the finest order..... I am also sure that there are others around the state at least their equal as well.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RocketRick View Post

    Remember the old saying....No bold old pilots. Ha! Rick
    There are some old & bold pilots. And there are still "Bush Pilots".

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    Joe Crosson born around 1903 to 1949
    Marvel Crosson 1904 to 1929
    Harold Gillam 1903 to 1943
    Carl Benjamin BEN Eielson (18971929)
    Russel Merrill 1894 to 1929
    Noel Wien (June 8, 1899 July 19, 1977)
    Sig Wien 1903 to 1994
    Merle K Mudhole Smith 1908 to 1981
    Bob Reeve 1902 to 1980
    Ray Petersen 1912 to ?? Maybe still alive
    Bob Ellis 1903 to ??

    Just to name a few
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    Quote Originally Posted by AGL4now View Post
    There are some old & bold pilots. And there are still "Bush Pilots".
    I reckon so but those that did it from the early 1900s to maybe ard after WWII or maybe the 50's have to be revered in a different lite then those that came afterward and of today. That's just my opinion of how the definition 'Bush Pilot' needs to be put in perspective.

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    I have been flying and working on planes in Alaska for 30 years I know a few people that are/were Bush Pilots. The era is over. The flying that goes on now is no comparison to the past, except that they both have to do with flying planes. But I have been shouted down before when I have posted the same thing on other sights.
    Tim

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    Quote Originally Posted by mit View Post
    I have been flying and working on planes in Alaska for 30 years I know a few people that are/were Bush Pilots. The era is over. The flying that goes on now is no comparison to the past, except that they both have to do with flying planes. But I have been shouted down before when I have posted the same thing on other sights.
    No probs Tim. Thanks for chiming in.

    The value we place on the past era fuels the love we have for those that went before & the precious land we can become a part of. If ya get a hankerin', tell us some good flyin' stories..

    Rick

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    this is a great topic, here my 2c. It take a generation or two for the stories to evolve and the memories to smooth over, therefore the Bush Pilots for us are mystical, as they will be for the next generation, only for us they did there thing years ago and the next group are walking around us everyday almost unnoticed. IE.Young Jimmy at Homer Air that put the 206 down on the Glacier. Thirty years from now they will tell the story of how he put it down in 50', with no milithem cyrstial glide path projection and retro rocket brakes. The young pilots will shake their heads and say those guys flew that country with primitive equipment, it a wonder any of them lived thru it.

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    I have friends who fly for a living in the bush. Not chartered 207s or Cherokees, but Cubs for the most part. They leave when the snow starts melting to set up bear camps and don't come home until late October. During their flying season they'll fly every day into places that require great skill and in weather that will scare most private guys to stay home. Staying on the ground isn't an option for them. 40mph winds and driving rain are just another day. When the weather gets so bad that they can't fly they do their maintenance and oil changes out in the mud and wind. They have to manage their time and resources like nobody I know. They live and work in conditions that I may call fun for a weekend but they do it for months on end. Tools are limited. Hangars are unheard of. Sitting still because they have a sore back or a stuffy head isn't an option. They have places to go, people to move, and schedules to keep. And nobody's around to help them. Do they have sat phones and radios? Sure. But that doesn't change what they do or how they act on a day-to-day basis. They're tough, smart, and very skilled guys who happen to fly for a living, and Alaska has a bunch of guys just like them. If you think Bush Pilots don't exist any more? You need to get off the couch and go to the bush. They're out there. You just can't see them from your living room.

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    Member algonquin's Avatar
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    Mr. Pid, +1 on your reply, only I'm not a Pvt. guy and some of these guys scare me home. Seen my buddy George do landings in a 206 that I wouldn't attempt. 18,000 hours 6 mins at a time is his saying. There is skill and then there is some with a gift.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Pid View Post
    I have friends who fly for a living in the bush. Not chartered 207s or Cherokees, but Cubs for the most part. They leave when the snow starts melting to set up bear camps and don't come home until late October. During their flying season they'll fly every day into places that require great skill and in weather that will scare most private guys to stay home. Staying on the ground isn't an option for them. 40mph winds and driving rain are just another day. When the weather gets so bad that they can't fly they do their maintenance and oil changes out in the mud and wind. They have to manage their time and resources like nobody I know. They live and work in conditions that I may call fun for a weekend but they do it for months on end. Tools are limited. Hangars are unheard of. Sitting still because they have a sore back or a stuffy head isn't an option. They have places to go, people to move, and schedules to keep. And nobody's around to help them. Do they have sat phones and radios? Sure. But that doesn't change what they do or how they act on a day-to-day basis. They're tough, smart, and very skilled guys who happen to fly for a living, and Alaska has a bunch of guys just like them. If you think Bush Pilots don't exist any more? You need to get off the couch and go to the bush. They're out there. You just can't see them from your living room.
    Thanks, Mr. Pid. Having been an Alaska Registered Guide from 1957 through 1985, and almost always having done my own flying, I'm glad that someone has finaly chimed in with the real story of outback living and flying. Everything you say is true, and then some. I'm sorry that there are so many "pilots" flying today that have no concept of how the other half lived, and still lives.

    The old saw, "There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots" is a very large crock. It was (and is) the bold pilot that qualifies for "bush pilot" status. It certainly isn't for the timid!

    Low and slow . . . . .

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    the Bush is just a geographical reference, basically anything off the road system, so yes there are still lots and lots of bush pilots out there. Yes the pilots of legend were flying with inferior equipment than we have today, but that was true for them as well, until you get get to Orville and Wilbur. I am not in anyway denigrating what they did with the equipment they had. My hat is off to all the pioneers, O&W, Lindbergh and his wife, those named above, Beryl Markham in Africa and so many nameless that are still around (and lots that aren't).
    The winner isn't the person with the most gold when they die, but rather, the person with the most stories.

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    Maybe breaking it down into era's would be a good idea.

    Say Trail Blazer Bush Pilots as the first area.
    Then Pioneer Bush Pilots
    Then Alaskan Aviation Business Founders
    and so on...

    The time periods for each era would have to be settled upon. Some sort of major evolution in navigation or communications equipment would probably be a good basis. Plus the development of airports and better aircraft.

    Many pilots would cover multiple areas, but your could always just consider the first 5 years or that period where they made the best contribution to bush flying...

    I fell off a ladder on the ice, while working on some wings, so my mind is muddled with back pain... So a ice pack and a bottle of 18 year old scotch are calling my name...
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  18. #18

    Default are there still cowboys?

    Sure there are. But they have all evolved. A few less than the others. I would say there are busch pilots today, but very few that don't have an asteric or several next to the title.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Float Pilot View Post
    Maybe breaking it down into era's would be a good idea.

    Say Trail Blazer Bush Pilots as the first area.
    Then Pioneer Bush Pilots
    Then Alaskan Aviation Business Founders
    and so on...

    The time periods for each era would have to be settled upon. Some sort of major evolution in navigation or communications equipment would probably be a good basis. Plus the development of airports and better aircraft.

    Many pilots would cover multiple areas, but your could always just consider the first 5 years or that period where they made the best contribution to bush flying...

    I fell off a ladder on the ice, while working on some wings, so my mind is muddled with back pain... So a ice pack and a bottle of 18 year old scotch are calling my name...
    FP - Yeah that's the way to do it. Break it down into smaller parts. Hmmm..Smart idea...

    Sorry about the back guy...the scotch sounds good..yum!.. Ha!.

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    Smart Ass that I'm; I can see a bush pilot from my key board! Call Jorgy Jorgensen, Richard or Merril Wien and see what they say or fly to Inukuk Lake and ask Paul Shanahan what he thinks............ The FAA has been trying to get ride of this bush pilot mentality for years. F-15 pilots are fighter pilots, just like Spad pilots right! I recently stood a plane on its nose in an off airport take off, I must be a bush pilot! Attachment 41836
    Tim

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