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Bush Planes: Accessing Alaska

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May 12, 2013

Bush Planes: Accessing Alaska

By Peter B. Mathiesen

Three years ago, outdoor writer, photographer, and consummate sportsman Peter Mathiesen left his hometown of St. Louis to start a new life in Alaska. Here’s why he made the move, what everyday life is like, and how it feels to have Denali right outside your window.

No trip to Alaska is complete without at least one ride in a vintage bush plane. Even today, these Super Cubs, Taylorcrafts, Beavers, and Otters DeHavillands play a vital role in transportation, freight, and even serve as a lifeline to countless rural Alaskans.

There are numerous rogue pilots in the state flying less-than-certified airplanes. However, the vast majority of licensed aircraft companies offer immaculately maintained planes with some of the most experienced bush pilots in the world. You will find a plethora of these pilots and vintage wilderness aircraft just 10 miles from my home at the Talkeetna airport. Check out Talkeetna Air Taxi’s web site and the live web cam of the Alaska Range here.

Talkeetna is the primary support station for climbers on Denali and dozens of other sites in the Alaskan Range. On an average day in mid May, you'll see nearly two dozen turbine Otters and close to a dozen radial Beavers rigged with wheel-ski landing gear. Floatplanes (five miles away at Fish Lake) are still several days away from being put in the water, as the ice has not yet fully receded.

These powerful air freighters spend the entire year mixing cargo with climbers, support gear, and plenty of tourists flying routes to numerous destinations, including landing on glaciers at 7,000 feet on Denali.

While climbers make up a large part of aviation-season travelers, there are plenty of anglers and hunters being ferried to inaccessible parts of the North Susitna Valley and the Talkeetna river systems.

If you fly to a location 30 miles from town, you may find great fishing or hunting, but someone has been there recently. Fly an hour to an hour-and-a-half, and you really may be in a place that just a handful of sportsmen ever get to experience.

Getting to a remote location will cost you around $350 per person. The trick is to keep your party down to two people with ultra light gear. As long as the carrier only has to make one trip in a smaller aircraft, you can sometimes get in and out for $250 each. If you’re with a group of lineman-sized guys with heavy camping gear, it’s going to take a larger plane, or more than one trip, upping the cost substantially.

 

Comments (4)

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from Dangle wrote 48 weeks 3 days ago

Now the side of the story seldom told about Alaskan bush plane pilots. They often fly in, and out having to meet angler's scedules in weather too inclement, and visibility too low to be flying, but the do. There is a bush plane pilot who I will not mention by name that is a legend in Alaska for the stories he has created flying bush planes. He dumped a plane SIX TIMES in his day as a bush plane pilot! Welcome aboard mate!

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Pathfinder1 wrote 48 weeks 3 days ago

Hi...

Yes, what Dangle said is quite true. During the years I lived in Alaska's Interior and Arctic, I lost four of my pilot friends due to various mishaps.

I've had several experiences with them that I would never want to repeat...but they always came through.

These air taxi services are the backbone of many parts of AK.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Corey Slider wrote 48 weeks 1 day ago

Article great, but I like the pic best.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mark-1 wrote 48 weeks 1 day ago

My impressions of Bush planes/pilots:

-why is one wing not the same color as the rest of the plane?

-How strong is duck tape, really?

-The kid loading the plane is the pilot?

-Why does the instrument panel look like swiss cheese?

-why is the pilot bailing out the floats?

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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from Dangle wrote 48 weeks 3 days ago

Now the side of the story seldom told about Alaskan bush plane pilots. They often fly in, and out having to meet angler's scedules in weather too inclement, and visibility too low to be flying, but the do. There is a bush plane pilot who I will not mention by name that is a legend in Alaska for the stories he has created flying bush planes. He dumped a plane SIX TIMES in his day as a bush plane pilot! Welcome aboard mate!

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Pathfinder1 wrote 48 weeks 3 days ago

Hi...

Yes, what Dangle said is quite true. During the years I lived in Alaska's Interior and Arctic, I lost four of my pilot friends due to various mishaps.

I've had several experiences with them that I would never want to repeat...but they always came through.

These air taxi services are the backbone of many parts of AK.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Corey Slider wrote 48 weeks 1 day ago

Article great, but I like the pic best.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mark-1 wrote 48 weeks 1 day ago

My impressions of Bush planes/pilots:

-why is one wing not the same color as the rest of the plane?

-How strong is duck tape, really?

-The kid loading the plane is the pilot?

-Why does the instrument panel look like swiss cheese?

-why is the pilot bailing out the floats?

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

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