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Gypsy Skies

by meghan simpson

Bush Pilot

Bush Pilot

As a pilot myself, i agree with most people when they say, “You’re crazy”. Flying is an extremely dangerous, addictive, thrilling and completely insane thing for humans to do, but I love it! There are all kinds of pilots, airline pilots, hot air balloon pilots, hang glider pilots, Air Force pilots and last but not least, bush pilots. Bush pilots come from a rare breed of people who love to take risks. They tape their tundra tires up with duct tape when a bear chews into one while they’re preoccupied guiding a hunter. They can spend a night in a cave after a crash that leaves them broken and busted, with the ELT going off but no rescue mission in site. They know how to pack a ridiculous amount of gear into a very small space, and make a seat out of pretty much anything so that the guide can get to the next camp. Bush pilots can figure out a low, medium and high route all through the mountains with no GPS. When they are in the middle of nowhere, they always have to improvise; and they know that if they get stuck with the machine in the wilderness, they’d better have a good survival bag. They also know it would take a heck of a long time to get that machine out of the bush and they need to be picking up or moving hunters.

I was lucky enough to grow up with a bush pilot father. I knew I wanted to fly when I was 5 years old; I was obsessed with our P.A 18 Super Cub and would beg my dad to fly me around the mountains every chance he got. When I was 15, I did my first take off and landing in our P.A 12 Float Plane, which I'm also obsessed with. However, my dad did not teach me how to fly. Whether it is cars, trucks, or helicopters, when your parents try to teach you how to drive, it just doesn’t work out well. When I was 18, I took my first intro flight in a Robinson R22 helicopter and I was hooked! I received my private and commercial helicopter licenses in Arizona and then did my conversions in Calgary, Alberta. Since I first started flying, I knew I was going to be a bush pilot. I like not having to talk to towers, and I like being able to go where I want and land where I want. That is a big reason I'm a helicopter kind of bush pilot. A lot of people like to think using a helicopter instead of a plane is “cheating”… many of those people don’t even fly so I'm not sure what sources they’re getting their info from. I don’t care what you fly, it’s all challenging when you are in the mountains. Can you imagine trying to land in a spot the size of a fifth wheel, with the wind howling, and the guide hanging out the door to let you know that the tail rotor is clear? Well most of our guides are over 6 foot, so think of that weight shift! When you have caribou horns inside the cockpit with the velvet just barely hanging on, and blood dripping on the seat, you know you’re a bush pilot. When you have two dogs in the backseat, and a cat in a carrier taking up the front seat along with a full load of gear, you know you’re a bush pilot. When you have hand pumped fuel from a 45 gallon drum the majority of your 35 years of flying, you are definitely a bush pilot. Oh, and if you’ve siphoned some fuel out (which you happened to get a nice gulp of) just to make sure the cook in the next camp had enough groceries for the new crew of hunters, you are for sure a bush pilot.

If you work for an outfitter in Alaska, British Columbia, the North West Territories or the Yukon you know exactly what it means to be a bush pilot. You might not have to spend the 10-12 days guiding and sleeping out in a tent, but you have to lose sleep and turn your hair grey over “weather” days. I personally have found a few extra grey hairs these last few years. Maybe it’s because I'm creeping up on 30, or maybe it’s because of the winds and July thunder storms I get to fly around in (and let’s not forget that fog either.) Both stress me out, but I am crazy and always looking for the next flying adventure!

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