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Northern Exposures: Who Hires Bush Pilots?

by Charlie Jackson

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Who Hires Bush Pilots?

Running the float plane school is not the owner's primary business. Scenic Mountain Air is an Alaskan on-demand air charter service. This means that anyone may come by the office and hire a plane and pilot to go just about anywhere for about any reason. This happened pretty frequently.

"Take me to Where there are No People"

One afternoon, I overheard two college-age kids enter the Operations Office and ask about a flight to somewhere far away from people. They were looking for complete isolation, and did not want to see another human face for the duration of the trip.


If this had happened in San Francisco, locking them in the nearest closet would be about the only way to do this. The woman at the Ops desk, however, had a wide variety of destinations:

Sure, that's not a problem -- we can get you really far away from people. Would you also like to hunt or fish while you are there? How about hiking? Do you want a spot with a cabin, or will you be camping? Here are a few of the places we can get you to. Do you have any backpacks? Do you want to leave right now? Did you want us to pick you up at the end, or did you want to hike out and save a little money?

This was the first of many such conversations I overheard. The college-age kids opted to hike-out. They returned the next day with backpacks. One of the larger float planes dropped them off at a remote lake (about 45 minutes by air). There, they'd spend the week-end, then hike back to civilization.

Airlifting Fish for the Forestry Service


Stocking the Lakes

The forestry service also stopped by to stock the local lakes with fish. These lakes were unreachable by car, so several hundred gallons of fish-laden water was pumped aboard a large 1954 DeHavilland Beaver.

The forestry service was there for more than two days, and the Otter made quite a few trips. The movie, below, shows the fish being pumped into the plane.


Fifty States in Fifty Days

Trans-Alaskan Rail Road passing Trail Lake
The Alaska Railroad passed by
each night around 7.

I was passing the Flight Ops office, on my way to lunch, when I saw a car with a colorful insignia on the door.
The insignia read 50 States in 50 Days. I spoke with Roger Johnson, who explained that they were filming an as-yet-unsold travel documentary. The plan was to visit and film 50 states in 50 days. They had already covered most of the "lower 48" and were visiting Moose Pass for a float plane tour.

Morning at Trail Lake

I pondered this over lunch. Alaska is bigger than California, Texas, and Montana combined. And the "50-50" folks wanted to cover the best and most photogenic parts of this massive state in just one day. So, out of the entirety of Alaska, they chose taking a float plane tour right here in Moose Pass. I knew I was in a really beautiful part of the state -- somehow, this confirmed that belief!

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