Monday, May 18, 2009

Alaskan Bush Pilots - Best of the Best

By Father Scott Joseph Garrett

Have you ever wondered what an Alaskan Bush Pilot looks like? Here is what one does NOT look like:

That's me posing in front of my Cherokee Warrior II. I have flown out in the Alaskan bush nearly four years and have racked up about 350 hours. Basically, I can't really call myself an Alaskan Bush Pilot...maybe a bush pilot wannabe (CLICK IN PICTURES TO MAKE LARGER)

The pictures below will give you an idea of what the "Best of the Best" Alaskan Bush Pilots look like. Bush pilots are a rare breed, especially in Bristol Bay. The weather changes so rapidly that pilots must be at there best to navigate through freezing rain, mist, fog, 30-40 knot winds, snow, and minus 30 degree temperatures

The Dillingham Airport Manger is nick-named Cooley. He is a long time resident of Dillingham and lives up to his nick name. Among the many duties of airport managers, Cooley also flies his Cherokee 180 around to all the nearby villages so he can get condition updates on the runways and fix whatever happens to be broken, such as lights, equipment, etc. I park my airplane next to his, which is directly behind his office at the Department of Transportation.


True Alaskan Bush Pilots carry almost anything deep into the Alaskan Bush and the several surrounding villages. They transport hunters, fishermen, campers, sight seers, survey crews, contractors, hospital workers, snow machines, tools, building materials...basically anything they can fit into an aircraft.

Here are a few of the people who have dedicated their lives to flying in the Bristol Bay area. These unique, skilled, and courageous people, combined, account for well over a hundred years of flying experience. Unfortunately, I was not able to get all the bush pilots, but these are most of the "Best of the Best." I would recommend calling any of them to fly you around the Bristol Bay area.

Privately owned Dillingham Alaska bush Air Service:

Alaska Cargo Services: One of the long time flyers around Bristol Bay is Bo. That is the only name I know him by and well, everyone just calls him that. I don’t even know what his last name is. Bo has thousands upon thousands of hours of flying time. When I took this picture Bo was mounting skis on his Maroon de Havilland Otter. He flies fuel into the surrounding remote villages and is also the agent for Northern Air Cargo (an all cargo air carrier out of Anchorage). 907)842-2400, Fax (907) 842-2432.


Tucker Aviation: Tommy Tucker has been flying around Bristol Bay since the early 1970's. He has three airplanes and a helicopter. Tommy is the FBO (a kind of airplane service station)in Dillingham and is teaching me the pass through the mountains to Togiak, Alaska. 907-842-1023


Van Air: Matt and Louisa Vandeventer own and operate Van Air together. Matt served in the Marines. He is not only an excellent bush pilot but an A&P mechanic as well. Matt is my go-to-person when I have questions about flying and aircraft mechanics (and I have lots of them). He flies me over to Clarks Point when I do not trust myself to fly in marginal weather. Matt has positioned his air service as an "On Demand Charter Service." He flies a Cherokee Six, N4571T. (907) 842-4985

Bay Air: Tom Schlagel flies both the newly acquired N388X and also a Beaver on floats, N364RA. The picture was taken May 15, 2009. In the background are two hunters unloading the Maule aircraft after Tom flew them back from a week long stay hunt in the "Wilds" north of Dillingham. They bagged a bear. Tom has flown for some 32 years. (907) 842-2570


Here is Tom's Beaver on floats. It will be taken from the Dillingham Airport to Shannon's Pond as soon as the ice melts on the lakes.


Bristol Bay Air: John Paul Bouker has been an Alaskan bush pilot for well over 20 years. If you want to go to Manokotak, he is your guy. John Paul is a living legend around Bristol Bay. He owns two aircraft and he is shown here in front of his favorite aircraft Cessna N9943M. John is also a Dillingham High Graduate. (907) 842-2227


Shannon's Air Taxi: Eric Shade is another long time bush pilot with several years experience. He owns Shannon's pond and owns Shannon's Air Service. This guy is a dynamo pilot (or should I say SUPER pilot) and has been flying since he graduated from high school here in Dillingham. (907) 842-2735


Alaska Island Air: Sean Carlos and his father Gary Carlos operate Cessna N9304K. They are based in Togiak, about 50 minutes by air Southwest of Dillingham. They also have a station in Dillingham right next to Bristol Bay Air. Sean is shown below. He has flown in the area for about eight years. (907) 842-5120


Mulchatna Air: Leon Braswell and his son Jerrold operate Muchatna Air out of Dillingham. His son flies Cessna 95W while Leon usually jumps in Cessna N88PB. Leon is another long time bush pilot. Leon has probably lived here in Dillingham longer than any other Bush Pilot flying today. He is truly a professional. (907) 842-4500


Here is Jerrold after picking up a few passengers from New Stu.


Grant Aviatiion Pilots

Grant Aviation has bases all over Alaska. They have three pilots working out of Dillingham. Here is there chief pilot Chris. Chris took me to Clarks Point last Friday, April 9, 2010, while our Cherokee Warrior II is receiving its annual inspection. Give Grant a call at (907) 842-2955.

Penair Pilots

Next are some Penair pilots who I have flown with when the weather was too bad for me to fly myself. First is Robert, who is a native of Manokotak, and the most experienced Penair bush pilot. He is the lead pilot at Penair in Dillingham. This is his home and he knows the area like the back of his hand. Robert is one of the Best of the Best. (907) 842-5559



Steve has flown Cherokees for a couple of years. He has recently checked out in the caravan. He lives here in Dillingham with his wife and daughter.


Billy Tolbert (left) and Pat Shryock (right) fly for Penair out of King Salmon. Pat is a double I flight instructor. I flew with him for two hours one day near Egegik in 50 knot winds. Billy has a shot of whiskey in his hand (just kidding)! Both Billy and Pat are super high hour pilots and two of the best around.



Every morning, before I start my day I pray for the intercession of Saint Theresa for the safety of all aviators and air passengers around the world. Safe flying out there!

3 comments:

CB Today said...

Great post! I did notice that your mechanics were a tad hairy.

Anonymous said...

NICE, a polar bear mechanic. Thank you for the comment and glad you liked it...Fr. Scott

Anonymous said...

Hi Father Scott,
You did a superb job getting to the facts of each of the pilots you interviewed.Great source for me to look at again.