After 32 years of flying in Alaska, I can honestly say that it's truly fun once you have flown there for a few years or been lucky
enough to start out in a really interesting neck of the woods. I was fortunate in that respect, getting my first job flying out of
Fairbanks in the dead of winter...February 1 1975.Back to the FLY ALASKA home page
I knew only three days before I landed in Fairbanks that I was about to leave
Seattle for a life-changing experience. I had been giving flight instruction at Boeing Field in Seattle. The chief pilot from an
outfit in Fairbanks strode into the flight office one day towards the end of January to interview another flight instructor who had
applied for a job with a company in Fairbanks called Aurora Air Service.
As it turned out, the other flight instructor didn't have enough flight time. The chief pilot from Aurora Air Service spoke with a
German accent. He came out of the back room in less than two minutes of having interviewed the guy who had applied for the job. He
was severely annoyed and announced as he proceeded to leave the building that the applicant he had interviewed didn't have enough
flight time. I piped up and said, "I have 1800 hours." He said, "You're hired."
They were beginning to build the great Alaska pipeline at that time, and apparently Aurora Air Service was desperate for a pilot. I
was at the right place, at the right time and free to go. Three days later after doing some fast shopping at surplus stores in
downtown Seattle, I had equipped myself with Arctic clothing and was headed north on Alaska Airlines to Fairbanks.
That first job focussed my flying desires and for me, Alaska became the place to fly. I had single and mult-engine sea ratings, and
almost no float flying experience, but was launched into float flying two years later when I moved to Cordova. There I flew for
Chitina Air Service, flying a mail
run down the coast three times a week and charters on wheels to a few other places. After my first six months in Cordova,
Smith, the owner, a famous old bush pilot but an irascible old man, said to me one day, "Jay, ya gotta start flying floats.
At that time, the chief pilot was a
guy named Tom Madsen, born and raised in Alaska.
He was a few years younger than me and an exceptional bush pilot. He checked me out in an empty
Cessna 185 on floats and the next day assigned me to fly two bird hunters out to Cottonwood Lake on the east edge of the Copper River
near the mouth.
I was somewhat apprehensive about my first commercial float flight, but went ahead as if I knew what I was doing. My takeoff run in
the Cessna 185 out of Eyak lake in Cordova with two hunters and a bunch of gear, was the very first time with any kind of a load in
The takeoff run was not smooth and perfect. I porpoised a bit after getting up on the step, but finally settled smoothly onto the
step and left the water in a gentle climb. The landing in that small lake was much better than the takeoff. I picked them up several
days later and after a few more float flights acquired the necessary technique and touch for efficiently getting up on the step in a heavy Cessna 185
Before too long, I was turned loose in a Beaver, first on wheels and then floats. One of the truly enjoyable aspects of landing a
float Beaver, is the perfect touch down. It is fairly easy in a gentle wind with a little ripple on the water. You can touch down so
smoothly on the water that the transition from air to water cannot be detected by any passenger or even you as the pilot. You know
you're on only by noticing your wake out the side window. It's always a kick to see your passengers doing a double take when they
notice the wake without having ever felt the touchdown. This, for me, is much harder to do in a Cessna 206 or 185.
With many years of fish spotting for commercial fisherman, (herring and salmon) and flying air taxi in the winters and during the
last 15 years for fly-out fishing lodges and air taxi operations during the summers, my float flying skills have become increasingly
expanded and proficient. Fish spotting was probably the most consistently challenging, mainly due to lousy weather, high wind and
rough water. I have learned much from other pilots, many of them younger, but highly experienced in certain kinds of operations on
floats. The learning goes on and on.
Many times (prior to nine eleven), I rode jump seat in big passenger jets. Invariably, upon learning what I did, the cockpit crew
would exclaim "what fun that must be..." Flying in a straight line for five and a half hours at 39.000 feet probably gets boring,
but the money is good. Some airline pilots do both.