Flying high in the Islander

By JIM OLTERSDORF, For General Aviation News

Located by the small village of Nikiski, Alaska, is a tiny dirt and gravel strip that you could easily miss if you were driving by. But flying over it is another story. A plethora of aircraft are tied down, including Super Cubs, Huskys, Cessna 180s, 206s, and a smattering of 185s — the usual planes found at any airport in Alaska. However, at this place there are a few more interesting (and expensive!) airplanes that catches one’s eye. Yes, there is a brand new turbine Otter, outfitted with the latest toys, but the one that sits apart from the rest is a machine that just doesn’t seem to belong: A multi-engine Britten-Norman Islander.

Owned by Rediske Air, this aircraft seems quite out of place as it sits among the usual Alaskan flying menu. It turns out this machine and only a few others on Kodiak Island are the only ones of their kind in the entire state. The Islander is usually associated with warmer weather flights, although some are used in states such as Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. But when this bird flies in Alaska, heads turn upwards as she cruises by.

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The Islander has found a home on the vast Kenai Peninsula. “Our Islander is used for the local lodges and commercial fishermen — and for good reason,” says Willy Rediske, owner. “The aircraft has a huge payload capacity for an airplane its size and it is manufactured in such a manner that is most suitable for the rough and short strips it flies out of.”

Rediske Air provides not only air transport for passengers but is a workhorse for hauling supplies and support for the oil industry. “We do their crew changes, and haul their groceries, drilling tools and any other kind of freight that comes in. If it fits into the airplane, we haul it,” he says.

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The Islander has an extremely long fuselage and wide door, which allows for some pretty hefty loads to be carried safely. With its twin engines, flight over the treacherous Cook Inlet offers a wide safety margin. After departure from a gravel (or snow) runway, it is just a minute over these deadly waters when one heads west from Nikiski. This is no place for the faint of heart and, without question, not an area where beginners need to be.

Rediske is definitely not a beginner.

“My father started Rediske Air in 1991 and my sister and I took the company over about 10 years ago,” he says. “Dad was an electrician and always loved to fly. When he retired he started the business with a piece of dirt and one airplane. He built everything you see. After he passed away, my sister and I grew it from there. We still have the original airplane my Dad purchased, a 1976 Cessna 207,” he adds with a smile.

While it is difficult to determine how many Islanders are actually flying worldwide, judging from its abilities, you could safely assume that whoever owns one keeps it in the air. From the European military to the police and many others, this bird finds its paradise wherever it takes flight.

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Britten-Norman originally started as a specialist in airplane modifications. In 1965 it first produced the BN2 Islander. Its newest version, the million-dollar-priced BN2C, boasts three-blade, scimitar props and electronic avionics. The company states some of these features will be available for retrofit on older models.

Rediske Air’s older model is powered by 260-hp Lycoming engines and sports fixed tricycle gear, which provide the necessary strength for the kind of strips Rediske flies out of in the wilds of Alaska.

“The Islander is one of the few twins that you can run off airport,” says Rediske. “It is built real tough and takes the rough dirt strips smoothly.”

For more information: RediskeAir.com

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