There are some books about aviation that are so spot-on, so gritty, that you are compelled to hide them from the aviation squeamish. “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” is one of these books. The book was written by Colleen Mondor, who drew upon her four years of running dispatch operations for a Fairbanks-based airline. The names have been changed, but the experiences, such as knowingly flying over-loaded aircraft and intentional scud-running, are pulled from real life.
The pilots often fly less-than-in-the-best-of-shape equipment and haul everything from sled dogs and high school sports teams to the recently dearly-departed and groceries.
Most of the pilots take the jobs in Alaska as a way to gain experience for other flying jobs. Sometimes they do, but sometimes they pay the ultimate price.
When I read the part about the false promises made to low-time pilots about earning decent money, getting experience, and having a good schedule, I had to laugh, having heard the same horror stories so many times before from pilots who took jobs in the Lower 48 only to find themselves worked nearly to death by unscrupulous business owners.
Some of stories in the book leave the reader with the impression that substance abuse and poor decision-making are core values in aviation. The scary part is that when you read the stories, you will swear you know a pilot who is just like the one being written about.
If you are planning a trip to Alaska that includes flying into remote areas, don’t read this book. You’ll end up taking the bus. But, if you are looking for a gritty, I-can’t-believe-they-did-that, blatant example of anti-authority, invulnerability and macho hazardous attitudes, you’ll probably like this book. If you want to discourage someone from a career in aviation have them read this book. Really.
The Map of My Dead Pilots, the Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska runs 256 pages and is available from Lyons Press.
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