Learning to ‘wear’ the airplane

After 10 years as a CFI in Alaska, Drew Haag of Above Alaska Aviation has this advice for pilots looking to take that trip of a lifetime: Get some training while you are visiting “The Last Frontier.”

“Training in Alaska will establish a solid foundation for flying anywhere else in the world,” he said. “Pilots here learn to ‘wear’ the airplane, which makes them safer and more capable aviators. Alaska demands respect from its pilots due to its immense vastness and remoteness. One small mistake could result in a number of different life-threatening outcomes.”

Alaska pilots are familiar with the double whammy in the state: Weather is unpredictable, while ATC radar and radio reception is minimal, “which means that much of the flying up here is done VFR,” he said.

mike soloIt’s essential that all pilots have the right equipment for each flight, including a survival pack, a handheld GPS, and extra fuel. Always file a VFR flight plan and ensure you complete proper pre-flight planning, he advises.

After a decade of instructing in Alaska, Haag sees a lot of pilots making the same mistakes: “Over confidence when operating off airport, complacency, inadequate training, not filing flight plans, and inadvertent flight into IMC” are the biggest ones, he noted.

For pilots who dream of flying in Alaska for a career, not just an adventurous vacation, Haag has these tips: “Earn as much tailwheel time in Alaska as possible,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what type of flying, just that is Alaska tailwheel time. Most operators require this type of time for employment.”

He notes that “outsiders” typically lack tailwheel experience. “They need to learn the ‘rudder dance,’” he said.

When we asked our Facebook fans what they would like to know about flying in Alaska, Warren Bennett was quick with his question: “How much time do you need to be a single-engine bush pilot? Opinions seem to vary and I like hearing from guys who have actually done it.”

“The reason you hear so many different answers is because the term ‘bush pilot’ is a broad one,” Haag noted.

He was able to give some specifics, however: “You need around 500 hours to fly a 207 hauling freight in western Alaska, around 1,000 hours to fly passengers in a float plane, and around 1,500 to land a Beaver or Cessna 185 on glaciers,” he said. “Hope that helps.”

Meanwhile, another Facebook fan, John Roe, had this question: “With the cost of flying going way, way up, how do most of the pilots in Alaska afford to use their aircraft like we use our cars? Do they just absorb the increased costs as part of necessary transportation in that magnificent state?”

“In short, yes,” answered Haag. “Those who actually use their aircraft as a necessity tend to make fewer trips than ‘lower 48s’ would in their cars and tend to fly fuel-efficient aircraft — most have auto fuel STCs. They also use more of the money-free resources to feed their families, resulting in lower grocery bills.”

For more information: AboveAlaska.com


  1. Vaughn S. Price says

    Sounds like I am not the only one on this planet that thinks a nose gear is just added weight and drag and downright dangerous in the wilds. Amen to the estimated hours to barely be safe to be a commercial pilot in Alaska. to me it should apply everywhere, after reading and commenting on a string of accident reports.

  2. Henry Kelly says

    Nice article. I would like to see more definition and explanation of what “wearing” the aircraft means to Mr. Haag. The concept and idea is interesting. I think more depth on the point would be helpful and entertaining for every pilot. Thanks.

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