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So you want to be a bush pilot? page 2

Story and photos by KAVIV MOMOH

Our busiest days for lodge and outfitter customers are Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Preparation begins on Thursday evening by lining up propane cylinders and drums of fuel (for the lodge’s generators and boats) in front of the large de Havilland Otter. I also load my Beaver with about 40 cases of beer. Alcohol is often an important part of a fishing trip; a party of six once took 50 cases (1,200 bottles) for a one-week trip. Last, the front tanks in the Beavers are filled with fuel so that we can leave at a moment’s notice the following morning.

Work starts at first light: check the weather, pump out the floats and do our walkarounds. After the propane and fuel cargo have been loaded, the Otter departs, followed by a Beaver every 10 minutes. The lake we operate from is also home to other air services, and on these mornings all the proper radio calls must be made, as the air traffic is continuous. After a quick, 25-minute flight over a mixture of logged-out and virgin forest, we arrive at the lodge. The cargo is quickly unloaded, the seats are reinstalled and four passengers (7 or 8 in the Otter) and baggage are taken on. The time from touchdown to takeoff is usually just eight minutes, and the trip is repeated until around noon.

After a break, we fly to the other outfitters’ cabins, some over an hour away. Lodge days can be very tiring, your knees sometimes get sore by evening, but who can complain? Once the flying is done for the day, the planes are cleaned inside and out, refuelled and put to bed. Unlike land ops, float operations cease when the sun goes down.

On Saturday, the whole routine repeats itself. The only difference is that we take new passengers to the lodge and bring out empty fuel drums and propane, as well as every float pilot’s favourite, bags full of garbage.

During the rest of the week, most of the flying is contract work for government departments and chartered flights for prospectors, surveyors, the forestry industry and First Nations reserves and communities. After all the math is done, the monthly average is six daily individual legs flown, although the actual number varies between 2 and 15. Most of the legs are between 25 minutes and 2 hours.

I especially enjoy working with Ontario Hydro. These trips involve flying technicians to one of several dams, sometimes waiting until they finish their work. While relaxing, walleye and pike are usually willing to entertain a lure–a side benefit of these trips. One of the common destinations–Summit Control Dam–is also the trickiest. Numerous whirlpools and eddies form in the strong current. As you approach the sluices the plane is gently rocked from side to side by the churning water before you can turn out into a calm spot to tie up. Taxiing a pristine Beaver in such turmoil is a bit nerve-wracking and definitely takes some getting used to.

The best part of a float flying job is the wide variety of destinations. As a pilot, you are always encountering new or challenging situations. Landings and takeoffs are never the same twice. Wildlife is often spotted below. You are rarely faced with an opportunity to be bored.

But work isn’t everything, and figuring out what to do with precious spare time is sometimes challenging. Unfortunately, there is only one TV channel available and only one station on the radio. If any real entertainment is to be had, it is by meeting up with some of the “enemy” pilots. End-of-the-highway towns usually house several air services, and aside from the competition, pilots always get along great and have a blast (especially bush pilots).

Flying the Beaver
Once in a while I would see a Beaver low on the horizon, rarely in sight for more than a few seconds at a time. Beavers approaching Ramsey Lake always seemed to be too low, hidden by the trees. They were more often heard than seen.

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