The History of Bush Flying
Remember pilots pictured with silk scarves fluttering in the wind, flying their
vintage airplanes on adventures to dangerous corners of the world, saving people?
“Busy flying” might be legendary in its illustration, but it is very much alive
and true in its representation.
One of the last visages of pre-modern aviation, bush flyers are a precious
commodity in Canada, Australia, Alaska and the jungles of South America and
Africa, providing isolated communities with supplies of food and medicine, and
communication with the outside world. Not only do their planes have to be
adaptable to the tough and changing terrains and seasons in each country through
periodic mechanical changes, bush pilots have to brave the same harsh elements,
lack of work safety quotient and uncertain financial rewards.
The challenging life of a bush pilot was perhaps best summed up by C.H.
“Punch” Dickins, a veteran Canadian bush pilot, as, “a pilot and mechanic, who
is ready and willing to take any kind of a load to any destination, on or off
the map, within the limits of their aircraft, and the financial resources of the
Bush flying became a popular post-war option for the bravest and thrill-seeking
veteran American and Canadian military pilots as they sought an income from
their technical abilities. However, only those who could handle and maintain
their aircrafts would become fixtures on the bush flying circuit, despite the
relatively low barrier to entry in obtaining low cost aircrafts for use like the
Curtiss JN-4 Jennys and HS-2L flying boats. Imagine a situation where a bush
pilot were to be stranded in uninhabited regions such as the Artic tundra or
empty desert with its relentless heat. Plane repair abilities would be of
life-saving importance and many modern bush flights include flight engineers.
In October 1920, a fur buyer requested the Canadian Aircraft in Winnipeg,
Manitoba, to fly him home to The Pas, in one of the first documented paid bush
flight. The journey included harrowing flights over swirling lakes, thick jungle
bushes and deep swamps and bogs, before becoming the first plane to touch ground
on the final destination.
This opened up the possibilities of exploring uncharted global territories such
as the Artic regions. It also presented greater markets for bush pilots,
including oil exploration in the Artic Circle, mine claims, forest fire patrols,
timberland and waterway aerial mapping. Bush flying extended the reach of
airmail service to isolated regions and provided medical transport for the same
workers and hunters.
These developments called for better and more reliable aircrafts for bush flying,
in order to push the commercial viability of bush flying. The result was the
1926 creation from the Atlantic Aircraft Corporation, of a markedly improved and
safer single-seat high-cabin monoplane known as the German Fokker Universal. The
steady plane with strong wooden wings and a tough steel tube fuselage consisted
of a revolutionary shock absorber that allowed landing on uneven terrains and
simultaneous floating or skiing capabilities. On a plane driven by the Pratt &
Whitney radial engine, a bush pilot would fly in an open *****pit with passengers
or cargo stored in cabins built under the aircraft’s wings.
From 1926 to 1931, over half of the 44 Fokker Universals made in the U.S. were
used by bush pilots, preceding wide-spread usage by U.S., Canadian and foreign
November 12, 1935, witnessed the first flight of the reliable Noorduyn Norseman
from Canada, created specifically for bush flying. The aircraft facilitated
long-distance flights and delivery of fuel to isolated regions with cargo room
designed to accommodate an industry standard 45-gallon fuel drum and up to ten
passengers. Convenience was also a key feature with pilots having ease of
*****pit entry and exit without having to climb over cargo. To date, many of the
900 manufactured Noorduyn Norseman are still being flown.
Today, using aircrafts such as the Beech Staggerwings and Bonanzas and even
helicopters, bush flying now includes flying big game hunters, nature
photographers and archaeologists to exotic locations, on top of the now common
flights to remote settlements for supply deliveries. The sturdy and versatile de
Havilland Beaver is a huge favorite of bush pilots, with its adaptability in
skis, floats and wheels usage.
The dangers that bush pilots brave have made them a no-no for insurance
companies. However, it is the same dangers that so attract bush pilots to take
up the challenge of venturing into the unknown. In bush flying, what you do not
know may kill you, but what you may find certainly enriches and brings
excitement to your life.