A Note on Style and Structure
He flew past it at 50 knots and half-flaps, checking, and it was as he remembered: 340 feet of narrow, doglegged gravel bar, surrounded by trees and brush in a deep canyon. Along one side the rocky creek from the glacier flowed; once, long ago, during a period of high water, it had created this landing area; eventually, it would destroy it. But for now the gravel bar was still usable, which was fortunate, for it was the only place within miles of where his customer needed to go that an airplane could be set down.
In Alaska, you use what you have and are thankful it is available. For here, a true airport is considered almost a decadent luxury.
"Do you think it's okay?" his passenger called worriedly from the rear seat of the Super Cub. "Looks pretty short to me."
The pilot, looking at the strip, nodded; and, as he did, a picture formed within his mind -- the approach path, with the various "windows" along it, necessary to bring him to the threshold at the speed and altitude necessary for a safe landing. "Yeah," he agreed. "It's short -- and rough. But good enough. We're going in."
He made his turn, headed downwind, maintaining his 50 knots at an altitude of about 20 feet above the trees; then, on coming abeam the point where he needed to enter the creekbed and descend below the trees, he turned once again, heading back at an angle. As he reached the edge of the forest, he smoothly came back on the power, carefully maintaining airspeed with attitude (elevator), and began his descent.
The creekbed twisted like a snake, its width roughly twice the airplane's wingspan, and the Super Cub followed, going lower and lower, airspeed locked on target, subtle alterations of power controlling descent. Along the edges, in patches of sand, were the tracks of moose and bear, clearly visible to the passenger, and above them a raven circled. Then they were going around the final bend, this one narrower, and as they did, while in the turn, the pilot applied full flaps and slowed to 1.1 Vso, using his sensitivity of feel for flying on the very edge of the stall, a high level of skill in this area of the envelope being one of the primary tools of the bush pilot's trade.
In front of them the strip now lay, visible for the first time since they began the approach, the curve of its dogleg obvious, thick brush at its far end. As they neared the threshold and entered ground effect, the pilot raised the nose slightly, while smoothly adding a touch of power, and the Super Cub slowed even more.
Then the main gear was crossing the edge of the shallow bank, hardly a foot above its surface, and, as it did, the airplane's tail still over water, the pilot came back on the power and the Super Cub settled, touching gently, its large, soft, high-flotation tires now rolling smoothly over the rocks. Then the flaps were off -- the brakes, as is proper bush technique, having been partially engaged just prior to touchdown -- and they were tracking around the dogleg, coming to an easy stop. In front of them, close, but not too close for comfort, the brush waited, a common hazard in the bush. For, as is often the case with off-airport landing areas in Alaska, this was a one-way strip.
And had the raven, still circling above, watching the show, been asked his opinion, he might have nodded his head in approval of the pilot's approach to the landing. For the raven, like all bush experts, was well aware that a careful, precise approach was the foundation of a good landing.
* * *
There are many factors involved in an off-airport landing besides just the basic flying techniques, and this excerpt from Chapter 17 gives a feel for a typical approach and landing under good terrain and weather conditions.
But, before the reader can safely attempt similar landings, he needs to have a lot of background information.
As a result, this book is structured to first provide a detailed description of the terrain, and the changes it goes through from season to season.
Next comes the weather, sometimes our friend and sometimes our enemy. Here, too, we examine the seasons and what each one brings.
Then we go to the airplanes, focusing on those that time and experience have proven to be most suitable for our needs.
After that, we examine the special operating procedures required to operate in extremely cold climates.
These thirteen chapters lay the basic foundation necessary for safe bush operations.
Admittedly, this is a lot of ground to cover before getting to the flying techniques, but most of the accidents that happen in the bush can be traced to a lack of knowledge in these areas and the poor judgment that is a co-product of this ignorance.
But that isn't the end of it, for next we need to take a look at the various methods used to find our way around the vast wilderness areas where we will be operating. Both the traditional silk scarf and the new high tech techniques are described, and both techniques have their place in our work.
Finally, we get to explore the flying techniques on wheels and skis, summer and winter, that the pros use. Many readers will want to read this section first, to get a feel for many of the advanced techniques used in professional bush flying.
There is nothing wrong with that. While many books are designed to be read from front to back, this book is one where the reader can skip from section to section at will. But, if you want to get a feel for what it is like to fly in the north, the daily life of a bush pilot, turn to Section III. In that section I decided to push the envelope of textbook writing style. So I integrated much of what the reader will have learned in previous chapters, along with new material, and presented it utilizing the techniques of dialogue, foreshadowing, pacing, and imagery. Here is where the real heart of this book lies, and where the reality of the wilderness lifestyle resides.
I hope you enjoy this book, and find the information of use in your daily flying. As pilots, we are more fortunate than most people, and, in my opinion, nowhere does this show more strongly than when we have integrated our flying with the freedom and beauty of the wilderness.