|Respect, but no Money!
was tortured into becoming a bush pilot. I blame Dr. Ivan, but perhaps I'm
being unfair. He was just a simple neurosurgeon whose substantial income
allowed him to pursue his dream of learning to fly. I was his instructor,
but he did not single-handedly torment me into moving up north - that was
caused by repeated exposure to a string of Dr. Ivans. I only pick on him
because he was one of the worst of the ham-handed student pilots at my
hometown flying school.
after a lesson with Dr. Ivan that I suddenly felt compelled to make a
career change. I had sent him out to the airplane while I completed the
necessary ritual of gulping more coffee before starting. When I went
outside, Dr. Ivan was standing on the airplane's low wing trying to open
the door on the left side. He was having trouble because Piper Cherokee
140's don't have a door on the left side.
sheepishly at me while his fingers continued to feel along the smooth
aluminum panels for some clue to the entrance. At the same time his
leather shoes were grinding into the thin paint on the wing skin. It was a
simple mistake. It wasn't his fault that Piper skimped on doors, but this
was his sixth lesson and he had made the same error on the first five. At
the sight of him doing it again, something inside me snapped. I was ready
maintain my outward sanity I bit down hard on my tongue before I said
anything, "The door'th on the other thide, Doctor." The trick
worked. The pain in my tongue displaced some of my frustration.
yes," he replied, sliding off the wing and leaving a dent in the
flap. "Haven't you told me that before?"
thir, but practith makth perfect." My voice stayed calm as I smiled
falsely through clenched teeth.
I never noticed you had a speech impediment before," he said. "I
have a specialist friend who could take care of that."
in the airplane, doctor."
flying and I repeated Lesson One, as I had on our previous five flights. I
flew the Cherokee during the take-off and climb-out westbound away from
the airport, sucking on my swollen tongue. I asked Dr. Ivan a simple
question to keep him occupied.
direction are we flying, Dr. Ivan?"
you sure? Look at the gyro compass, what does it say?"
"West? That's wrong."
could suggest that the instrument was right and he was wrong, Dr. Ivan
reached down and reset the gyro compass to north. It was going to be
another long day.
When I met
Dr.Ivan, I had been instructing student pilots for a year. During that
time I had learned three things. First, an apparent contradiction existed.
An individual's ability to learn to fly varied inversely to his education.
It was more difficult to teach a doctor to fly than a log truck driver. It
was as if the doctor's brain was already filled and there was no room for
anything else. On the other hand, the vast vacancies in the log truck
driver's head easily absorbed knowledge. It was too bad in a way because
doctors could ill afford the extra time for the repeated lessons.
learned that the low man on the instructing staff drew the deadwood
students. Every day I flew with a procession of Dr. Ivans who tried to
kill me. Third, I discovered that flying instructors earned an enormous
amount of respect, but no money. Dr. Ivan always complimented my patience
as I sat calmly in the right seat while he sweated bullets trying to
change the radio frequency. Unfortunately, I couldn't take respect to the
bank. After working for a year, flying six days a week through all the
daylight hours and often into the night, I had earned $5,375.
started instructing, I thought I enjoyed flying. Now I wasn't so sure.
There had to be a less masochistic way to make a living, but I wasn't
qualified to do anything else.
It was a
good time to be looking for another flying job. The economy was rolling
and the lower-income, Greyhound-travelling public had discovered that air
travel was suddenly within its budget. The Boeing 747 had just come into
service and had proven that it could economically carry the population of
a small town across the country in the time it took to feed them all
lunch. To meet the increased demand for pilots, the major airlines seemed
to be hiring any experienced flyer who could spell the word
"airplane". Many veteran flying instructors were bailing out of
their teaching careers to answer the call.
flown enough hours to satisfy the airline requirements for pilots, so my
career options lay with the many vacancies rippling through the rest of
the industry in the wake of the airline hiring.
spring, the sudden departure of a flying instructor in the northern town
of Paradise had thrust the manager of a floatplane service into the market
for a new pilot. He needed someone with an instructor's rating to divide
his flying between student pilots, a fire patrol and some charter work.
The busy but short floatplane season had just begun and he had no leads.
He started calling various flying schools hoping to steal one of their
instructors. When he called the school where I was working, I had just
finished the lesson with Dr. Ivan and I happened to answer the phone.
seconds I wanted to be a bush pilot. The job meant some instructing, but
there had to be more log truck drivers in Paradise than doctors. There was
one catch; I had absolutely no floatplane experience. Surprisingly, this
didn't seem to bother the man on the phone as long as I was instructor
qualified. It didn't even matter that I would need to upgrade my
instructor rating before teaching on my own. He asked me when I could
travel there for an interview.
have tomorrow off, is that too soon?" I replied.
tomorrow will be fine, I'll see you then, goodbye," and he hung up.
like a giant weight had been lifted from my shoulders. None of my
background qualified me for the raw, uninsulated life of bush flying, but
at the time it never occurred to me that life held anything raw and
a hurdle to clear at home, but I had already made up my mind. As far as I
was concerned, I was on my way. For the rest of the day I startled my
remaining students with new-found cheerfulness, but I had trouble
concentrating on the lessons as my brain was crowded with visions of
winging over the clear blue lakes and lush forests of the north in a
at home was Susan, my wife of six months. Our marriage was currently going
through the delicate transition between the honeymoon and the day-to-day
discoveries of wrongly squeezed toothpaste tubes. Susan had an excellent
job as a fashion buyer for a chain of ladies' wear stores. She was
strictly a big-city girl and I had no idea how she would take to the
suggestion of moving up north. It didn't help that she was smarter than I
was and earned more money.
I told her I had a job interview in Paradise the next day. She looked at
me as if I had announced that I was joining the navy and said,
no sniveling, humble, new wife. She possessed a unique balance of charm
and forcefulness that carried her well in the business world, but I didn't
just an interview," I said. "I thought I should see what other
flying jobs are available."
am I supposed to do here while you go off to play Paul Bunyan in
see this was going to be difficult. I put my arms around her. "You
would come too. If the job looks good, we both go."
and I talked about living closer to nature, renting a little cottage in
the woods next to an unspoiled northern lake, meeting new friends and
seeing new places.
"Paradise is quite civilized," I was quick to add. "It is a
good-size town with shops and restaurants." I knew that Susan's idea
of "roughing it" was having a backyard barbeque.
many fashion buyers work there?" she asked. She had a good idea of
"Probably none, but the retail executive rat race is not fun anymore,
you have said that yourself. It would be a good break for you to work a
simple sales job in a Paradise store. On our days off, we could enjoy
swimming and waterskiing along with the tourists. It will be great
already knew about my blind faith in the grass being greener on the other
side, but from her growing interest I sensed that she too was ready for a
"Well, go for the interview and we'll see. You may not get the
job," she said.
prospect of moving looked better than ever; a "we'll see" from
Susan was a solid maybe. I went to Paradise.
Note from the Editor. I would
like to thank Garth Wallace for permission to use this second chapter from
his book Fly Yellow Side Up
continuation of this light hearted look at becoming a bush pilot check out
the second chapter titled Have You Ever
Been in a Boat. To
find out more about Garth's other books email firstname.lastname@example.org
In the fog about your next career move? Go for the Beaver!
More great images by Rich Hulina.
Dave's Bush Pilot tip! Tell your
wife (or bride to be) that being a bush pilot is the first step toward
respectability and an Air Canada job. Don't tell her that you really
"want" to fly a Beaver or that flying in the bush is ten times
more fun than smoozing along the airways. Also, tell her that you will be
paid by the mile and that the potential is unlimited. She will believe you
-- after all she agreed to marry a dreamer like you in the first place.
The attitude indicator will take you back to Aviation Friends.
Last modified on Feb
(c) Virtual Horizons, 1996.