So you want to be a bush pilot. I
think most pilots would agree that in order to be a true bush pilot you
also have to be a floatplane pilot. I know a few detractors in Kenya or
Botswana might argue different, but there is no comparison to the freedom
of floatplane flying to the constricts of bush strips no matter how remote
they are. There is something wild and free about landing into an area that
has never been landed on before, and departing again without so much as
leaving a tire track or a ripple. The floatplane comes and goes like a
To be a bush pilot then your goal first
would be to become a Commercial floatplane pilot. Experienced commercial
floatplane pilots, however, don’t just come from flying schools like
fingerlings out of the hatchery, all wet and ready to swim. Let me explain
how the system works in Canada.
All pilots, any pilots at all, start off the
same way. A right-minded wholesome individual makes up their mind they
want to fly. Most of them will want to eventually fly the glamorous life
of an airline captain working for some major airline. These idealists will
want to fly “big iron”, like 747s or A340s. Other individuals just
want to fly. To “reach up and touch the sky,” or some other similar
poetic notion. These fatalists will often want to become bush pilots and
dream of flying a Norseman or a Beaver for a living. But, all sky pilots
start off the same way. They have to go to a flight school and get their
private pilot licence.
floatplane pilots don't just come from flying schools like
out of the hatchery,
all wet and ready to swim.
There are variations of this theme in that
an individual may get their “recreational” licence first, but
eventually he will have to complete the private licence in order to
continue up to a commercial pilot licence. The recreational licence is not
a short cut, but it does allow a pilot to start building pilot-in-command
(PIC) time sooner if he has access to an aircraft. If the pilot has to pay
for the use of an aircraft then the money would be better spent toward
finishing the private licence first.
I often get asked these questions. “How do
I become a bush pilot and what school do I go to?” To become either a
bush pilot or an airline pilot starts off along the same route. Flying
school to private pilot licence, and then start building time. Building
time means that, once you have a licence to fly, you can rent, hire,
borrow, buy, or beg an aircraft, any old aircraft, and get airborne. All
the hours that you fly gets recorded into your lifetime personal logbook
that keeps track of who you are in the flying world.
It really does not matter where you fly,
when you are building time but that you are flying. I would not recommend
that you fly around the airport in circles for the next 100 hours, but
rather I would recommend that you fly somewhere. Get an aircraft for a
month and fly across the continent. Build your time and get a hell of an
adventure out of it.
The idea of “building time” is broken
down into three parts. One, to log enough flying hours to qualify for the
minimum hours needed to start your commercial pilot licence training; two,
to log enough hours, once you get your commercial, to qualify to get a
job; and finally three, to log enough hours, once you have a job, to be
able to get a good job. Although any airplane will do, a
tail dragger is considered to be a bush plane, so that time might prove to
be valuable. Building time in a floatplane, however, would help you
eventually get a better floatplane job quicker, because your logbook would
look better than a similar candidate with no floatplane time, but we are
getting ahead of ourselves.
The reason you need your commercial licence
is to get a job in order to get paid. That’s what “commercial”
means. It means that you have the minimum qualifications required by the
“people” i.e., government, to put your services up for hire or reward.
Period. It does not mean that you can fly for an airline, and it does not
mean that you cannot fly for an airline. It only means that you can get
paid for flying. After being a bush pilot for 25 years, I often get asked,
“have you ever wanted to be a commercial pilot and fly for an airline?”
My answer is that, “I get paid for what I do and that means I am a
get paid for what I do and that means I am a commercial pilot."
At the point of choosing a commercial flying
school, the pilot can make some career choices in that there are schools
that specialize in training pilots for airlines and schools that
specialize in training pilots for bush flying. But, there is no necessity
to make any choice. It does not matter what type of school you go to, as
the end result is much the same. The pilot will come out with a commercial
You can go to a flying school that
specializes in training airline captains for American Airlines and you
could still go out and become a bush pilot, and vice versa. What counts is
what you do after you get your commercial, and those are the add-ons that
make getting a burger at McDonalds expensive. The burger is cheap at maybe
99c, but add the mega-coke, extra large fries, and chocolate sundae and
you walk out broke and wondering what happened to your allowance.
What the training schools that specialize in
airlines do is add in the fries and mega-coke, and you end up in debt for
the rest of your life, unless of course a major airline does actually hire
you. What the bush flying schools do is add on a floatplane rating and
maybe some ski plane time. But, either way you can do this all without the
curriculum. You can go to any school and get your commercial and then go
anywhere else to get your ratings. So the question is “If I want to
become a bush pilot what do I need?”
All you really need is a commercial and a
floatplane rating and a car. The car is to drive all over hell and rural
Canada looking for your first floatplane job. The rest can wait until the
day you can afford it or need it. Definitely a bush pilot needs the
floatplane rating, but the rest is luxury items. If you have the extra
money and time here is my order of preference for getting those extras put
on your bare licence.
I believe to get your commercial you must
have a night endorsement? Either way you should start building your
nighttime as soon as possible. You will eventually need 100 hours to
qualify for an ATPL. And if you wait until the last moment you will have
to spend night after night flying between airports at very odd times to
make up those needed hours. After 25 years of bush flying, I have 102
hours of night flying and most of those were logged flying between St.
Andrews, Gimli, Lac du Bonnet, Red Lake, Kenora, and Winnipeg to end up
back in St. Andrews at 3am after running my race circuit. I did that for a
week until the controllers starting calling me “night hawk.” Then the
last night I did the whole circuit backwards just to mess up the heads of
the controllers who kept directing me in their sleep.
idea of getting multi-time is to be able to eventually fly an ultra
cool Beech 18 on floats, or a totally awesome Twin Otter floatplane.
Ok, maybe you are dreaming now.
Secondly, I would say get your multi-engine
rating. You do not have to do this along with the IFR. That is not
necessary. Just get your multi in case the Chief Pilot breaks his leg and
he needs someone to quickly fill in on the bag run with the Navajo. The
idea of getting multi-time is to be able to eventually fly an ultra cool
Beech 18 on floats, or a totally awesome Twin Otter floatplane. Ok, maybe
you are dreaming now, but when the time comes and you will have built up
some multi-time. Get your multi-time anyway you can, except the C337
in-line, but don’t make flying a multi your priority. Building up your
PIC is the priority, and getting multi secondary. Look at the multi-time
as insurance in case the day comes that you might have to fly for a living
and pay for a mortgage.
That’s it. Now you have your commercial
licence and some nighttime and a multi-engine rating tucked under your
belt for future considerations, you can go out and get a floatplane job.
No one in his or her right mind goes out to get a ski-flying job. Either
you get a floatplane job and fill in the winter flying skis until summer
comes again, or you get the ski plane job because the boss promised you
the floatplane version after breakup. The third reason for flying skis is
so that if somewhere down the proverbial airways someone crazy offers you
a job flying a Twin Otter in the Arctic you will at least know what all
that white stuff is.
Once a pilot gets their commercial licence,
he or she will go on to build up flying hours by working as a floatplane
pilot during the summers in the lake regions. The work is often for sport
fishing resorts, but they may also work for commercial operators flying
supplies into the northern communities. Canada has hundreds of thousands
of lakes, and hundreds of small time fly-in fishing camps and floatplane
air services. The younger less experienced individuals will usually spend
the first summer working as a "dock hand," catching incoming
floatplanes, fueling, loading, washing, and doing minor maintenance for
all the company floatplanes. If they get to fly at all, it will be to fly
non-revenue flights in the smallest and least expensive aircraft the
company owns. One example is to fly bait, ice, beer, and other supplies to
the fly-out camps.
a pilot gets their commercial licence, he or she will go on to build
up flying hours by working as a floatplane pilot during the summers
in the lake regions.
Most small airlines in Canada will own a
two-seater Piper Cub (or if you are really lucky a SuperCub) to fly odd
jobs around the local area and to support the operation. These aircraft
are not worth more than a 2 figure multiple of a thousand dollar, and can
safely be used for the junior floatplane pilots to learn on. I say learn
on, because any licence or rating is basically a licence to learn. In
other words, if the pilot has shown his worth as a Dudley-do-right he
enters a sort of apprenticeship, where he can learn from the older more
experienced pilots. The director of civil aviation in Nigeria told me that
he learned more practical knowledge in the coffee shop listening to the
older pilots than what he learned from his instructor. Later these
apprentices practice on aircraft and non-revenue flights that are at
little risk to the company. The idea that any pilot, no matter how many
hours he has on wheels, could be allowed to learn to fly floats on a half
million dollar plus aircraft is (almost) unheard of.
Lets pause here for a minute to
discuss the term “building hours.” Like I defined earlier, building
time is a proactive attempt to better your future. But, what ever happened
to the philosophy of c'est-la-vie, or let’s live for the moment. What is
stopping low time pilots from having as much fun as high time pilots? Why
the obsession to build time? I will answer this question more thoroughly
later, but off the top of my head, I would say that it must be a mindset
instilled into the students by disgruntled flight instructors.
about those of us who really wanted to fly and see the world from
above? That was my reason for becoming a bush pilot. What was your
instructors are always building time to get to the airlines. That is their
goal. And, yes there are many pilots who use the bush-flying route to
build time to get to the airlines. But, what about those of us who really
wanted to fly and see the world from above? That was my reason for
becoming a bush pilot. What was your reason?
Continue with Part Two Enter
John S Goulet
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Last modified on
March 05, 2006 .