Respect, but no Money!


300 Best Sites

  I 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.
It was 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.
He grinned 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 to explode.
To 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.
"Oh, yes," he replied, sliding off the wing and leaving a dent in the flap. "Haven't you told me that before?"
"Yeth thir, but practith makth perfect." My voice stayed calm as I smiled falsely through clenched teeth.
"Say, I never noticed you had a speech impediment before," he said. "I have a specialist friend who could take care of that."
"Get in the airplane, doctor."
We went 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.
"What direction are we flying, Dr. Ivan?"
"Are you sure? Look at the gyro compass, what does it say?"
"West? That's wrong."
Before I 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.
Second, I 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.
When I 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.
I hadn't 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.
That same 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.
In thirty 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.
"I have tomorrow off, is that too soon?" I replied.
"No, tomorrow will be fine, I'll see you then, goodbye," and he hung up.
I felt 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 uninsulated.
There was 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 floatplane.
The hurdle 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.
That night 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, "Forget it."
Susan was 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 give up.
"It's just an interview," I said. "I thought I should see what other flying jobs are available."
"What am I supposed to do here while you go off to play Paul Bunyan in Paradise?"
I could 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."
We cuddled 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.
"How many fashion buyers work there?" she asked. She had a good idea of the answer.
"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 fun."
Susan 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 change.
"Well, go for the interview and we'll see. You may not get the job," she said.
The 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 . For 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

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 22, 2013 .
(c) Virtual Horizons, 1996.