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Prepare for Takeoff

You could call me a veteran bush plane flyer. I wish I knew how many flights I’ve logged in the last four years of living in Alaska. In that time, the casual approach to flying has become familiar to me. I’ve gotten to know the planes, the preflight routines, and some of the pilots I don’t want to fly with.

Today I flew from Circle to Fairbanks for a meeting I’m having here tomorrow. It was a last minute decision as I would usually drive the gravel road, but the district is getting a new vehicle that they want me to drive up to Circle so that it can be loaded onto a barge headed for Fort Yukon.

Since Circle has a road, not too many people fly in or out, but the mail still comes by air every day, and anyone can jump on the plane. As I climbed on board today’s mail plane, the pilot explained to me that the plane was late because he had to go to Chalkyitisk first (another village about ninety miles north) where he left four passenger because he didn’t think he’d be able to take off from Circle or Central (another village about thirty miles west) with that full of a load. He said that after dropping the mail in Central, we’d have to go back to Chalkyitsik to pick up those four passengers again. I asked the pilot if he could make a pass over Circle on the way out so that I could take a couple of pictures and showed him my camera by way of explanation. That’s when I noticed that my camera battery was dead and I told him to never mind about the flyover thing. He nodded.

I noticed the pilot was spending a protracted amount of time filling out the manifest and other paperwork on his clipboard, talking to himself while thinking through and marking down the weights, times, distances, etc. When his clipboard and pen were finally stowed, he went through his preflight checklist one step at a time while consulting the laminated cheat sheets attached to the dashboard of all Warbelow’s planes. Like I said, I’ve seen the preflight before and most pilots have that in their head before very long. Then he pulls out a folding paper map, folded with just the section he needed showing, like he’s taking a road trip along the interstate. He said aloud, “I’ve never been to Central before, so let me look here… Oh, here it is… oh wait, that’s not it,” in this running monologue where I can’t tell if he’s talking to me or if he’s still talking to himself. This wasn’t exactly inspiring confidence.

We taxied to the end of the runway and turned into the slight breeze. Instead of a steady powering up, he hits throttle like he’s popping the clutch on a ’69 Camaro doing the quarter mile. As the engines strain, he is actually leaning forward in the seat and looking intently out the windshield like he’s willing the plane into the air before he reaches the end of the runway. He’s making me nervous.

Once in the air and climbing above a thousand feet, he turns around to me in a panic to explain that he forgot to circle town so that I could take some pictures. I remind him that my battery is dead. “Oh yeah, I only have so much brain power,” he explains with a goofy shrug of the shoulders. I heard that.

On the way to Central, I swear he was flying blind at two thousand feet, looking for something that said “Central!” If we hadn’t seen the road and followed that in, I don’t know what he would have done. After we landed in Central, unloaded, and reloaded, he turned around to me and said, “Oh my God, if we had five people and all their shit, I’d be freakin’ out right now.”

Again, upon leaving Central, he consults his folded map, and using his index and middle fingers together, he draws an imaginary line on the map from Central to Chalkyitsik, gives another goofy shrug (to himself?) and fires up the engines. He hammers the throttle, and as we lift above the trees he turns back and gives me a thumbs up and a “Yeah!” over his shoulder, like he’s really proud of not clipping the trees on the way out.

From Central we flew thirty minutes to Chalkyitsik, where we picked up the four forlorn passengers. From Chalkyitsik it was an hour-long flight to Fairbanks. Three flights. Three takeoffs and landings. Three hours. I slept most of that last leg, but as I walked from the plane to the terminal with my fellow passengers, I overheard two of them talking about the flight: “I’ve never had a flight like that before, what was he, dodging clouds?” I’m glad I was asleep.

Posted on Tuesday, August 14, 2007 at 11:42PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell | Comments6 Comments

Reader Comments (6)

OMG - that was too funny! Thanks for sharing.

Love Mom
August 15, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterKathy
If you hadn't clearly said "HE" I would've thought the pilot was a woman. :-)
August 15, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDad
Thank you, Jesus, for the safe flight. Love, Mom
August 15, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMom
You are a brave soul. Love the pictures and your stories.

Cheri from Plano
August 16, 2007 | Unregistered Commentercheri from Plano
I was on the edge of my seat! Put that pilot on your "don't fly with" list.
Savanah in Wasilla, AK
August 20, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSavanah in Wasilla
Ah yessss.....the pre-flight check list, I remember it well. The image of three different pilots, from my do not fly list, came to mind as I read your blog. It sounds like crazy D, but you said it was a man. Maybe you were just protecting the innocent? I miss flying Warbelows...NOT!
August 21, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBryan N.

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