Where airplanes have floats, and everybody flies.
- By Carl Posey
- Air & Space magazine, June 2013
Adam Wright / FlightDeckImages
(Page 4 of 7)
“I came here in 1967,” Ellison says. “My dad had been flying a Maule M4. I just grew up around floatplanes.”
He met his wife in 1989, after the Exxon Valdez spilled oil in Prince William Sound; he was hauling people and supplies, and she was working in Valdez as a helicopter dispatcher. They started Ellison Air with his father’s 206, then added a second 206 with a Robertson short-takeoff-and-landing mod.
“When we first started, it was everything and anything to make a buck with those airplanes.” Back then, commercial seaplane flying was heavy hauling, but over the years, air tourism has grown, while hunting and fishing have tapered off. “Most people want to come up and take a picture.” Hauling people is easier work, Ellison says: “The cargo walks on, the cargo walks off.” There is no heavy lifting, no large carcasses to hump around, and no antlers to rip up the airplane’s interior.
If Lake Hood Seaplane Base were a frontier settlement, Rust’s Flying Service would be its Ponderosa Ranch. After retiring from the Air Force as a command pilot, Hank Rust merged his lifelong interests in wilderness sports and aviation. Starting with a Super Cub, he gained experience flying the Alaskan bush, then bought a Cessna 185 and, in 1963, established Rust’s Flying Service at its present location on Lake Hood.
“At that time,” explains his son Todd, “there were already several operators on the north side of Spenard Lake supported almost entirely by hunters and fishermen. The season started in March with polar bear hunters, then the fishermen showed up in May through August, and moose, bear, caribou, and sheep hunters rounded out September and October.
“We added aircraft during the 1970s,” Rust adds, “typically one Cessna every two years. The late ’70s brought bigger aircraft such as the de Havilland Beaver, partly because of more passengers and partly because sportsmen no longer considered a sheet of Visqueen and sleeping bag to be an adequate camp. We probably added a Beaver to the fleet every three years, and then we scored a major tour company account in 1988 that brought in 44 people three times a week. It was a fleet effort, with seven aircraft launching in sequence from Lake Hood.”
That contract continues to this day, as do the hunting and fishing excursions. But, increasingly, Rust’s clients come for flightseeing and bear viewing—and to have the experience of flying in an honest-to-God bushplane, enveloped in the reviving din of a big radial.