Bush Pilot Hall of Fame
Meet the pilots who created the Alaska bush pilot legend.
- By Linda Shiner
- Air & Space magazine, May 2013
Alaskans loved them for their resourcefulness. By memorizing rivers, lakes, mountain peaks, and the relationships among them, the state’s pilots managed to deliver everything and everybody to places in an uncharted wilderness. One of their most famous, Noel Wien, said that when all else failed, he learned to fly downriver and hope that little rivers would lead to larger rivers, along which he might find a cabin.
Not surprisingly, bush pilots were frequently lost. Nearly every one of them could tell a tale of landing on the sandbar of some river or on a patch of ground way out beyond anything, then hiking 50 miles through grizzly country to find a town where fuel and a dog team could be had.
The world loved them for their daring. In the 1920s and ’30s, newspapers tracked the many searches for lost aviators—some rash, others heroic—who had challenged the elements and lost. Though their numbers are small, no history of aviation is complete without the chapter written by Alaska’s bush pilots.
Pictured: Ground crew for Pacific Alaska Airways refuel a Lockheed Vega floatplane in southeast Alaska. By the 1930s, commercial pilots in Alaska had the luxury of enclosed cockpits, radios, and a route structure. The pioneers of the 1920s had none of those.