Rough Riders

Five bushplanes and the places only they can fly.

Bush flying has unique challenges. This Quest Kodiak gets a little extra thrust on takeoff from the slope of a dirt airstrip carved out of a hill in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. (Dave Forney)
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5. P-750 XSTOL

It’s an airplane only a mother could love: Boxy, bug-eyed, with wings bent at an angle, and an extended snout of a nose, the Pacific Aerospace P-750 XSTOL looks a little like a flying anteater.

“It’s about the ugliest aircraft I’ve ever flown,” says Chris Briers, a pilot and manager with National Airways Corporation (NAC), a charter and service company based in Lanseria, South Africa, a suburb of Johannesburg. What it lacks in beauty, though, it makes up for in performance. “It’s rugged, easy, and safe to fly,” Briers says. “It’s very simple, cheap to maintain and run. I have 64 type ratings, and I can say this has become my favorite airplane to fly.”

Derived from the PAC Cresco, which was designed for cropdusting and hauling skydivers, the P-750 features an extended fuselage and modified tail. It is powered by the same Pratt & Whitney JT6A turbine used on the Quest Kodiak and the turbocharged de Havilland Otter. The P-750 can land and take off in less than 800 feet and carry more than 4,000 pounds.

“The most amazing aspect of it is the slow-flight capabilities and the docile stall characteristics of that wing,” Briers says.

With its three P-750s, the NAC has contracts to fly for the U.N. World Food Programme in Chad, Somalia, and Sudan. The airplanes ferry aid workers, fly in supplies, and provide medical evacuations in remote areas. Years of drought and civil strife have turned hundreds of thousands of people in the region into refugees. So the U.N. Humanitarian Air Services charters a wide variety of aircraft to fly in supplies, haul passengers and cargo, or provide transportation where none exists.

The terrain is mostly desert, with some rugged mountains. “Just about every strip we fly into is soft dirt or sand, which is why this aircraft is a such a favorite with the World Food Programme,” he says.

With a two-person crew, the P-750 can carry eight passengers, or a combination of people and freight. Because the areas where the aid organizations work would be unsafe for overnight stays, NAC delivers relief workers with their equipment each morning, and then flies them back to one of the main bases in the afternoon.

The conditions are harsh. Daytime temperatures can reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Dust storms are common, and security concerns can make some airstrips unusable or force a change of plans.

Like the places it goes, the P-750 doesn’t have a lot of amenities. “There’s been no attempt to doll it up,” Briers says. Bushplanes aren’t chosen for their looks.

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