Bush flying is a big topic covering many diverse areas of aerial activity so for this post we’ll concentrate on fixed wing flying only.
Bush flying refers to aviation that takes place away from conventional airfields and airports. It is the flying that occurs in untamed natural environments and consequently the aircraft involved will have modifications to suit a particular area. They may be equipped with floats for water landings, skis for landing on snow, or very large tyres for landing on rough terrain.
Bush Flying: Pilots
Bush pilots have a particular set of skills that can only be gained through steady experience over several years of practice. Landing a floatplane requires knowledge of the effect of currents and manoeuvring to dock the aircraft like a boat.
Flying over wilderness areas in a single engine aircraft leaves no room for errors of judgement. Any mechanical mishaps can result in a long delays for rescue while you wait in areas where the wildlife may be too curious for comfort. Adverse weather can close in rapidly in mountainous areas forcing the pilot to make quick decisions about diversions.
So bush pilots tend to be very experienced aviators with knowledge that covers a variety of subjects. Apart from a thorough understanding of the aircraft and its limitations, bush pilots will also know about the weather in their particular area, and probably some wilderness survival skills too.
Bush Flying: Aircraft Types
The absence of any prepared runways or at least very short and difficult to find airstrips means that the aircraft used in bush flying need to be of the STOL type i.e. short take off and landing.
Bush pilots are often adept at flying and handling floatplanes, particularly in areas like Canada and Alaska where an abundance of rivers makes the floatplane the aircraft of choice. Bush pilots need to be able to taxi an aircraft on a river that will inevitably be flowing and to take into account the effect of wind on the aircraft while it’s taxiing on water.
They are often high wing aircraft for several reasons; to enable better downward visibility for the pilot, and to lessen the impact of any vegetation or other obstacles during take-off and landing. High wing aircraft are also easier to load and unload.
Bush flying aircraft are often tail draggers too as these lessen the risk of prop strikes on ground obstacles, but there are plenty of exceptions; the Zenith STOL CH 750 is one notable example.
Ask anyone about bush flying and the aircraft that spring to mind are probably single engine types like the de Havilland Beaver. In fact, there are dozens of aircraft designs that could be considered ‘bush planes’ due to their STOL capabilities.
But de Havilland aircraft deserve a special mention since their family includes the Drover, Otter, Caribou, and Twin Otter, as well as the Beaver. To successfully taxi an aircraft on water, taking into account wind and currents, takes a lot of practice
Single engine bush aircraft include many other popular types including some very recent designs. The Aviat Husky, designed and first built in the 1980s. Also dating back to the 1980s, the Denney Kitfox. This has proved very popular among bush pilots.
Then there is the CubCrafters CC19-180 XCub. Or perhaps you would prefer one of the originals, the Piper J3 Cub. The J3 Cub is surprisingly affordable when compared to the price tag of modern bush aircraft.
For some bush flying is a form of recreation – a way of exploring remote wilderness areas untouched by human interference. For others bush flying is a necessity. For those living in the Australian Outback, North West Canada, Alaska, remote jungle areas and so on, the bush pilot delivers essential supplies and medicines.
How To Start Bush Flying
If you aspire to become a bush pilot then you can start by practicing your short take-off and landing skills. Get precision landing down to a fine art until you are confident you can land your aircraft exactly where you intend.
Next, look up some of the specialist flight training schools. Obviously, you’ll have to travel to those areas where bush flying is a way of life. These might be Canada or Alaska, but it could also be South Africa or several other countries in Africa. These schools will teach you the essential skills; STOL, hot and high operation, density altitudes, low level and slow flying, stalls, and emergency procedures.
Even if you don’t do much bush flying after such courses you will become a much more skilled and confident pilot.
Have you had any experience of bush flying? Share your knowledge in the comments below.