Section I: Equipment and Environment
Part III, Introduction: The Airplanes
Well, it's time to let the cat out of the bag, even if it does make a few pilots unhappy, so here goes. Successful bush flying has always been more a matter of one's level of awareness and skill, based upon knowledge, experience, and judgment, than the specific type of airplane (or equipment) one operates. For this reason the pro can, and does, accomplish "miracles" with almost any of the light airplanes available today. I once used a Beechcraft Bonanza for off-airport operations. And I know of a guide who sometimes uses an antique Beechcraft Staggerwing to transport his customers from Anchorage to his main lodge, where he then dispenses with romance by switching to the prosaic but far more practical Super Cub. The Alaskan air taxi operators successfully use the tricycle gear Cessna 206, 207, and Piper Cherokee Six 300 in their daily operations to the various Native villages, whose (mostly) well-maintained dirt and gravel strips also see a number of light twins like the Aztec, Baron, and Cessna 310.
However, for the pro, whatever advantages these different airplanes might possess in the way of charisma, passenger comfort, speed, ease of loading, or customer acceptance (the larger the airplane, the more engines it has, the happier they are, no matter what the job actually demands), are counterbalanced with quite serious disadvantages with respect to their utility for off-airport operations. Unfortunately, once we get away from the nice village strips, and long, smooth, hard-packed gravel bars (which I used for the Bonanza), the problems begin to mount.
At this point in the game, let's take a hard-nosed look at priorities. On the practical level, these include, but are not limited to:
The economic considerations. This subject is beyond the scope of this book with the following exception:
The bush pilot's trade is one of providing economical rather than extravagant (i.e., helicopter) transportation into remote areas. Therefore, anything that might restrict where he can land will also restrict his ability to compete. For this reason, minor differences between airplanes -- e.g., a degree of additional comfort versus a degree of additional STOL capability; a degree of additional range or load versus superior handling qualities -- will have to be taken into consideration when it is time to make an equipment decision. As a result of this, to use the example of two popular competitive airplanes, the pro will always choose the Piper Super Cub over the Citabria Scout, even though the Scout can go almost anywhere the Super Cub can, and has a number of minor advantages over it.
Wheels and skis. Because off-airport landings and takeoffs often involve areas of difficult terrain that can take airplanes to their maximum structural, performance, and longitudinal stability limits, you must utilize "conventional" landing gear for most of your serious jobs in the deep bush.
While there are a number of important technical reasons behind this necessity, including the forces acting on the horizontal tail surfaces at rotation, and control of the wing's angle of attack during the takeoff roll over rough terrain, the two main ones are:
Structural and maintenance considerations. The "toe-stubbing" weakness of nosegear assemblies is well known, and while tricycle gear has its advantages, especially in very high winds on paved runways, the loss of payload you would have to suffer were they made adequately strong for rough-field operations is unacceptable in anything smaller than a Cessna Caravan or De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter (equipped with high-flotation tires on all three wheels). Also, the prop on a tricycle gear airplane is much closer to the ground than with a tailwheel airplane, and therefore is much more susceptible to gravel damage during takeoff.
Longitudinal stability. Difficult terrain demands the use of a landing gear geometry which will best handle surface conditions. The simplest way to achieve this is to put as much distance as possible between the main gear and the third point of support, while keeping the center-of-gravity behind the main gear; this is especially important in ski operations. Conventional gear does this.
Floats. The list of airplanes certified for floats is limited, and those who operate from water must make their selection from this list. Fortunately, every airplane that attracts the pro has this certification. There are also a number of airplanes that, while not suitable for pro bush work, are suitable for the sportsman pilot.
With regard to single-engine amphibians, none of the "flying boats" have managed to work out for the bush operator, though they seem to be satisfactory for recreational use. For his amphibious needs, the pro usually restricts his selection to the Cessna 185, Cessna 206 (I prefer the turbocharged version), and the De Havilland DHC-2 Beaver. However, keep in mind that amphibious floats exact a considerable weight, performance, maintenance, and cost penalty over straight floats, which greatly reduces their utility for commercial bush operations.
High-wing or low-wing. When flying operations take you from airport to airport and do not require you to land anywhere else, this consideration can be decided on the basis of aesthetics, ride quality in turbulence, handling characteristics under high surface wind conditions, etc. Unfortunately, in the bush you do not have the luxury of this choice, for your operational requirements unquestionably demand a high-wing airplane so you can adequately clear brush, stumps, deep snow, high drifts, ground swells, etc.
There are, of course, numerous other considerations involved, but most of these are individual requirements so I will not go into them here. Suffice it to say that over the years, among the pros, both in the bush and air taxi ends of the business, there has been an equipment shakedown based on the various practical considerations of the trade. The end result has been that certain airplanes have proven themselves to be the best ones for the job. There is little overlapping among them as regards job function, and if I were to classify them in automotive terms -- a sacrilege, many pilots would say -- the list would go like this:
* Piper Super Cub = Jeep * Cessna 180 = 1/2 ton 4x4 pickup truck * Cessna 185 = 3/4 ton 4x4 pickup truck * Cessna 206 = Small passenger/cargo van * Cherokee Six 300 = Small passenger/cargo van * DHC-2 Beaver = 1 ton stake-bed truck * Cessna Caravan = 1 3/4 ton moving van
In this book, depending, of course, on the job at hand, I will call upon the Super Cub, the Cessna 180/185, or the Cessna 206 for my examples. The reason for this is because these airplanes are the ones most often called upon by experienced pros. As for the others, the fine Beaver, used mostly on floats in Northern Canada, is getting a bit long in the tooth and expensive to operate; the Piper Cherokee Six 300 is too restricted -- it is at its best when hauling mail and groceries from town to village, or landing on the beaches of the Alaska Peninsula; and the costly Cessna Caravan, with its Category II instrument capabilities (so needed during the long ice-fog winters), is not yet in wide use in the North.