Sunday, January 30, 2011

New Year, New Posts!

It's time I dusted off the blog and got back on track! There are so many things on my 'to blog' list, be prepared for a barrage of posts over the next month. So here goes...

Today, in particular, I am reminded of how dependent Alaskans are on air travel. Unless you're on of the brave ones, like Adam, most people who come to Alaska do so via airplane. In addition, the size of the state is staggering and getting around within the state itself often requires flying. Brandon reminded us the other day that the state, technically, should have four time zones within itself. Driving to Anchorage for our Christmas flights took us over 360 miles of beautiful terrain, but it is a long way to drive to get to the only city in Alaska. It's easy to see why so many people take small planes to get around this big, wonderful state.

A plane lands on the runway of Hearst Road, North Pole.
Welcome to Bush Flying! Bush flying is flying that is done in remote areas. Bush planes can reach almost every part of the state. Lakes freeze so solidly that large, multi-engine planes can land on them. There are seaplanes, planes with large tundra tires and planes on skis that can land everywhere from ridge tops to glaciers to rivers and lakes. Although many times these pilots land on unimproved airfields, there are many personal airfields scattered throughout Fairbanks and North Pole. Right around our apartment there are several grassy airfields and at least one water runway.

Small planes are always buzzing around - Cessnas, Pipers, Beeches, DeHavillands. The planes are such an important part of Alaskan life that the former governor even named one of her children after one of these planes. Even now, there is a new television show about Alaskan pilots! These pilots (and their planes) are integral to Alaska. Many stores offer 'air drop' services since Alaska's small population (of about 700,000) is spread out of such an immense area. Alaska has about one registered pilot for every 58 residents, six times as many pilots per capita, and 14 times as many airplanes per capita as the rest of the United States.

This, unfortunately, also translates to higher numbers of accidents. Just this summer, one of these crashes claimed the life of beloved state Senator Ted Stevens and four others. Alaska is a challenge - on the ground and in the air. Harsh weather and rough terrain make it one of the more treacherous states to fly in. Single engine planes (with no back up engine) and remote landing areas make crashes even more dangerous. It's even been said that the National Transportation Safety Board has noted a cavalier attitude among pilots in Alaska, commonly called "bush syndrome."

Perhaps I am also suffering from 'bush syndrome', but I find the concept of bush piloting very romantic. Maybe I've watched Out of Africa too many times or maybe I listened to Skitch talk about Tiger Moths too intently, but it seems like a wonderful way to get from place to place. Alaska doesn't make things easy, it's still one of the raw places left in the world and to think that I live in a location that requires such fortitude makes me just a little bit...proud. 

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