Arctic Bush Pilot

Anderson, James “Andy” as told to Jim Rearden, ARCTIC BUSH PILOT: From Navy combat to flying Alaska’s Northern wilderness. Epicenter Press, softcover, photo illustrated 253 pp + index. $16.95

Public transportation always has its heroes. Train engineers are worshipped by children in many places and in Alaska the mythic giants are Bush pilots. These are the guys who make mercy flights in spite of wind and snow, cobble together plane repairs at -60°, and can fly anything with wings except dragonflies.

In an era when the innermost thoughts of the author seem to occupy much of the book, leaving at least this reviewer to mentally shout, “I don’t care about your sad life - get on with the adventure if you’re going to have one and stick to it!” it’s especially refreshing to read a book like this one.

Anderson was a Navy combat pilot in World War II who came up to Alaska to work for the CAA (Civil Aeronautics Administration) and soon found himself pioneering the air routes in Koyukon area of the middle Yukon River. He liked the people, the people liked him, he liked the country and didn’t mind the winters; the ideal pilot. He flew people in and out and tells us of some of his favorites, and he flew cargo from mail to groceries to a dog that briefly crawled into his lap while both were airborne to a metal boiler so big it temporarily sprang the frame of the airplane.

Andy first learned the route by flying up and down the Koyukuk River since it was always black against the snow and later memorized the landmarks by heart so he could always tell his location, not the easiest thing in a heavy snowstorm. He ventured out into the country, around 10,000 square miles, and learned his way around that as a contract pilot with the great Wien brothers and their airline.

Anderson landed and took off on lakes, rivers, sandbars; whatever offered a landing spot, as well as the usual short strips of the Interior, showing us the tricks of the trade, such as how to keep from sinking the tail of a plane if there’s no beach to tie to. In fact, this is a pilots’ book that shares with the poor land bound souls who don’t know how to fly.

Jim Rearden capably handles the writing, but in spite of stories of the many close calls, the anecdotes about friends, the searches for lost fliers and the other items that made up a Bush pilot’s life before modern technology and better runways came along, Anderson comes across as a rather pragmatic man who simply loved to fly and loved flying in the Koyukon region. He’s a good man; a decent man with many friends, a devoted fisherman, a man who did an excellent job for seventeen years and racked up 32,000 hours in the process, but when the time came he returned to his Pennsylvania farm and settled back into his old life.

The photographs, many taken by Rearden at the time, are well chosen and well placed.

If you know any pilots, and what Alaskan doesn’t, get this book. In fact, buy several copies; Christmas will be here before you know it.

D. L.