January 12, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
It’s not just the spectacular scenery, the crazy flying weather, or the everyday natural hazards that will thrill television viewers who tune in to the new Discovery Channel show about the other-worldly brand of aviation pilots must practice in Alaska.
No doubt, there’s a ton of that kind of action packed into the 10-part series “Flying Wild Alaska” that premieres Friday, Jan. 14.
But each flight tells a story of people whose every connection on the human level is made with the help of airplanes.
“This is a show about aviation and people, but more than anything it is a show about a group of people that is sustaining life where there are no roads,” said Executive Producer Christo Doyle in an interview with AOPA.
“Flying Wild Alaska” is about to introduce the outside world to the Tweto family, whose airline Era Alaska serves as lifeline for the isolated residents of the Bering Sea coastline.
“Wildly determined Jim runs his company with passion and looks to his tiny but fierce wife, Ferno, for support. She's cargo runner, dispatcher and mom to their two gregarious adult daughters, Ayla and Ariel, who also play a vital role in the operation,” says the Discovery Channel news release about the show.
“Era Alaska was founded in the small city of Unalakleet with just one small plane and a service area of a few hundred miles. Today, the company has nearly 75 planes and destinations throughout the large state. Valued at millions,the airline handles everything from large, cross state commuter flights to tiny off-airport ‘bush’ flights. Despite his company's achievements, Jim refuses to relax for even an instant, because he knows that his community's well-being depends on him,” it said.
Doyle said he thinks that pilots will “get a ton” out of the show.
“From what I’m told, flying in Alaska is unlike anywhere else.” How the pilots of Era Alaska confront the natural perils, and what they do to “trick out” their aircraft, always flying with “nowhere near the same amount of comforts,” will make fascinating viewing for aviators in the Lower Forty-Eight, he predicts.
Doyle said the idea started with a pitch from someone who had been on the scene and recognized its winning appeal. Television producers get a lot of suggestions from a lot of sources, but this one “checked off the most boxes,” and it wasn’t long before the idea “snowballed,” he said.
The technical challenges of shooting footage that puts the viewer up close to the occupants of a cockpit in motion, or a landing gear wheel about to touch down on a gravel bar, were daunting. The crew got the shots they wanted using about eight different formats to film the show, and special rigging, camera mounts, and military grade gyros that enabled air-to-air photography from as much as a mile away.
Will the show make nonpilots want to fly?
Doyle said he wouldn’t be surprised if a large number of viewers found themselves interested in becoming pilots after watching.
“Flying Wild Alaska,” is produced for Discovery Channel by 3 Ball Productions. JD Roth and Todd A. Nelson are executive producers; DJ Nurre is co-executive producer. The 60-minute show will air Fridays at 9 p.m. Eastern/Pacific.
Photos by: Luke McKinney (top) and Blair Madigan (middle and bottom). Photo Credit: The Discovery Channel
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