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So, you want to be a bush pilot

Some people just want or need to go to crazy places—remote Alaskan villages, missionary camps in rainforests, wildlife habitats in developing nations. If you think flying general aviation aircraft into areas like these sounds fun, you may want to become a bush pilot.

Bush Pilot
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This is seat-of-the-pants flying, usually in conditions—from weather to terrain—most pilots would determine too dangerous. But when the client needs to get there, no matter the conditions, as a bush pilot you’ll be called on to tackle some of nature’s most challenging obstacle courses. Mountain-top grass strips, frozen riverbanks, fog-shrouded coastlines, glaciers; these are just a few of the challenges a bush pilot will face.

Bush PilotYou’ll fly on floats, skis, and tundra tires. You’ll perform much of your own maintenance (the story is told of lions eating through tundra tires in Africa). You’ll be away from home for varying lengths of time and staying in accommodations nearly as challenging as the terrain.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says $2,500 per month is a beginning salary with seasoned pilots perhaps making $85,000 annually. However, in most cases, the bush pilot pays his own expenses, and missionary relief pilots often must raise the money to pay their salary.

But if the spirit and romance of flying is in your soul—and you’d like a reason to wear an Indiana Jones-style hat and carry a whip or a gun (certainly a knife)—this could be the life for you. Start with your private pilot certificate, expect to get both the commercial and instrument rating, and possibly an airframe and powerplant mechanic certificate. Get experience in mountain flying, glacier landing, a seaplane rating, and learn to fly on skis. And although the risky flying might not deter you from this life of adventure, remember everyone—even Indiana Jones—ages eventually. Maybe you can write a book when you hang up your headset. 

Julie Walker
Julie Summers Walker
AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.

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