Becoming A Bush Pilot

Many pilots flying small to medium-sized aircraft in order to log hours for jobs on the big airliners and cargo planes become bored with the monotony of prescribed routes and flight plans and give it up. Then there is the passionate pilot who loves the adventure of flying in adverse conditions. The pilot who wants a challenge, and not interested in earning a fat salary.

Bush Pilots all over the world have earned their respect from fellow pilots. There is a reason for this. To be a Bush Pilot, you do not fly by the numbers. Most of the time you do not use registered airfields or any airfields at all! It requires seat-of-the-pants flying in adverse conditions. At first glance, it looks downright dangerous and scary. With the right training, it is neither.

1. You’ll be away from home for extended periods.

2. Expect to live in varying types of accommodation ranging from hotels and motels to sleeping in the back of the aircraft!

3. Don’t expect a huge salary.

Devote the best part of a year to obtain a PPL (Private Pilots License) and subsequent CPL (Commercial Pilots License) and if you are going to ferry passengers you will need an ATPL (Air Traffic Pilots License). This is if you can do the course full time. Part time, it can take up to 5 years. The cost can vary from $10,000 up to $50,000 depending on how intensive you want to do the course and how cheap you can rent a plane and instructor.

You must be prepared to study and write exams in order to pass the theoretical tests.

You must be able to deal with abnormal conditions like removing ice from the control-surfaces of the plane, because it got frozen over night.

Before you will get paid for any type of flying, you must meet the minimum FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) requirements.

1. You must be at least 18 years old

2. You must be able to read, write and speak English.

3. You must have at least a PPL or higher license certificate from the FAA.

4. A minimum of 250 hours flying experience.

5. Have your logbook endorsed by a certified instructor to confirm the above-mentioned ratings and experience.

6. Pass all the practical and theoretical tests in order to hold a Commercial Pilots License. Most flight schools, that train commercial pilots, have a set program for students to obtain this type of certificate.

After you have obtained your Commercial Pilots License, you can go to a flight school that specializes in training pilots to become Bush Pilots. This normally includes training to fly airplanes equipped with floats, skis or tundra wheels. These flight schools will also train you to fly in abnormal conditions. This will include learning to land on lakes, gravel-bars on riverbanks and frozen lakes in winter.

A Sea Plane Refresher Course can cost around $180 per hour. A Bush- and Mountain flying course includes 5 hours ground- and 5 hours flight training and costs around $1400 with two nights lodging. An Advanced Bush Pilot Course can take up to 5 days, and will include 5-7 hours ground training and 5-7 hours flight training. This course will cover mountain flying, river landings and high altitude lakes. This course will challenge you, and sharpen your skills as a pilot. These courses are very helpful and necessary for any aspirant Bush Pilot who is going to fly in Alaska, Canada or operate in off-airport conditions. There are a number of flight schools that offer this type of training, and depending on what type of environment, type of aircraft and type of work you will be doing, the courses run from a few hours to a week. On average a Ski Plane and Glacier Landing training course will last for 5 hours at a cost of around $1800 and will include two night’s lodging.

You will learn to land, and take off in circumstances that conventional pilots regard impossible or very dangerous. You will learn precision flying, and would be able to get your aircraft in to very confined spaces, and out again. You will be able to do it safely and confidently. You would regard this as a normal day at the office. You will become one of “them,” a bush pilot.

For some people a bush plane means a working airplane flown by a commercial bush pilot. For others it means any plane flown into the back country.

Bush pilots fly all over the world. That means Canada, the US, Africa, Australia, Latin America, Asia – even Europe. Not surprisingly, bush pilots come from all over the world as well. However, you can’t get bush pilot training everywhere (and yes, veterans will tell you that you have to learn on the job, but a bush flying course is still a good place to start).

From what I’ve seen, the average cost to obtain your Pilots license is in the $8,000 to $10,000 price range.

There is another route you can take to legally pilot an aircraft – obtain your Sport Pilots license. The FAA puts restrictions on this type of license. These restrictions restrict you to flying planes that only have two seats or less and the plane cannot have a maximum gross weight exceeding 1320 pounds. The plane cannot be able to fly faster than 132 mph either.

FAA requirements will limit the types of airplanes you can fly. These airplanes are known as LSA’s (Light Sport Aircraft). Some of the more popular ones I’ve seen for bush flying are the Piper Cubs, Zenith STOL CH 701 and 750 and the American Champion Scout. These airplanes are capable of very short take-offs and landings.

The best thing about the Sports Pilot license is that it requires about half the time to earn it. This means that the cost is about half as well. I’ve seen flight schools advertising Sport Pilots license in the $4,000 to $5,000 range. Another advantage of obtaining your Sports License is that you do not have to pass a medical from a flight doctor. As long as you have a valid drivers license, you’re good to go.

These will cost nearly as much as your pilot’s license with many trainers charging $3000 for 3 days of training and flying. But if becoming a bush pilot is your goal, then you’ll need to cough up the dough! Once you get your pilot’s license, you’ll still need some other endorsements and training. These will include Float rating (if you plan on flying a plane with floats obviously) and you should take a Bush Pilot course.

If you plan on flying during the Winter, you can also add some training for skis. Skis, floats and tundra tires all affect the way a plane flies and lands. You’ll need to be very familiar with these differences before heading out on your own.

Finally, you should already have decided on why you want to become a bush pilot. If it’s just so you can enjoy flying into the back country with yourself and a friend, that’s cool. A Sports Pilot license is all that you will need.

But if you have hopes of flying commercially, then you should plan on getting plenty of training. It will require that you obtain not only your Certified Pilots License, but your Commercial License as well. This training will take a while to obtain, but if it’s your dream it’s worth going after.

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