Day 12: Bush flying

Day miles: 6
Trip miles: 4178

Today began with an early flight up in Above Aviation’s Citabria and with it a new instructor. I took what amounted to their bush course. This was somewhat complicated by the fact that much of their training seemed centered around already having a private pilot certificate, which I haven’t gotten around to doing. However, this is more about having a certain amount of experience already. Since I have a fair amount, it shouldn’t really be an issue, but my new instructor was uncomfortable and unsure as to exactly what to do with me. He clearly had a lot of training, however the bush flying seemed still somewhat new to him. In all aspects of my life, I take the approach that we’re always learning and never experts, so I was aiming to grow in whatever way this unique experience would lend to me.

The first flight was getting familiar with the aircraft and doing some pattern landings. These airplanes are all tail-draggers, sometimes called “conventional landing gear.” This means that they have to main wheels in the front and one pivoting wheel under the tail, as opposed to tricycle gear aircraft that that the third wheel in front of the main gear under the nose of the plane. Tailwheel landings are different than landing a typical trainer airplane, but I’ve done more than a few of them. The hardest part was getting used to the new instructor, the difference in his expectations, and how he controlled the aircraft while I was flying. This was the only instructor I’ve flown with would silently modify the controls, yet tell me to “not fight him [on the controls].” This was confusing and I left this flight at a personal low.

It wasn’t just the flight though. t was Sunday and I used to talk on the phone with my father everyone Sunday afternoon. They continue to be the hardest days of the week for me in regard to dealing with his death. Additionally, it was father’s day, the first since he passed. There was no escaping the reminder of this: Above Alaska had a fathers day special, social media was full of people commenting on it, everyone at the restaurants and bars was talking about it. Finally, it was the three month anniversary of my fathers death. I put this together midday and spent some time talking it out with family. I struggled over what to do next.

I stuck through, and flew the Citabria again later that day. I switched seats with the instructor, which seemed to make him more comfortable and find a bit groove for himself. This plane has large Alaska Bush Wheels on it to aid in “off-field” landings, as well as a Short Takeoff and Landing (STOL) kit, making it particularly suited to bush operations. We went out and made some landings on gravels strips in the mountains and I had a good experience.

As we departed the airplane on our first landing to look the strip over, the instructor asked if I wanted the handgun or the bear spray. He seemed less than comfortable with the revolver, which was fine with me as I had more faith in the handgun. I brought a shotgun and bear spray with me on my trip only because I couldn’t bring a concealed carry handgun through Canada. The latter would have been much more convenient to carry on the motorcycle and I would have been more comfortable knowing it was always on me.

This, combined with walking around the airstrip with the instructor occasionally yelling “Hey bears!” provided a little humorous fringe to the great bear firearm debate/research the preceded my trip. I am in the “I would rather have a firearm and not need it, than need it and not have it” camp, except the shotgun is physically over-sized for motorcycle camping. The internet wasn’t much help in deciding a reasonable level of preparedness.

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