Small-Plane Pilot

Dec 1, 1999
Outside Magazine

The Work: Fly aerial tours over Utah's canyon country, run charter flights to isolated islands in the Florida Keys, or become a bona fide bush pilot, a winged frontiersman charged with getting anglers to the finest streams, hunters to the elk herds, and mountaineers to the peaks—usually in single-prop planes beyond the range of navigation systems.

Payback: About $50 per hour of flight, at an average of 500-750 hours a year.

Time Outside: 25-90 percent in the cockpit, with ample exposure to deserted beaches, glaciers, and alpine lakes between takeoffs.

Prerequisites: An FAA-sanctioned pilot's license (some 500 hours of in-flight training, written and oral exams, and a solo flight test)—and a mentor. "You have to know how to get your butt out of trouble without whacking something," says veteran airman Rob Grant, 50, who suggests working for an experienced outfit before striking out on your own.

Networking: The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Web site offers a state-by-state database of flight schools (800-872-2672;

Peon to Pro: "The minute you think you're a pro," warns Grant, "you're gonna have trouble."

Drudge Factor: Getting grounded by stormy weather in remote Arctic villages. And stats show that every bush pilot has at least one accident in his career. Not good odds.

Outlook: In Alaska, where a third of the population has no access to roads, business is booming. Not so in the Lower 48.

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

What You Missed

Our most important headlines, sent to you every weekday.

Thank you!