In many ways, I am the same pilot, but my aeronautical decision making and stick and rudder skills have increased exponentially.Cameron Livingstone, Alaska Bush Pilot
Folks, I’m excited to bring you a special interview, with a young man I met this Spring when he was about to set out on an adventure of a lifetime!
I couldn’t help but recall my own adventure, over 25 years ago, arriving in Alaska as a young cheechacko (greenhorn) pilot, and coming back completely changed, both in the sky and on the ground.
And, just like the main character of DC in my novel, The Last Bush Pilots, I left a huge chunk of my heart back in that great and wondrous land.
Whether you are an up-n-coming pilot considering your own Alaska adventure, or simply a chairborne avgeek, buckle up and enjoy this great TRUE story, unfolding as we speak in the wild skies of Southeast Alaska!
WHO: CAMERON LIVINGSTONE
WHAT: Alaska Bush Pilot
WHERE: Juneau, Alaska
WHEN: April, 2014-Present
CAP’N AUX: Cameron, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for the blog! It seems like you are truly living your dream, a real modern day adventure. I’d love to hear more of your story.
CAMERON: Luckily your email arrived right in the middle of a weather day. I’ll answer what I can now, before I’m told to wash an airplane or two, or the weather breaks!
CAP’N AUX: What compelled you to move to Alaska to fly?
I was dreading another 110 degree summer of steep turns and lazy eights.
CAMERON: I’ve always liked the idea of Alaska. I’ve really enjoyed reading about bush pilot pioneers of the past. I love the outdoors and wild places. And around Christmas time in Phoenix last year, I was really beginning to dread another summer of steep turns and lazy eights in 110 degree weather. Alaska seemed like a great escape from the heat. My dad was also a large factor in deciding to go. He kept saying that every hour of experience that I get up here, would be equal to 2 or 3 hours of flying down south. And that it would be a great resume builder, and amazing adventure.
CAP’N AUX: How did you land a job up there?
I sent a resume to every operator in the southeast. I got one call.
CAMERON: This was tough. Not quite the hardest part about getting up here, but definitely a lot of work. I first decided that I wanted to be in South East Alaska. Then I Google searched all of the operators in southeast. I sent out an email with my resume attached to every one. Then I did a follow up call to all of the chief pilots. Most calls went to voicemails, some to front desks. I only got one return call, and zero return emails. The call was from the company I am with now. I interviewed over the phone, set up a class date, and began the ridiculous process of finding housing.
CAP’N AUX: What flight experience did you have going up there? Hours/type of flying?
CAMERON: I was a 1,000 hour CFI and CFII with a Bachelor of Science in Flight Education. About 800 hours of dual given. I did my most of my training in Grand Forks at the University of North Dakota. I also instructed for a couple hundred hours at UND. Had some good cold weather experience up there. A lot of my instructing was in Phoenix, out of Deer Valley. Crazy busy, crazy airspace, crazy hot. Most of my time was in a C172. I have a decent chunk of time in Pipers–Warrior, Arrow, Seminole. A handful of hours on floats, but no rating. And a smaller handful of aerobatic hours in a Great Lakes (shout out to Chandler Air Service and their aerobatic course! So much fun!) This is my first 135 position, and have no other experience getting paid to fly, other than instructing. As a side note, I was the least experienced / lowest time guy in both of our training classes.
At 1,000 hours, I was the least experienced guy in class.
CAP’N AUX: Are you the same pilot now that you were when you first set foot in Alaska?
CAMERON: I was surprised when I thought about my answer to this question. In many ways, yes I am the same pilot. There’s been many days that I’ve fallen back on my private pilot training automatically. One example of what I’m talking about, probably the most common time I’ve noticed this. We fly in marginal weather up here, and lots of times it is difficult to tell if what I am looking at is a cloud, mist, fog, rain, or just southeast smoke and mirrors giving me gray hairs. So every so often what looks like a little bit of mist, turns out to be a full blown cloud. Training kicks in, I note my heading and begin a 180 degree turn to get back into VMC. It happens without even having to think about it.
It’s difficult to tell if I’m looking at a cloud, mist, fog, rain, or just southeast smoke and mirrors giving me gray hairs.
It’s a great feeling realizing that I am still able to use skills and maneuvers that I learned way back when in my PPL course. Primacy is a real thing! I am also a very different pilot. I have grown a lot. My aeronautical decision making skills have increased exponentially. My stick and rudder skills have improved tremendously. Instructors don’t get much stick time. I suppose lots of professional pilots are in the same boat though. It’s been great getting to hand fly the aircraft all the time. On top of all of that, I’m a much more relaxed pilot now. It takes quite a bit to get me worked up in the cockpit. When I was instructing, it wasn’t tough to get me stressed out in the cockpit. Now, mother nature can throw almost any kind of weather at me, maybe with some funny engine noises, and sick passengers, and it’s all in a days work.
CAP’N AUX: What equipment are you flying?
CAMERON: We have a fleet of 2 Cessna 207s, 2 Piper Cherokee 6s, 1 Caravan with a Texas Turbines 900hp Garrett conversion, and 1 Piper Navajo. We also have 3 Beavers on floats, a Cessna 180 and Cessna 206 on floats. Most of my hours this summer were in our Pipers. I flew the 207s quite a bit, but not as much as the Pipers. And I just started in the Caravan. Both the Caravan and the Navajo are IFR certified and we fly them to 2 scheduled IFR destinations.
CAP’N AUX: Where are you based, and give us some examples of where you fly?
CAMERON: I am now based in Juneau. But all Summer I was based in Skagway. An average day for me during the summer went like this. Depart SGY at 0445 to Haines and then onto Juneau. The rest of my flights would originate and end in Juneau. So I would launch for any of our wheel plane destinations; Hoonah, Gustavus, Haines, Skagway, Kake, or Sitka. We do quite a bit of flight seeing tours. Tours of the Juneau Ice Fields, Glacier Bay National Park, and the Taku Glacier. We also do lots of charters. I’ve done charters to Petersburg, Wrangell, and some small gravel strips like Dry Bay, Glacier Point, and Excursion Inlet. But those aren’t the norm. Most of the airports we service are big and paved. The average length is about 2,500′, and 75′ or 100′ wide. So we usually have lots of room to work with.
CAP’N AUX: Describe a typical “day at the office.”
A typical day in the office is anything but.
CAMERON: A typical day in the office is anything but typical for us. Ha! But usually I show up about an hour before departure. I do a preflight, clean and stock the plane, load the plane, fuel the plane, and then head back inside to check the weather and notams. Usually a cup of coffee is involved, some chit chat, and some griping about the weather. Now is where the typical day can change. Maybe I have a super easy day with just a couple of flights in my column. Or maybe it’s a weather day. Maybe we are waiting for morning fog to lift, or a heavy rain shower to pass through. Any of those scenarios involve lots of time for coffee. Washing airplanes, cleaning airplanes, helping the counter agents. Hangar talk. Systems and technique talk. Maybe I have a super busy day.
Busy days are tough. Lots of work. If it’s a particularly busy day, I might be landing from a Hoonah flight 10 minutes before my next scheduled departure to Haines. So in 10 minutes I have to unload, clean up, refuel, reload, check the weather, eat lunch, hit the head, and bring my passengers out to the plane.
Non stop, for 14 hours a day. Sometimes up to 20 legs a day. Woof. It’s a lot of work, but as we pilots like to say, our offices have the best views in the world, so it’s totally worth it.
CAP’N AUX: Before you left for AK, I gave you a copy of The Last Bush Pilots and said, “This is your Bible–read it!” Which you did, in 2 days! Would you say that, so far, you’ve had a similar experience in the skies as DC?
CAMERON: Oh man!! Totally! Almost everything that DC went through, I went through.
Except for the airplane accidents. We did have one pilot exit a runway in their personal plane over the summer. But no one was hurt. Just the airplane. But definitely lots of parallels between DC’s experience and mine.
Actually, I began rereading it the other day! When I first read it, I really had no idea what to expect up here, so it will be a neat contrast I think.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2, NEXT WEEK!
Cameron shares with us his hopes, dreams . . . and setbacks.If you have any further questions for Cameron, he can be contacted via email at: email@example.com
- The Last Bush Pilots http://capnaux.com/the-last-bush-pilots/
- The Last Bush Pilots on Amazon Print https://www.createspace.com/4053153 eBook http://goo.gl/NCvGuW
- There I Wuz! Adventures From 3 Decades in the Sky http://capnaux.com/there-i-wuz/
- There I Wuz! On Amazon Print https://www.createspace.com/4758123 eBook http://goo.gl/FX9n3E
- The Sky Fell http://capnaux.com/there-i-wuz-episode-1-the-sky-fell/