Bush pilot recalls flying memories

Posted: Thursday, January 18, 2001

"Flying consists of days of boredom punctuated by seconds of sheer terror."

--James "Andy" Anderson

In this memoir of 17 years of flying in the Koyukuk River region of Alaska, James Anderson experienced a dead engine flight "only five times."

He goes on to describe the panic when the engine quits, when the only sound the pilot hears is the whistle of wind over the wings and fuselage.

Anderson went from a little kid in West Virginia shouting "Airplane! Airplane!" whenever one flew overhead to flying dive bombers in the Pacific during World War II. He gives a compelling glimpse into combat life.

"After dropping bombs, we flew low and ran ... . Smart Japanese gunners shot into the water ahead of our planes trying to produce geysers to knock us down.

"My squadron commander expected his pilots to follow his aggressive example. Sometimes when I was fortunate to return from a mission, his exhortations of just how stupid I was made me almost wish I had been shot down."

If you ever wondered where sky warriors go after the war, this one headed north to pioneer bush service, backed by Wein Airlines, in the Arctic. His earliest bush plane, a Taylorcraft, "burned about four gallons an hour as it cruised 90 miles an hour. I set $25 as my charter rate.

"The metal skis that came with the plane commonly froze down when the plane was parked, and it was necessary to rock the wings or to have someone push the plane to break it loose. That winter I called my operation 'Jim Anderson's You Push 'Til We Get Started Airline.'"

You'll find yourself reading this adventure with appreciative pride in the north country where you live, the difficult land, as James Michener called it, and to see for yourself what exactly is around the next river bend in the Arctic and the Eskimos of Anaktuvak Pass in the Brooks Range.

While reading this memoir, for some inexplicable reason, I thought of that brief reproach that flashes across our televisions, and we hear, "Don't Trash Alaska!"

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