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Flying the Alaskan Bush

Long before television channels were full of Alaska-this and Alaska-that reality TV shows, my grandparents took a trip there with the Cincinnati Zoo. When they returned, there was the usual childhood excitement of “what gift did they bring me back this time?” 

The gift was a brown hat my grandparents called a bush pilot hat. At first I was disappointed in the hat and thought, “what about a toy knife or some other cool toy?” However, my disappointment was short-lived when Grandpa told me the flying stories from their Alaskan adventure. 

This was the first time I learned about bush pilots and the type of flying they do day in and day out. Grandpa, an aviation junkie like me, explained the types of planes bush pilots were flying “up there,” the places they were flying into, and details about how they did it. I was mesmerized and also proud that I, a 9 year old kid from Ohio, had a genuine bush pilot hat.

These stories about Alaskan flying adventures, coupled with grandpa’s occasional WWII flying stories, built the foundation of my desire to fly. It would be years before I was able to experience flying a plane in Alaska myself, but I was hooked and had a hat to prove it.

If you like flying, the outdoors, wildlife, adventure and the stunning beauty of nature, you have to go to Alaska. My first trip to Alaska was in 2010 on an anniversary trip with my wife, Tracy. I did not have my pilot’s license yet, since I was still in the stop and start phase of my flying career (where life always seemed to get in the way of my goal of learning to fly). Just like when Grandpa came back from Alaska, I got the flying fever again, only this time was worse than ever. I hiked up the Flat Top Mountain Trail in Anchorage, constantly looking back at Lake Hood and Anchorage International, checking out all the planes, large and small, wheeled and float, moving in and out of the airspace. On our way to Denali, we stopped at Talkeetna just to look at planes. In Denali, I could see the K2 Aviation planes taking hikers to the trail head. It was settled: when I got back from this trip, I was going to get my private pilot’s license. I was determined that when I returned to Alaska, I was going to fly here.

I didn’t exactly get off our Delta flight and head straight to the local airport to start flight training, but it was not too long after. Learning to fly takes some work and dedication, along with good mentors to help you get over the plateaus that are part of any flight training. While burning holes in the sky over southwest Ohio with my flight instructor Dan Whitaker, a gearhead similar to me, we shared adventure stories and both agreed there really wasn’t a brand that captured the outdoor adventure side of aviation. I knew the idea was encapsulated in that bush pilot hat my grandparents brought me back from Alaska years ago, but it just needed a name. Flight Outfitters was born. 

Last year, I was lucky enough to return to Alaska to do some real flying with some real pilots. Flight Outfitters had a display at the Great Alaska Aviation Gathering in Anchorage and was also sponsoring the Valdez STOL competition the following week.  At the Aviation Gathering, I personally got to know many of the men and women who pilot their own and others’ adventures every day. The stereotypical image of the bush pilot is that of a rough old guy – part mountain man, part cowboy. In reality, the bush pilot community is full of men and women, young and old, from clean cut to a little on the granola side. They are all unbelievable stick and rudder pilots. True, there are a few cowboys in the bunch, but we all have a crazy uncle after all. Most, however, are excellent at risk assessment and management, and are able to fly safely – even under extraordinary conditions. They are wonderful navigators and skilled mechanics, too. 

In between the Aviation Gathering and the Valdez STOL competition, I headed down to Homer to fly with Chris Palmer and Deon Mitton, two extraordinary aviators who are also featured in this catalog. With the help of my Alaskan buddies, my dream came true as I piloted a gritty old 172 over Kachemak Bay and glaciers to small dirt strips, and even over some of those Alaskan reality show film sites. Although fully decked out in Flight Outfitters gear as I managed gravel strips and crazy crosswinds, with mountain views out the window and accompanied by my real bush pilot buddies, part of me wished I’d had that old bush pilot hat from grandpa.

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Fall Floatplane Camping in Ontario

There’s something special about fall camping that I can’t quite explain. There’s about a two-week window where the Canadian wilderness just lights up, and the sheer beauty of it is breathtaking.

The destination of this fall trip: Setting North’s Outpost Camp. My hunt and fish camp is for people who want to see the beauty of the remote Canadian wilderness. The outpost’s cabin is only accessible by floatplane, so it’s a true adventure!

We arrived to a breathtaking, late afternoon view of camp on a very calm day. The clear water lake sitting in a valley and perfectly reflecting the sky was both stunning and nerve-racking. The glassy water illusion causes a mirror image of the sky and hinders a pilot’s depth perception, making it difficult to tell the difference between 50 and five feet above the water. It requires a glassy water landing technique: landing in a flatter trajectory, with power, in a slow descent until the plane hits the water. This method of landing eats up a lot of lake while you slowly descend, so we had the extra challenge of performing the landing on a shorter lake.

Only minutes after a successful landing and unpacking the planes, Maverick, my Golden Retriever, was already itching to go fishing. Anytime Maverick and I are not fishing up at camp, Maverick is patiently waiting in the boat for the next opportunity to go. 

Giving in to Maverick’s wishes, we immediately went trolling for some Northern Pike in hopes to catch a quick dinner; we were not disappointed. The lake has no road or trail access and is almost never fished, which leads to some prime fishing opportunity for folks staying at the camp. After just 30 minutes, we had caught dinner for ourselves and Maverick. We headed back to camp to fry up a few fish and boil Maverick’s dinner. 

The next morning Maverick and I woke up before the sun and headed out in darkness to explore the surrounding lakes and hiking trails, verifying that the trails were open and everything was in place for future fishing and exploration adventures. One of the lakes along the way was more of a beaver pond, and every time I had gone through the lake I had come across ducks. I brought the shotgun along in case there was an opportunity to take a duck for dinner.

Along the way, we marvelled at the stunning colours, and Maverick had a great time playing in the water. It was a beautiful trip travelling up the surrounding lakes by boat and then hiking the trails between the lakes. When we got to the beaver pond lake we were greeted by a few ducks, but unfortunately we never got an ethical opportunity for a shot as we attempted to stealthily hike around the lake. Oh well, it was only loosely a hunting trip anyway, so we pushed on in search of the next lake.

For Maverick and me, these are the adventures we come up north for; it’s the reason I learned to fly. It’s heartwarming to be hiking and paddling through the wilderness from lake to lake, seeing Maverick in his element, so eager to explore. The fishing, hunting, and camping is a lot of fun, but nothing beats seeing the pure joy of Maverick spending the day in the wilderness.

After checking the trails, lakes, and boats in the area, Maverick’s day got even better. On our way back through the thick bush, I noticed some movement up ahead that looked like small game. I immediately put Maverick in a down position and flipped the safety off the 12 gauge.

As I got closer I saw a grouse hopping around – one of Maverick’s favourites!

I snuck a bit closer to get an unobstructed view while Maverick obediently stayed in his down position about 10 yards behind me. Once I had a clear shot, I took it and then sent Maverick off to retrieve. Proud of his work, Maverick carried the bird back along the trail to our boat on the previous lake with an obvious extra kick to his step as a result of a job well done.

After we crossed the next few lakes, we were walking through the marshy part of a beaver pond and saw several moose tracks of varying sizes from the bush. As I was investigating the tracks, thinking to myself that they looked pretty recent, I heard a grunt. Maverick and I both turned around trying to see where it was coming from (Maverick zoned in on the direction pretty quickly). Then again, another grunt from the same direction. This was a bull Moose during the rut, grunting at us; obviously not too happy about us being there. Had I been alone, I would have stuck around and tried to spot him for some pictures, but I had Maverick with me. The last thing I wanted was a moose charging at Maverick, so we got out of there pretty quickly.

It wasn’t until just before dark that we got back to camp. I immediately breasted the grouse, lightly covered it with flour, salt and pepper, and fried it. It was an amazing meal to come back to after a long day hiking in the bush and paddling the beautiful lakes in the area. We ate dinner outside, enjoying the beautiful view of the Northern Ontario night sky. It was a calm, warm, cloudless autumn evening with the stars on full display and absolutely zero light pollution. 

The plan for the rest of the trip was to fly an hour north to another lake that we wanted to explore, and then camp there for a night. The next morning we would head back to Setting North’s Outpost Camp and fish for Lake Trout, before packing up and flying south back to the city. With a jam-packed schedule, we were up at the break of dawn the next morning taxiing on the glassy water. It was a brisk morning with no wind so our takeoff runs were slightly longer than usual as the floats stuck to the water (calm water adds friction). Once one float was airborne, the other followed and we were off, northbound to one of the many lakes in Northern Ontario that are on my list for further exploration.

The views when flying up north in Ontario in autumn can’t be put into words. The mixture of colour is absolutely breathtaking and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be at this time of year. The flight was very smooth and hands-off on this beautiful morning with the tips of the colourful trees breaking through the morning fog in the valleys. 

Once we landed, I put on my hip waders and started looking for a place to park the plane. Camping at unfamiliar lakes always has the added stress of not knowing where a safe spot is to bring the plane to shore and tie it down. This lake didn’t have a beach, so I had to taxi close to the shore, watching out for shoals, and then hop out and cautiously pull the plane the rest of the way in. 

It was a while before we were both satisfied with the way our aircraft were tied down. You always have to consider the worst scenario – what if a storm came through, would our plane be safe? There’s nothing worse than having your plane tied to the shore then waking up to a thunderstorm in the middle of the night, wondering if your plane is holding on.

The next step was to get the fold-a-boat off the aircraft, set it up, put on the motor, and get out there and fish! I love fishing with Maverick; he stares at the tip of the fishing rod the entire time, waiting for it to bend. When you hit the bottom, get a snag, or get a fish, his tail starts wagging like crazy. If you start reeling in, his feet start tapping in excitement and his tail gets going even faster. The hardest part is dealing with the disappointment on his face when you pull up a log from a snag, rather than the fish he was expecting.

Luckily for Maverick, and for us, there was plenty of Walleye caught during this adventure. The wind started to pick up as we approached our limit of fish and we decided to head back to camp for the night. The journey back to camp was a lot more turbulent than the flight up. On the positive side, the lake was choppy, so no glassy water landing technique was required. 

The wind continued picking up as we got back to camp and dark clouds started rolling in for the evening. There wasn’t any stargazing that night! After we fried some Pike for dinner, we headed to bed for an early evening so that we could try to get a Lake Trout before we flew home the next morning.

It was another successful trip to Setting North Outpost Camp for Maverick and me.

The camp is available for fly-in fishing, hunting, hiking, exploring, and/or photography adventures. Visit http://settingnorth.com and email info@settingnorth.com if you’d like to get away and go on an adventure in the remote Canadian wilderness. For more from Andrew and Maverick, check out the following:

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Fly-in Fishing with a Golden Retriever

Check out Flight Outfitters Navigator Andrew’s latest trip with his dog Maverick as they go on a fly-in fishing adventure at the Setting North Outpost Camp in Northern Ontario. Plenty of Pike and Lake Trout in this deep, no access lake that almost never gets fished. Surrounding lakes full of Walleye and Speckles. Great spot for camping, fishing, hunting, photography, or any outdoor adventure. Have the entire lake to yourself with no one around for miles. Enjoy the loons, moose, grouse, and other wildlife in this northern, remote paradise.

For more from Andrew and Maverick, visit https://settingnorth.com/camp

For trip information and bookings, email info@settingnorth.com.

Message Andrew on Instagram at https://instagram.com/settingnorth

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Meet Deon Mitton – Pilot, Photographer, Professional Weekender

Once I became a pilot

After I earned degrees in Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, I spent many years working and saving to obtain my Private Pilot license in 1993. The fascination with aviation and photography came from a young age. It grew into a passion, which, once I experienced the aerial views, I wanted to share with the world.

I spent many years in corporate America, practicing my trade in the high tech industry, while flying as a hobby. Later I earned my helicopter and commercial pilot privileges. Once I traveled to Alaska, I was instantly fascinated with bush flying and specifically operating seaplanes in the remote wilderness. I spent a few years designing my “dream job” – it really was about defining a lifestyle. I set a goal of living and working on tropical islands and wilderness locations, such as the Alaska bush, as a seaplane pilot. 

What I do 

I earn a living as a full-time commercial seaplane pilot, following the sun to tropical islands, and the far north of Alaska.

How my photography hobby took shape

Although some of my work is now published in printed media and online, I still look at it as a hobby. I love to travel to remote parts of the world, and always use these opportunities to capture images of these amazing places. My photography assignments are a result of word-of-mouth or social media.

It started with the sharing of aerial images from all my flying. I would bring some sort of camera on every flight, in the hopes of capturing something unique, interesting, and worthy of sharing with others.

I kept on learning how to capture light, and in a way that it represents what I see and experience. Still photography is especially challenging, because you have one opportunity to tell a story. Capturing emotion with still images is difficult. The ultimate reward is if someone relates to the emotion I am trying to share. 

In the world of moving images, video offers a very powerful platform, and it is a very rewarding medium. It requires a whole different set of skills to complement each other.  With moving images, the power of the accompanying soundtrack is by far the most significant element. In recent years, I’ve continued to grow my hobby into the production of short films and documentaries and narratives, telling the stories of people and places I see along my travels.

The dream

I love to travel to remote wilderness parts of the world. I dream of telling stories by means of producing documentaries and narratives, in an effort to motivate the next generation to pursue a career in aviation. Learning about cultures and their lifestyles along the way, I’ll be sharing uplifting stories of everyday people and their lifestyles in remote parts of the world, and how aviation enables and connects people across long distances.

For more from Deon, find him on:

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My Aviation Story – Sylvie Bouffard

            Getting into aviation is never an easy process, but as a nineteen-year-old girl who definitely looks fifteen, I always had to go the extra mile to prove myself. Here is the story of how I finally got to my commercial licence – through all the highs and lows.

The Start of it All

            Personally, I find people rarely take the stride to start a career as a pilot unless they either know someone already in the business, or have worked in other branches of aviation. For me, the idea had always been in my head ever since hearing my uncle share all his fascinating stories flying overseas. Still, I never thought it would be “possible”.

            When starting university, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I ended up starting a double-undergrad in Law and Journalism, so that I had two choices. Unfortunately, even though these programs were both interesting, I wanted more adventure – more challenge. This was frustrating because as a young girl seeing all her friends finding their path, I felt lost and helpless.

            That’s when I decided to take a huge leap. I thought back to my roots, and what had always captivated me throughout the years. I remembered telling my parents how “cool” I thought Air Ambulance operations were, and always looking up at the sky when seeing a plane. So, feeling like I had nothing to lose, I booked an intro flight at my local flight school, and never looked back.

Finding the “right” school… And program?

            Honestly, I didn’t visit many schools around me, and decided to stay in my city in case I wanted to finish my undergrad during flight training. Looking back, I wish I had done otherwise, but at the time it felt like the right choice for me.

            The school I started at had an iATPL (Integrated Airline Transport Pilot Licence) program, which I decided not to join since I was still unsure of whether I would go back to school or not. Luckily for me, though, my instructor treated me just like them, giving me priority on aircrafts and using a very similar flying curriculum. I was in the plane every day, as often as I could.

            I want to add that this instructor made a huge impact on me. First off, she was the only female instructor, and she taught me to break stereotypes. She would stand up for me, defend me, and put me first, no matter the situation. She had me finish my private licence as quick as possible. (Although, with our rough Canadian winter, it still took a little while due to weather cancellations!)

            After my PPL, she was hired at an airline, and I was left instructor-less. I got my night rating done right away, but after that, every instructor I got was either too busy with iATPL students who had first priority, or got hired elsewhere. For months, I was only time-building as a renter, practically only at night due to lack of plane availability during the day, and had no specific guidance. It was time for a change.

            After writing my CPL written exam, I decided to switch to a school two hours away. It was convenient since my cousins lived nearby and I could stay with them, and as soon as I stepped in, they made me feel extremely welcomed. This is important when choosing a flight school, because you want to feel confident. At my previous school, I felt I had to fight to make a good impression, but at this school, everyone took me extremely seriously, and each instructor voiced their positive opinions. To this day, it still feels like a second home.

The Journey to CPL

            At my new school, I was paired with a new instructor who had me fly every day. After the Chief Flight Instructor saw my logbook and PTR, they understood my situation (seeing I had no CPL training, only cross-country time), and gave me priority. I zoomed through training, learned the ins and outs of the new practice area, and before I knew it, I was ready to flight test!

            At this point, I had already been doing flight training for two years, and this moment was  long awaited. Because of this though, I put an incredible amount of pressure on myself to pass this flight test, since I was way too ready to move on to the next step. That morning, I was pacing around back and forth, my stomach turning. It’s incredible how much you can doubt yourself even if everyone around you tells you otherwise. Now, I know my instructor would have never sent me if he wasn’t sure I could do it. Back then though, nothing could alleviate the pressure I was putting on myself.

            With that said, the flight test went amazing. I ended up passing with a 95%, which had me jump up and down when going back outside to go tie down the plane. Turns out, I just did what I knew how to do. Afterwards, I had never felt so confident in my life.

            Finally, it was time to move on to the final step.

Multi-IFR on a Farm

            Hear me out here – In between finishing my CPL and going on a trip to Japan, I only had one week. The school I wanted to attend for my Multi-IFR had a reputation for getting the rating done fairly quickly, so naturally, it had a long waiting list. To get on that waiting list, the INRAT exam had to be written. So, to be able to spend some of that “waiting time” in Japan, I booked my INRAT the day before my trip. But remember the first sentence of this paragraph? That gave me ONLY ONE WEEK to study for it! I passed, got my name on the waiting list, and flew off to Japan.

            Back home, I packed a suitcase and was on my way to this new school. I had always said I wanted to live on a farm, so I was pleasantly surprised when I got there and noticed that a) the school was 20 minutes away from any “big” town and b) it was on farmland, surrounded by farmland, and the student house was also on – you guessed it – farmland. I loved it. The first day, I threw my bags into my new room and ran to the yard which opened on a beautiful field of tall grass. (I didn’t know there were snakes but that’s probably a good thing).

            This was the last stretch for me – the only thing left to be done before I could start applying for jobs. Again, like for my CPL, I put lots of pressure on myself. This school really did get the training done quickly, guaranteeing two flights a day for each student. If it wasn’t a flight, it was a simulator session. Away from home and in a house full of people with the same intentions, the stress levels rose. We all shared our worries, successes, and experiences, which led to some of us comparing our journeys. This was good in a way, but also added a certain competitiveness. That said, I met some people that I will always keep in contact with, who went through the same thing as me.

            The night of my check ride, I landed and opened my phone to find two text messages. I had two very good friends in the house who helped me push to the end. The first message was from one of them, saying they had him pass his flight test while I was in flight, and he already booked his flight back home. The second message was from the other friend, saying she had already left during my flight since work called her back. In two seconds, I was left practically alone, with the ambition to finish as strong as ever.

            The next morning, I passed my flight test, packed my bags, and headed back home with a massive smile on my face.

What Now?

            Now that I’m done my initial training, I’ve started applying for jobs around Canada, and I’m studying to write my IATRA. My goal would be to fly Medevac up North, since that’s the branch of aviation that peaked my interest even before I started training. Finding a job is hard though since I have very few hours, so I’m still flying occasionally to not only boost my hours, but keep current. I’m even thinking of planning a long road-trip to go visit companies and hand in resumes.

            I still can’t believe I am where I am today. This whole journey felt like it went by so quickly, and it feels as though my intro flight was only yesterday. Honestly, it feels so surreal to finally complete a huge goal of mine, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds – although the journey is DEFINITELY not over!

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Angle of Attack Visits Flight Outfitters

Chris Palmer, Flight Outfitters Navigator and Founder of Angle of Attack, visited the Flight Outfitters headquarters in fall 2019. This is the first in a five-part video series detailing his trip and all the cool aviation things we got up to while he was here.

Chris writes, “No matter where you fly, there are little gems of aviation history. Ohio is no different. This was my first time coming to Ohio, and I had very good reason. My friend Mark is owner of Flight Outfitters, makers of great aviation clothing, bags and gear. They have a great relationship with Sporty’s which is just a few minutes away. Sporty’s is like the Amazon of aviation. And, it didn’t disappoint.

Over the next several vlog videos of this style, we’re going to cover this time in Ohio. It wasn’t so much about business as it was about pilots and aviators doing cool aviation and flying stuff.

This first video would take us to the Flight Outfitters HQ, onto Portsmouth, Ohio where we’d get a “$100 Hamburger”, and the back along the Ohio River to Sporty’s. Later we’d do a tour of Sporty’s, but that’ll come in a different video.

Mark and I met back at Oshkosh during AirVenture in I think 2015. He and I have done aviation projects together, but mostly we’ve just become good friends. He makes fantastic bags for aviation, and clothing to match. Really does make me feel good to have all that gear to use.

Of course getting to fly whenever we go on these trips is paramount. Just to talk about aviation and hang around it isn’t enough. I want to fly! Getting out with Mark and the gang was great. Short little hop to get that $100 hamburger (which was actually $5) is just something any pilot has to do. Because it’s yummy. And pilots need to eat. That’s what we live for.”

You can find the Flight Outfitters Gear with the Angle of Attack logo here: https://www.angleofattack.com/shop/ https://flightoutfitters.com/products… And be sure to check out Angle of Attack’s Online Ground School and Checkride ACE courses here: https://www.angleofattack.com/