The Adventures of David "Buck"
A flightsim story
By Bryan Kirk
The scene would
never change. Ever since the time he was 10 years old and
had left for his first Boy Scout summer camp, David Wilson
would always look back and see his mother stand on the front
porch of the family house, and cry!
Whether leaving for just a few days
on the road for a hockey tournament or when at 16 he left
with two buddies to go climb Mt. Washington, Laura Wilson
always felt like she was seeing her precious son for the last
So as he waited in the small Bush Flying
Unlimited departure lounge at Vancouver International Airport
to board BFU flight 002 to Anchorage (with stops in Prince
Rupert, Ketchikan and Juneau), David could not help but smile,
since his mother had repeated that same scene just a few hours
had awakened at the crack of dawn and drove his beat-up pickup
truck to MacDonald-Cartier International Airport (CYOW) in
Ottawa, Ontario. His father had come along so he could drive
the truck back to their home in Wakefield, Quebec since "Buck"
Wilson would be leaving his trusted Chevy behind. He was sure
he would find some decent wheels once he reached Alaska.
David Wilson had finally decided to leave everything behind
and start something new. Since quitting the Canadian Air Force
last year, "Buck" had found it difficult to adapt
to a "normal" civilian life. After all, where do
you go after flying C-130 Hercs for the 429th Transport Squadron
- 8th Wing? What do you do after your mantra, for the past
seven years, has been "Anyplace, Anytime, Anywhere"?
He had joined the Air Force after graduating
from Ottawa University, had finished first in his class and
earned his wings in less than two years. He had refused to
pursue the training to become a fighter jock in the CF-18's,
and had focused on the multi-purposed C-130 Hercules. Somehow,
it reminded him of the beloved Tonka Trucks of his youth.
After seven years of flying in hot zones
(and cold places!) all over the globe, he had decided he needed
something new, and had left the service.
Of course, that INCIDENT with the young
wife of an older Colonel had not helped
- "I was sure it was his daughter!",
had been the only decent thing he had found to say at the
court martial, and that had not helped his case at all!
What he had not expected was that the
"real" world was a lot less organized than the military,
and that his flying skills were not the ones Air Canada and
WestJet were looking for. He had managed to get a few contracts
here and there for charter services operating out of CYOW
and CYND (Ottawa-Gatineau), but flying burly businessmen always
complaining about being late bored him to death.
Then one night, while out for some beers
at the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, he had met Todd Holman.
Todd was also an ex-Air Force pilot,
although much older than David, and now worked full time for
Air Creebec, in Northern Quebec. With beer helping, Todd had
started talking about bush flying and how guys like him were
a hot commodity outside of the "civilized" airspace.
Suddenly, as the folk singer on the
stage started a nice rendition of Steve Earle's "My old
friend the blues", the older pilot had started some undistinguishable
mumbling about a crash landing in Waskaganish that was not
is fault, but had snapped back to reality after the always
cheerful crowd of the Black Sheep had given a warm round of
- "There's only one place for you
to go kid, it's Ketchikan. There's so much going on over there,
everybody is looking for good pilots."
- "Come on, there must be work
- "Sure, but money won't come as
easy as up in the Misty Fjords. There's a wack of Air Taxi
Operators, charter operators, cargo, you name it. You can
even make a decent life just freelancing with your own plane.
I am telling you, that place gets pretty crazy when the cruise
ships start lining up in the harbour in May and when the hunters
and anglers land at PAKT. You won't find a spot anywhere else
on the planet where there are so many Beavers, Otters, Maules
and Super Cubs."
- "Yeah, but it's not like I can
just show up there with a "pilot for hire" sign!"
- "No, but damn, you've been flying
C-130's for crying out loud! This place IS for you. You would
find something in no time! I'll make a deal with you; I am
in town for a few more days, visiting my daughter. I'll make
a few phone calls. Let's see each other again here tomorrow
And on that, the older pilot ordered
another draft and started mumbling again as the singer kept
on going in the background.
Driving back home that night, Buck had
been lost in thoughts. Maybe bush flying was the way to go.
He could not envision a life without flying, but at the same
time he knew quite well he would not survive in the working
environment of the commercial airlines. He realized although
he didn't miss the military lifestyle, he sure as hell missed
the feeling of buzzing in a C-130 for a tight landing
next day, he had decided to "clear his brain" and
had rented a C172 at the Ottawa Flying Club. Alone in the
air, he had followed his beloved Gatineau River all the way
to Grand-Remous. At 3000 feet above the ground, with almost
no wind to deal with, and with clear and beautiful skies,
David felt at home. Forget about therapists and all the self-proclaimed
"personal growth" sessions, this was HIS therapy.
Flying had actually always been a major
therapy for him. His ex-wife (the marriage at lasted only
a year) used to call it his "bubble". She never
understood his passion about it, nor the special bond between
a pilot and HIS bird. In her case, the competition had just
been too much. One August night five years ago, he had come
home at CFB Trenton from a supply flight to CFB Alert (Nunavut)
only to find an empty apartment, and not even a note. There
were no kids involved, and the divorce had been painless.
Low and slow, watching the world unfold
under him, David Wilson decided somewhere near the Maniwaki
airport that he would jump on whatever that weird bush pilot
might propose to him tonight. Maybe Alaska was indeed the
best place for him at the moment.
He arrived at the Black Sheep Inn at
around 8:00pm. The grey haired pilot was already sitting at
the bar, and David was pretty sure he had been on that stool
- "So you showed up young man!",
Todd yelled out. "We need to talk."
He then started chatting about Ketchikan,
and the year he had lived there.
- "I flew all around the world
kid. And I met all sorts of people. But I left my heart in
the Misty Fjords. It's tough to describe the feeling you get
when flying over there. The weather and the air are unique.
Sometimes, when I would be picking up clients in a small cabin
somewhere, I would just stand at the end of the dock, close
my eyes, and just absorb it all. It's priceless."
David figured the old guy was getting
drunk and sentimental, but he did have to admit that he felt
attracted to that place.
- "Anyways", he said suddenly
coming back to reality, "I made some calls. There's this
girl I know over there. She's quite the character, but she
owes me a few favours."
And so Todd Hunter introduced him to
the "legend" of Ms. Patsy "Misty" Fletcher,
owner and operator of "Misty's Place", the best
hangout spot for pilots this side of Juneau.
She was quite
the character alright. In her mid 40's, she was born in Ketchikan,
and the further south she had ever been was Prince Rupert,
British Columbia. Her father, Bill Fletcher had moved to Alaska
after WW2, and had numerous "brief" encounters with
the ladies of the area.
One foggy and rainy June morning, still
hung-over from the previous night, he had found a little baby
girl in a basket at the front door of his "shack",
"She's your daughter, good luck", was the only thing
written on the note that hung on the basket, and he had fought
the urge to run away after he had picked up the baby
with a wet diaper!
But he had not run away, and the new
arrival had changed his life. He had quit drinking, and promised
to himself he would make sure his little "misty"
baby would be raised straight.
He had sold everything he owed except
his Beaver, plunged into his life savings and his veteran's
allowance, and opened Misty's Place, a small general store
located in Thorne Bay.
With the Misty Fjords National Monument
area expanding and starting to attract more and more people,
his little operation became the local hangout spot for pilots,
and whoever could get there.
After he passed away in 1994, Misty
Fletcher had naturally decided to run the place, since it
was the only thing she had ever learned to do
Misty's Place was now a coffee shop/restaurant/bar/general
store/boarding house/repair shop, where locals and outsiders
would drop by for a good cup of coffee, an excellent meal,
gas, conversation, a set of spark plugs, or an engine overhaul
by Hank the mechanic. In the 80's, Bill Fletcher had even
build a 2500' dirt runway for wheeled airplanes, and a small
marina so that all the boats that passed by could stop.
All Misty Fletcher was trying to do
was run a "man's business" in a "man's world"
... and she was doing a darn good job of it. She could hold
her own with both the mechanics out in the hangar and the
guys that stayed too late at the bar. And she could "smell"
when the conditions were REALLY not decent for VFR flying!
Now 44 years old, Misty woke up with
a smile every morning, thinking about, as happened again last
night, the long string of bush pilots that had tried to navigate
their way into her bed. Yes, they were a bunch of rascals,
but for Misty, they were still the guys with the most class,
at least in this part of the United States. She just could
not stand the guys who worked in the lumber mills, and the
all smelled like fish!
One day, she had crossed path with Todd
Hunter. He was quite younger back then, and had something
different than the other "flyboys" she was used
to meet. Todd flew a big Super Otter for one of the lumber
companies, and had become a regular at Misty's Place. Good
time they had shared for more than six months (quite a record
for Misty), before he had one night left town to go back east.
She still had a special place in her
heart for Todd, and was shocked when he called her (after
more than 10 years) to ask a favour.
had been awkward, like those always were. After the small
talk and the bad tries at excuses, Todd had mentioned to Misty
he had befriended with a young pilot looking for a new beginning,
and that he thought the kid had a good heart.
It just so happened she was looking
for help. The guy that had been her "pilot/jack of all
trades" for the past two years was about to leave her
for something better (at least that's what he thought it was),
and she needed a good lad to help out, mostly to fly around
the small fleet of airplanes she owned (including her father's
beloved Beaver) and used for cargo, charter and to fly in
stuff from "down south". If he could get to the
Misty Fjords at his own expenses and not mind living in somewhat
"tight" quarters for awhile
if he was more pleasant to look at than her ever-frowning
Misty was willing to give him a break.
The friendly smile
of the lounge attendant that came to remind him it was time
to board his flight brought David back to reality. It was
only a quick walk to the plane, so he rapidly found his seat
in the tight Beechcraft 1900D that Bush Flying Unlimited used
for its daily "milk run" flight from Vancouver to
hated to be a passenger on an airplane. For most of the five
and a half hour flight between Ottawa and Vancouver, he had
closed his eyes and visualized the operations in the flight
deck of the Airbus. He had never been a fan of the "heavy
irons", and had always wondered how a pilot could keep
his flying "edge" while letting a computer do the
Not long after buckling up, the first
officer was on the intercom to announce that they would be
leaving the gate on time. "Not bad for a small operation
like this", thought David.
While looking for a good deal to get
himself to PAKT, he had stumbled upon this new service of
BFU. Well know in Canada and the US for its various charter
services, Bush Flying Unlimited had started last year to offer
a limited number of regular passenger flights, mostly in BC
and Alaska. Reliable, trouble-free, and cheap, the experience
had caught on and BFU now planned to double the service next
As the dual Pratt & Whitney engines
came to life, David settled in his seat and smiled that the
one next to him was not occupied. In this plane, that was
almost like a first-class ticket! Since he had slept for most
of the flight from Ottawa, he decided to catch up on some
reading, and pulled out some documentation on Ketchikan and
the Misty Fjords area, as well as some maps that Ms. Fletcher
had mailed him.
As he always did (when he was not in
the cockpit), he closed his eyes for a few seconds as the
pilot pushed the throttles forward, released the brakes and
the plane slowly started to roll down the runway.
From what he could see from his seat,
he figured they were taking off from runway 26L. The cloud
base was pretty low, so he had only a few minutes to admire
the beautiful Vancouver area from his window seat.
first officer was back on the intercom to announce some general
information about the flight. They would be cruising at 20
000', but a strong head wind would have an impact on the flying
time, which was now estimated at two hours and fifteen minutes.
Weather was nice in Prince Rupert and Ketchikan, but they
did expect some light turbulence on approach, since they would
be flying through some bad weather over the Coast Mountains.
David's only regret was that he was
sitting on the left side of the plane, looking west, instead
of east. He was missing out on the scenery, but he knew he
would have many other opportunities in the near future to
admire the mountains.
About two hours after take-off, the
first officer announced they were starting their descent to
Prince Rupert. "These guys are good", David told
himself, as the Beech kept descending towards the mountains
in what looked like a thick fog cover. Upon reaching the coast
again, and has the plane turned to line up to land on runway
13, he even had a great view on Big Bay.
At 13:57, the main wheels gently kissed the runway, and the
1900D rapidly exited the runway for what David hoped would
be a quick stop in Prince Rupert.
The last of the
three passengers debarking in Prince Rupert had just finished
going down the stairs when a member of the ground crew climbed
aboard and started whispering something in the ear of the
flight attendant. As the burly man was talking to her, David
had the strange feeling he was the topic of discussion, since
both of them were staring at him. When they finished talking,
the attractive young lady started walking towards him, and
Dave could fell that ALL eyes were now on him.
- "Excuse me Mr. Wilson, but it
seems you are requested in the terminal"
.?", he simply
replied, wondering what might be going on.
- "All they told me was that you
would not be continuing the flight with us."
That got Dave somewhat concerned. In
his only phone conversation with Misty Fletcher, only two
days ago, she had assured him that customs and immigration
would not be a problem. People easily "disappeared"
in this part of North America! If that was the case, why the
heck would he need to get off here?
He reluctantly picked up his small carry-on
bag and put on his Gore-Tex jacket. Walking down the small
stairs, he noticed someone was waiting for him just a few
yards away, with a hand on his Lowe backpack.
- "David? Hi, name is Larry Campbell,
I am the assistant manager of the airport."
Both men started walking towards the
small terminal, as Mr. Campbell explained.
- "The manager of one of the local
lumber mills left yesterday for a few weeks in Hawaii. While
he's gone, he made arrangements so that Hank would do an overhaul
of the engine of the Scout he uses to go fishing. Hank is
too busy to come over and pick-it up, so Misty said you could
fly it back up to her place."
- "And who might Hank be?"
- " Sorry! I forgot you were new
around here! Hank is God!", Campbell said while laughing
out loud. "Seriously, he's the mechanic at Misty's Place.
He's a magician. Guys frequently outbid each other just hoping
he'll have some free time to work on their planes."
- "So I guess I will be working
with Hank then."
- "Actually, nobody works WITH
Hank. He's quite the character. Goes along just well with
Ms. Misty. Heck, I've know him for 10 years and he still barely
says hi. I think the only word he knows is "thanks",
and that's after you pay him for the job! Odds are you'll
become his new test pilot."
The two of them crossed the terminal
and headed for the GA hangars. Larry explained that the Scout
David was about to fly into Thorne Bay had a lot of "history".
The engine had been rebuilt a few times, and there were not
many lakes in the area it had not landed on. "One tough
little bird" he had added.
As they entered the hangar, David started
realizing he had absolutely NO clue of what he was getting
into. Here he was, a long, long way from home, getting ready
to fly an amphib plane in an area he didn't know, and to a
destination he didn't know. The only good news was that the
weather conditions seemed pretty good for this part of the
- "Anybody around here that needs
a lift to up there? I wouldn't mind a guide in the back seat",
- "Well, everything is pretty quiet
around here today. None of our regular GA guys are around
since they all left earlier today for their weekly group flight.
Many showed up actually, 'cause this is the best weather we
had in many weeks. But don't worry; you'll get there with
your eyes closed! Around here, most pilots have GPS's with
a good local database and this plane has one also. Once you
reached Ketchikan, you can dial the Misty's Place NDB. You
should pick it up not too long after that. Let's go for a
coffee, and I will walk-you through the sectional map. You'll
a piece of cake."
While drinking some lukewarm coffee
served in the office of the assistant manager, David started
studying the sectional. This did indeed look pretty straightforward.
Nothing too complicated in flying over water, and it would
give him an early glance at the area that would become his
So Ms. Misty didn't want to wait to
get him busy he told himself. Oh well, why not! The unexpected
had been part of his military life for a long time anyways.
After about 30 minutes of chatting and
plotting, Larry recommended to him that he should start thinking
about leaving, since this would probably be the best weather
conditions he would get today
David grabbed a can of Coke and a bag
of chips from a vending machine, and walked again towards
the hangar, with a light bounce in his step. He was coming
here for adventure, and it sure looked like adventure had
found him! Larry wished him good luck, and told him he would
give a call to Ms. Misty to tell her he was about to leave.
After a somewhat long walk-around and
extensive checks, he climbed aboard the small cockpit, fitted
his big frame inside of it as best as he could, and turned
on the master switch. The Scout quickly came to life, and
he turned on the avionics and the Garmin GPS. In just a few
clicks, he had on the screen a direct-to flight path to Thorne
and he was ready to start the engine!
Taxiing towards runway 13, his biggest
concern was getting used to handling an amphib plane. This
WAS weird. He heard cracks and squeals from everywhere, but
it seemed to be staying in one piece!
David did a quick scan of the instruments
and took yet another peek at the sectional map, while rolling
towards the hold-short line. He then announced his takeoff
intention on the CYPR traffic channel, and proceeded onto
the runway. He kept telling himself this would be a piece
of cake, but also knew damn well the last thing he wanted
to do was to botch his first landing at Misty's Place. That
would not make a good first impression!
pushed in the throttle and the Scout started rumbling down
the runway (not too gracefully he would add!). He was rapidly
airborne, and was immediately enchanted by the Scout and how
it felt in the air. With no significant cloud base to deal
with, but a somewhat limited visibility in the immediate vicinity
of the airport, he settled in at 2500' and easily trimmed
the plane for cruise.
The remaining 75 minutes of the flight
would stay engraved in his mind forever. What he was witnessing
was not spectacular, it was breathtaking! Cruising along at
this low altitude, he decided to just let the surroundings
sink-in. For all the research, pictures, and conversation
about this place, this flight was the most amazing first impression
he could of have. He even wondered if Ms. Misty had not planned
it this way.
Since he was in no rush, and now REALLY
enjoying the Scout, he decided to casually cruise along the
east coast of Chatham Sound, then the Revillagigedo Channel
as far as Ketchikan. A quick glance at the sectional confirmed
it would not be a complicated route to follow.
He kept listening closely to the UNICOMM
frequency, trying to stay at a good distance from the other
traffic. It was a somewhat difficult task, since he was not
familiar to the region and sure as hell didn't want to come
face-to-face with a Beaver coming out of one of those valleys!
The one good news was that the flying conditions were amazing
for this time of the year, and that the fog that had been
hanging around Prince Rupert was lifting fast as he was flying
Approaching the PAKT airspace, he contacted
the tower to request a Class D airspace transit, and then
proceeded towards Tongass Narrows to fly over Ketchikan. He
then turned to the northwest and towards Thorne Bay.
With visibility improving more and more as the minutes passed,
David wished he had not left his digital camera in his backpack.
He was now flying over Clarence Strait, along the Kasaan Peninsula.
From what he saw on his GPS and the sectional map, it would
soon be time to start thinking about his approach to Thorne
Bay, and to Misty's Place.
Now at 1500', there was no need for
a long descent as he reached Tolstoi Point. He contacted Misty's
Place on the UNICOMM, and was surprised to hear Ms. Misty
herself answer back.
"Glad to hear you made it in one piece son. Winds are
calm at 2 knots from the 040. We are doing some minor repairs
on the runway this afternoon, so just go land in the bay,
and Hank will roll the plane in tomorrow."
- "Roger that. Winds at 2 knots
from 040, clear to land in the bay. See you in a few minutes."
- "I'll be on the dock!"
Reluctantly, David reduced the throttles
and started the short descent, while lining-up to land right
in front of Misty Place's which he now had a visual on. He
also took a peek at the small community of Thorne, just across
the bay, which he figured would soon become his new "hometown".
The Scout was indeed a joy to fly, and
he hoped he would do so again in the near future. With calm
winds to deal with, he double-checked for any objects he might
have missed when he flew over his landing area and adjusted
his power while on short final.
With a lot of water to work with, he
gracefully touched down close to the dock (and of his new
boss) but was somewhat caught by surprise by the "tippy"
attitude of the Scout when he tried to turn a bit too abruptly
Ms. Misty guided him in, and grabbed
the plane herself when David reached the dock. In no time,
she had secured it, and he was climbing down the Scout.
- "Welcome to Alaska kid! That
was a nice landing."
- "I always believed in first impressions!"
- "Well, that was not bad then.
Let's go inside, you must be starving!"
And on that, "Buck" Wilson
grabbed his backpack from the empty back seat, and had to
run a bit to catch up to his new boss.
TO BE CONTINUED