Watch this guy fly Alaska in a 60-year-old plane

Paul Guschlbauer not only flew to Alaska but over it in a paraglider – and an aircraft from 1959.
By Josh Sampiero

Alaska – one of the last great frontiers. Distant, intimidating, and wild, it has a population density of one person for every two square kilometres, and most of that concentrated in the capital city of Anchorage. So when you head into the outback, you're truly going into the middle of nowhere. 

That's one thing that drew pro paraglider pilot Paul Guschlbauer to Alaska. The other thing? He had bought a plane – a 1959 Piper Super Cub – sight unseen. Of course, he'd have to head over to check it out. And once he was there, what would he use it for? To find more places to paraglide, of course.

Watch the video above to learn more

 Paul and his new toy

Paul Guschlbauer posing for a self-portrait with his plane in Alaska.
That's the proud papa of a new (old!) plane © Paul Guschlbauer

What's so special about this little plane? The Piper Super Cub is the plane of choice for bush pilots everywhere. What's a bush pilot? No ordinary jet jockey, that's for sure – these guys specialise in getting out of (and into) hairy situations.

A camping set-up on a remote Alaskan beach, with a background of snowy mountains.
World's best campground? Maybe © Paul Guschlbauer

See, in Alaska, since there are very few people, there are very few roads – and that means people fly. Planes are like cars – you want to visit your friend 10 miles down the road? Fly. People don't have driveways, they have airstrips. 

Done flying? Time to fly

Paul Guschlbauer launching his paraglider beside his Piper Super Cub plane in Alaska
Sometimes you land just to take off again © Paul Guschlbauer

Thus it was the perfect place for Paul to hone his skills as a small plane backcountry pilot. Bringing with him a keen understanding of unpowered flight, terrain, and weather, he was uniquely suited for such a challenge. 

His tutor would be backcountry legend Ken MacDonald, a pilot living near Willow, Alaska, close to the infamous Brooks range. A pilot for decades who was so confident that he learned to skydive from YouTube. If you're going to learn bush flying, there's no better teacher. 

Wide shot of Paul Guschlbauer flying his Piper Super Cub plane in Alaska
Scenes from an Alaskan airplane © Paul Guschlbauer

The first thing on Paul's list wasn't flying the plane – but fixing it. The rig – almost 60 years old – needed a little tuning before it would become backcountry-ready. Part of being a bush pilot means being a mechanic and engineer, too, so Paul started by replacing the starter, and fixing small leaks in the fuel lines.

Of course, there was still plenty of time for your standard Alaskan adventures – hiking, fishing, and anything an outdoorsman could ask for. 

Paul Guschlbauer running across a shallow river in Alaska
Skipping and jumping over river rocks © Paul Guschlbauer

Once in the air, it was all about getting sound fundamentals, and learning to land in places that don't have runways – including beaches, river banks, sand dunes, or snow. 

Here’s how you land in a river

 

Wide shot of Paul Guschlbauer 's plane after landing on a riverbed in Alaska
Yes, you can land in a river © Paul Guschlbauer

And of course, the point of all this is to get even more access to incredible places to paraglide – and once he got it all dialed, that's what he did, grabbing incredible flights in incredibly remote locations.

"With a plane, you can access places that otherwise you would need two weeks to walk to," says Paul. "It's the ultimate tool in Alaska." 

Paul Guschlbauer posing for a victorious portrait on the top of a mountain in Alaska
This guy is ready to fly! © Paul Guschlbauer

The Piper Super Cub became his transportation, toy, and even his shelter, as he used it to camp out in places so remote, they only see a few humans every year, if at all. 

Aerial view of the plane and tents on a deserted beach in Alaska
Landing in the sand © Paul Guschlbauer

From desert sand dunes to arctic ice, Paul, his plane, and his paraglider saw it all – logging 210 hours and 25,000km of flight time over the wilderness. His conclusion? There's no better way to see Alaska, than from above. 

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