They don't have runways in the Alaskan wilderness. There are mountains, rivers and highways of glaciated ice. And a lot of bears. So bush pilots have to be extremely skilled at landing and taking off from whatever ground is available, whether that's a strip of green alongside a riverbank or a patch of mountain snow. And if it's not long enough to take off, well, as pilots Paul Guschlbauer and Bobby Breeden demonstrate in the video above, you can always roll off a cliff.
To non-pilots, the opening moment of the video as the plane takes off by rolling off a cliff looks terrifying.
But in truth? Paul tells us that, while not exactly routine, it's a perfectly safe way to launch. And sometimes the only way.
“We found this spot and it was not unsafe at all. You just have to be prepared to commit!” he says.
“You almost don't need any room before, you can just roll off a cliff. You just push the stick forward and wait until you have enough speed, which is pretty cool! If you go really slow, it can be scary though!”
As an experienced adventure paragliding pilot, Paul is used to some sketchy take offs with his paragliding wing. “With a paraglider you can do the same – you can pull up the glider and just jump.” Watch him do exactly that in this video of him jump launching from Angel Falls, Venezuela.
This was Paul's second flying trip this year to the Alaskan wilderness in a Piper Super Cub. But whereas the first visit was all about finding his feet and learning to fly, this time it was about taking it to the next level.
“I went there again to get more into the crazy bush-flying stuff,” he says. Interestingly, the guy showing him how was a 22-year-old called Bobby Breeden – seen in the video with the plane with orange racing stripes. “He's a really crazy guy,” says Paul. “He's been flying since the age of 14 or 15 and he's won a couple of short landing competitions – he's really one of the best guys at this. He showed me a lot of things, landing on glaciers, mountains and on steep things.”
This kind of playing around in a plane says Paul is really unusual in an area where most bush pilots are flying to drop off clients or goods in remote places.
“You feel very connected with this plane. It’s very narrow. It felt like those wings were growing out of my shoulders.”
“And if you find a really tricky landing spot somewhere, look at it and think, maybe I could land there and you do? You get a great feeling.”