Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Backcountry Odyssey

A group of Husky Aircraft takes on the rugged Teton Mountains

Pilot Bruce Redding swings low while running part of the Snake River Canyon with four other Husky aircraft
Bruce Redding has a golden voice. He could have made a fortune in radio with his honey-soaked baritone and clear annunciation. Redding had almost left aviation, simply because, "It just wasn't a challenge anymore." Redding had done it all: raced warbirds at Reno, flown air shows and owned all kinds of airplanes. He met Bill Weimann and never looked back. "Bill introduced me to the Husky and to backcountry flying, and I was hooked," says Redding. Redding's solid piloting led us from Idaho back to Alpine on one memorable flight.

Reade Genzlinger went from earning his private certificate to a partnership in a Cessna 210. From there, he jumped into buying a T-6 on his own, and progressed through the warbird ranks. A highly skilled and precise pilot, Genzlinger flew lead on many of our missions. In addition to the Husky, he also owns the Yak-52TD (tailwheel version). Like the others, Genzlinger only spends part of the year at Alpine flying the backcountry, though it's clearly his passion. "The magnificence of the western topography is hard to beat, and what better way to scope it out than at 65-70 with two notches of flaps?" he says. "Our best day so far was spotting a moose, elk, bear, mule deer and mountain goat in one flight."

Stan Dardis is quiet and unassuming. He keeps a Cirrus and a Husky here at Alpine, but spends nearly all his time in the Husky. "I land the Cirrus here when I arrive, and don't touch it for three months!" His ball cap and easygoing demeanor belie the fact that he retired from the U.S. Air Force as a respected fighter pilot and T-38 instructor pilot. In formation, it's like he's on a rail; a quality I came to appreciate with his wingtip just a few feet from my camera lens as we wound through nameless canyons.

Mike Fjetland is new to aviation. With only a few hundred hours (mostly in Husky aircraft), he's still learning the ropes. Wiemann introduced Fjetland to the Husky, who uses it as a business tool managing farms in several states. Fjetland flew high cover for us, watching for conflicting traffic as we raced low along the Snake River. There were others too, like Jack Schulte, another Husky owner who joined us for a short time during our adventures.

The debriefing includes a discussion of what worked or what needed improvement to maintain safety at all times.

The Airplanes

To anybody who has flown in these parts, it becomes obvious that the Husky is just about the perfect airplane for backcountry operations. Backcountry pilots will debate between the Super Cub and the Husky for days, but the fact remains that the Husky is an ideal tool for the mountains. Overbuilt to extraordinary strength, light and powerful, and able to land in postage-stamp-sized clearings, the Husky has endeared itself to those who operate in these unforgiving mountains.

Unlike some of the hardcore bushplanes flying in Alaska, there are fewer modifications made to these Husky aircraft. There are a few variations, including higher horsepower, three-bladed props, different tire configurations and structural components made of composites. Panel capabilities vary widely too, and Aviat equips some of these Husky aircraft with forward-looking infrared and enhanced vision capabilities. But for our adventures, the Husky aircraft were impressively simple and unmodified, with all of them sporting large "tundra" tires.

On our particular Husky (a 2011 A-1C model), Aviat was experimenting with a new type of oil cooler, designed to give pilots control of the oil temperature from the cockpit, allowing operations in widely varying environments. There were other smaller modifications throughout as part of Aviat's constant effort to make a better airplane. These put us—temporarily—in the "experimental" category.


Add Comment