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Bush Pilots of Alaska

Within 20 years of the Wright Brothers’ 1903 flight, there was a blossoming airline industry in the United States. World War One had accelerated the development and production of airplanes during the 1910s. Among the outcomes of the war after it ended in 1918 were a large number of trained pilots and surplus aircraft. Most of these pilots returned to their pre-war jobs. Other pilots were eager to keep flying and some made their way to the Alaskan frontier. The vast and remote Alaska Territory was still decades away from becoming a state and attracted a variety of hearty individuals because of its scenery, fur trade, oil reserves, and gold. Bush pilots played a key role in the development of the Alaska Territory, even after it became a state in 1959.

Frontier Living

The pioneering spirit has been a hallmark of the American experience and the Alaskan frontier presented new opportunities to continue this into the 20th century. The early bush pilots of Alaska brought supplies to remote villages and encampments as there were few or no roads connecting communities. They also ferried people and goods in and out of the wilderness. In most cases, the planes were going places that had never been visited except on foot. The pilots themselves endured the realities of frontier living, where parts, fuel, food, and friends were often far away over the next mountain range.

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