AVSIM Column
"At Home in the Wild"
Bush Flying Unlimited at AVSIM
By Peter Ridge


Editor's Note: From time to time we feature an AVSIM Online department so you can get to know something about the people "behind the scenes." In this installment of 'Contrails' we visit with Peter Ridge, a founder of Bush Flying Unlimited (BFU) at Will Rogers Memorial Airport, Renton, Washington. Anyone familiar with bush flying has probably visited Peter and his friends at two very popular forums Avsim hosts, Bush Flying Unlimited General Discussion and, on the operational side, Job Assignments and Flight Reports.


It was October 1920. A fur trader walked into Canadian Aircraft's office in downtown Winnipeg and asked for a ride home to The Pas. No problem, you say? The Pas was hundreds of miles north over the rough terrain of the Canadian wilderness and no one had ever done that before in a wheeled aircraft. Despite the lack of navigational aids, aeronautical charts, weather information, maps, and dependable routes, Canadian Aircraft embraced the opportunity to push the envelope. It was the beginning of commercial bush flying.

By the late 1930s bush planes were instrumental in getting mail to outlying areas and remote mining districts. In fact, it wasn't long before bush pilots were employed to seek out new mining locations, map out and monitor new territories, and service the needs of government departments. Elrey Borge Jeppesen, whose pilot license was signed by Orville Wright, became famous for his pioneering work on charts and radio navigation aids. There was no doubt that bush flying was good business and here to stay.

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Floatplanes at Fox Camp, Alaska
(by Keijo Johansson; FS2002)

It's now the dawn of the twenty-first century and despite the rapid advances in technology, bush flying really hasn't changed much from those good old days. Bush pilots are still doing everything from transporting mail and goods to outlying areas, to forestry and fire services and aerial photography. Even the planes are tried and true instruments of the trade. The Beavers, Otters, SuperCubs, Porters, and many others, some actually dating back to the 1930s, continue to brave the extreme conditions of bush country in many places of the world, not just North America.

So you say you want to be a bush pilot. Well, real bush flying is no walk in the park. Fortunately, you don't have to risk life and limb to get your wings and a taste of the wild outdoors. The vast improvement in consumer flight simulation software and the readily available computing power to run these systems brings the dream of a bush flying adventure to every desktop pilot.

The Birth of Bush Flying Unlimited

Steve "Bear" Cartwright's article North American Bush Flying tickled the fancy of one Naji "FlyinRain" Chehabeddine, a regular participant at AVSIM's Looking Glass Flight Unlimited III (FU3) forums and a glutton for bad weather flying, as characterized by his callsign. Though the article focused on the use of Microsoft's Flight Simulator for virtual bush flying, Naji figured that the excellent scenery of FU3's Washington State area was an ideal platform for bush flying.

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Mount Rainier, Washington
(by Peter Ridge; FU3)

I too was intrigued by this new way of flying sims. Bear's bush flying article as well as Peter James' articles on flying floatplanes and adventuring in the Lake Renegade using FU3 had me hooked (see References). So, in July 2001, when Naji made a post in the FU3 forum proposing a seat-of-the-pants flying club with missions to unconventional locations in FU3, I couldn't resist. Several other FU3 enthusiasts jumped at the opportunity as well.

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Bush Flying Unlimited's FBO in Renton, Washington
(by Peter Ridge; FU3)

Thus was born Bush Flying Unlimited (BFU) at Will Rogers Memorial Airport, Renton, Washington. Operating initially in the FU3 forum, BFU did an extraordinary job of taxing the patience of the forum's generous moderator, Tom Wunder, with job and discussion threads that would go on for a hundred or more posts at a time. Tom recently revealed that our own Allan Dawson was instrumental in maintaining our haven at the FU3 forum, helping Tom to cope with our growing traffic.

BFU continued as an FU3-exclusive club for several months and, with the talents of Henri Kauhanen, established its own web site at AVSIM. Even pilots who used other simulations, such as Fly!2 aficionados Jure Dolanec and Björn Karlsson, joined in on the FU3-based adventures. All in all, the FBO was an eight man operation with occasional new recruits from the FU3 community and a curious array of pets. We were a happy bunch delivering mail, spare parts, scientists, realtors, fishermen, skiers, and anything else that would fit into a little plane to just about any spot in Washington. There were even occasional top secret military missions, but we can't tell you about those.

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Impasse Lodge deep within a canyon on the west side of Washington State
(by Peter Ridge; FU3)
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Near Caniff Glacier on the east side of Washington State
(by Peter Ridge; FU3)

Order amongst Chaos

BFU is different from many flying clubs or virtual airlines that you may have encountered. From the time of its founding, the basic principle has been to provide BFU pilots with new challenges and experiences in remote environments but in a laid-back, carefree manner. All member pilots are freelancers and can choose whatever jobs they want to take as well as post new ones for other pilots. There are no weekly or monthly hour requirements and no pressure to take jobs. There aren't even ranks among pilots because everyone is unique and that uniqueness enhances the community.

However, this freedom comes at a price. Such an unbridled collection of wild and crazy pilots could easily get out of hand. To ensure that the organization doesn't spiral out of control, every member carries the responsibility of contributing to and maintaining the culture of the BFU community. BFU is dedicated to sharing creativity and experiences, and above all else, to have fun.

Creating a fun environment is a team effort and although these basic principles sound simple, they really work. As a result, BFU's culture is very addictive and fits the lifestyle of a broad range of fliers including some real-life bush pilots.

Leaving the Nest

Toward the end of 2001, Microsoft's newly released Flight Simulator 2002 (FS2k2), with its improved frame rates, scenery, and water effects, proved to be quite the platform for bush flying. It wasn't long before several BFU pilots were using FS2k2 and venturing further north to the heart of the bush territories of Canada and Alaska. Naji was even developing bush scenery in these areas and opened a new office, BFU North, near Ketchikan in Alaska.

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Map of BFU North and surrounding area, Alaska
(by Naji Chehabeddine & Dan Hohman)

After much deliberation, we came to the conclusion that we should embrace all simulation software, not just FU3. After all, fun and adventure is not constrained to any particular piece of software. Thus, with the introduction of the new year came the birth of a new, open-sim BFU.

Of course, being open-sim meant that it wasn't appropriate to continue bogging down the FU3 forum with our relentless jabber. Fortunately, the gracious publishers of AVSIM granted our request for two new forums: one for general discussion and one for jobs and reports. AVSIM even announced our rebirth on the front page of the site.

Bush Flying Comes to AVSIM (Posted: Saturday, January 12, 2002 - 17:22)

"Though some of our readers might not know this, Bush Flying Unlimited has been a hosted site and partner of AVSIM's for quite a number of months. Historically, BFU has focused on the Flight Unlimited series of flight simulation software, but with the release of FS2002, has expanded to include that, as well as FLY from Terminal Reality. Now, Bush Flying Unlimited has opened two forums here on AVSIM for those that would like to jump into the sublime of our hobby. Ever had a hankering to haul village mail or needed essentials to that outlying post? Now you can in a friendly, well organized and flexible atmosphere."

Suddenly, bush pilots started coming out of the woodwork. It was at the same time exciting and a bit alarming. Would all these new people accept our unorthodox methods? Would we be able to handle the growth? Could our simplistic principles work with more pilots or would it all come crashing down? Only time would tell.

Almost daily, pilots were signing up with sims such as FS2k2, Fly!2, FU3, and X-Plane. Before the month was even over, BFU had grown from a couple of handfuls of pilots to nearly fifty. Even Tom Allensworth and Francois Dumas of AVSIM graced our humble offices with their presence and signed up. In other words, they were hooked too.

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Near Lake George, Alaska
(by Ken Chalk, FS2002)

Just recently, BFU entered into an arrangement to share jobs with Alaska by Don/Alaskan Bush Charters thereby increasing the availability of jobs as well as the range of flights available to our pilots. So far, it seems the BFU formula is working and working well.

There's just something about freedom. Freedom of the wilderness. Freedom of flight. Freedom to go where you want to, when you want to. Freedom to be yourself. Bush flying encompasses all these freedoms and once you try it, you can't go back. So if you're done with the built-in missions that came with your simulator, want to try something other than paved runways and ILS, or are just curious, stop by and say hello.


Naji "FlyinRain" Chehabeddine

A flier from Beirut, Lebanon, and a graduate of mechanical engineering, Naji started his professional career working for international firms in the UK, and ended up in Dubai, UAE, where he is now Operations Manager with a major contracting company. He spends his free time cycling outdoors, improving his languages (he speaks five), and spends his vacations in the Alps of Europe. Though he is now an FS2002 simmer, for him it is still FUIII that holds the fondest of memories because of its fantastic weather simulation.

Pete "Motormouse" Collis

After being an airframe engineer for the RAF for twelve years, Pete got a job as a flight engineer and loadmaster working around Fokker 27 aircraft around Europe. He's currently type rated on Embraer 145 and works for British Airways doing airframe, engine and the occasional bit of avionics. In addition to working on planes, he's flown a few as well including the DH Chipmunk, Cherokee 140 and some gliders.

Allan "Dome Daddy" Dawson

Allan is a semi-retired Building Contractor from Michigan. He's been married 37 years and has three adult daughters and several grandchildren. He enjoys many different hobbies and activities, including serious flight simming. The smaller the landing area, the more fun he has. He earned the name Dome Daddy by landing on it.

Jure "Crash" Dolanec

An old computer guy working for a national distributor of silly things, Jure is responsible for everything regarding the computers. He's stomped on, yelled at, and on the "most wanted" lists all the time so he often escapes up into the sky in a simulator. He's flown paragliders and Blanik gliders in real life and enjoys observing the stars and raising bonsai trees. He earned his nickname "Crash" in FU3, wrecking more planes than he cares to remember.

Björn "Cash Master" Karlsson

Björn is a professional software tester and hardcore flight simmer that tries to share his time between his wife and three kids, airliner flights and bush missions.

Henri "Hawk" Kauhanen

A flier from Finland, Henri currently studies at 'Jyväskylän Lyseon lukio', which corresponds to Senior High in the American system. In his spare time, he listens to jazz, pilots along the virtual airways with the BFU gang, and maintains the BFU web site.

Peter "Bigfoot" Ridge

Peter has been tinkering with computers since his childhood and got into flight simulations when their performance could be measured in seconds per frame. A software professional in the Silicon Valley, he has authored and contributed to several books on computer hardware and software and was the driving force behind the development of the Game Commander family of voice control products for games and simulations.

Robert "Old Cap'n FlyBert" Stiles

Though moderator of the Racing Fools forum, Bob was initially drawn to AVSIM due to Flight Unlimited 2. Both a flight sim and a racing sim fan, he's been into flight sims since his days on the Commodore 64 with subLogic's "Flight Simulator". Disabled now and essentially "married" to the home PC, his real-world career was spent in aerospace hydraulics, the highlight of which was having a hand in the development of the McDonnell-Douglas/Northrop F/A-18 Hornet.


BFU: Will Roger's Memorial Airport, Renton, Washington
BFU North: Bold Island, SE of Ketchikan, Alaska


Special thanks to the BFU founders and Francois Dumas for their feedback and support during the writing of this article.


Bush Flying Unlimited
Official Web Site
Discussion and Job Forums
Join Us!

Alaska by Don/Alaskan Bush Charters
Official Web Site

Bush History: Aviation and Forest Fire Management Branch, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
Western Canada Aviation Museum
The History of Jeppesen

Online and Magazine Articles
"North American Bush Flying," Steve "Bear" Cartwright
"Bush Flying", F. E. Potts, 1993
"How To Fly Floatplanes," Peter James, MicroWings Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp 14-19
"Flight Unlimited III Renegade Adventure," Peter James, MicroWings Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp 26-31

Bush Flying Sites
Bush Plane Flying Links
Mountain Flying
The Seaplane Pilots Association
Canadian Seaplane Pilots Association
Virtual Horizons: Seaplanes, Floatplanes, Bushplanes, Helicopters, and Flying Adventure Stories

© 2002 - Peter Ridge and AVSIM Online
All Rights Reserved