When Greg offered to let some of his videos fly out to hapless pilots willing to watch and review them, I thought it was a waste of time to respond...surely they were already snatched up. But I am plenty hapless, I have a relatively depauperate flight video collection, I was willing to write a review, and so I sent him an email. To my surprise, I quickly got a response, and the assignment.
As a student pilot a few years ago, I watched Big Rocks and Long Props, the original video that preceded the following four. My experience living and working in Alaska had included a number of off-airport landings, so I wasn't totally unprepared for what the video was about. But that video was still a jaw-dropping introduction to the limits of backcountry flying. At the time, I couldn't even fly straight and level the one time I had been up to try, so it was pretty obviously beyond my comprehension to be the one at the controls for the flying that was depicted in the movie. But the tight canyons, blind approaches, crazy short-field operations, and the fun they were obviously having was pretty infectious.
As I sat down to watch this fifth volume in the series, I was looking forward to seeing my favorite bush plane in action again. I love the utility that is afforded by the Maule cargo door and large-ish fuselage. And while there are a lot of really obvious benefits to other airframes, the combination of utility and price makes the Maule my personal favorite...at least in the theoretical world where I can move up and still afford to fly enough to make it worthwhile... As Greg and Patrick set up their camp, the utility of the plane is obvious. Out comes the camping gear, the fuel drum, and the aircraft covers. In a cub, the process of getting there with two people and that gear would have been a lot more complicated.
The ability to haul more stuff and still get into the backcountry is a feature of any Maule or similar-size taildragger. What is amazing about Bushwacker, with Greg at the controls, is that he can take all the baggage out to lighten up, and then he can put it in places only cub-ish planes should go. But then, it isn't just a Maule, it is as Greg tells us, a lot of Maule parts and other special mods...Greg has obviously done a lot of work, some of which was mentioned in the first video. I don't know how much all the different pieces of work contribute to the stunning performance, but the huge, and I do mean HUGE, flaps must be a serious contributor to the slow flight of this plane.
In this episode, Greg had chosen a stretch of high desert to explore. It is apparent early on that this is not a trip to do something where you get there by airplane. This is solely to look for and refine backcountry landings. What do I mean by that? If I were flying somewhere to go hunting, I would scout the area, look for animals, pick a good camp site, land, set up camp, and then be on foot. After I got an animal, I would be looking at nearby options for a landing in order to fly in to pick up meat. The airplane would be the vehicle for access, scouting, and retrieval.
But Greg finds places to land that are so marginal that he has to fly the cameraman in to a different spot, or even has to fly himself in to a different spot then hike over to check out the landing zone. The areas are close together, but then he goes in and lands in the tighter place. So in a sense, this is aircraft handling beyond function, purely to test limits. And in this case, it is being done at 4,000 feet elevation and above, which changes a few things. It is pretty open country, but it is rocky high desert. The altitude probably made a pretty big impression on Greg, as the groundspeed would be different than he would experience in doing landings at sea level. In addition, the landing options are open looking but have a lot of issues. Greg discusses what those issues are, from the size of the rocks, to the crumbly texture near the edges of the flat areas, to the considerations for using water to get in and out of short sand bars.
This is not a family video. Your family may appreciate the lovely setting, but it is unapologetically aimed at pilots. What I appreciated was Greg's explanation of the margins he was dealing with, how he identified his strategies, his options, and his outs, and the illustration of how those things played out. He showed footage of an intended flyover when he hit a downdraft and touched down without intending to. He showed a place where he dragged and immediately rejected the landing zone. And he showed a landing where he made a more hasty assessment and was surprised by the landing zone. His description of these events, and his detailed explanations of the experiences that culminated in the successful landings depicted in the video, are very instructive. Note I say instructive, not instructional. As Greg clearly states, the video is not instructional...but for myself I have to say it is very instructive.
And the sharing of his thought processes is what turns the film into a valuable teaching tool instead of just cool flight footage. It could almost seem like Greg can put that airplane anywhere. His reminders of the remoteness they were dealing with, the narrow margin of his landing zones, and the seriousness of mistakes, help to keep the watcher aware of the parameters the pilot is working with. And hearing another pilot go through those thought processes should help other pilots evaluate their own situations, abilities, and needs in relation to the flight operations they are conducting. In my case, I have a little tricycle gear plane with small tires, which is pretty limiting for backcountry landings. And I think in terms of hundreds, or at least fifties, of feet when evaluating a landing zone. Greg obviously thinks in terms of fives or tens of feet, or less. Very different, but very impressive.
Will I watch it again? I already have. I expect I will show it to every pilot friend of mine that comes to my house. And if tonight's second viewing was any indication, I will learn something new every time. It's a ride-along with one of the best backcountry flight technicians out there.