Excerpt from ‘Flying with Jack’


I have had some experience with the saying that there are old bush pilots and careless bush pilots, but no old, careless bush pilots.

Mostly, the bush pilots I flew with were in Maine, both warden pilots and men who had planes that they kept as part of a camp they ran. They were almost always precise men, although when they took a chance, they knew what they were doing. For instance, one of them told me that when he was trying to fly home in bad weather, he came home on the Iron Beam.

The Iron Beam meant this: he found a rail road track he knew, and then he would fly about twenty feet above it.

“But,” he said. “You’ve got to know your lines. There can’t be any tunnels on it.” He smiled here. “And you have to stay to the right, in case someone else is doing the same thing coming from the other direction.”

The difficulty in being a bush pilot, or one of them any way (aside from those times when the clouds were in the trees), was that the water they landed on was never the same. One time, a pond would be perfectly still. Not a thing on it. The next time a tree would have fallen into it and would be out there in the middle, barely submerged. Hard to see, but sticking out of the water just enough to cause what can only be called real trouble.

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CRAIG NOVA is the award-winning author of twelve novels and one autobiography. His latest novel, The Informer, will be published in March 2010. Nova’s writing has appeared in Esquire, The Paris Review, The New York Times Magazine, and Men’s Journal, among others. He has received an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2005 he was named Class of 1949 Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.