Exploring the world of recreational bush pilots Brad Rassler goes on some hair-raising rides. Thrills and spills abound, but do these “flyboys” go too far?
I sat to Palmer’s right, a motion-sickness bracelet on my left wrist, anti-nausea gum in my mouth, and a gallon-size ziplock at my feet. The copilot’s control stick started bobbing around between my legs in sync with Palmer’s. The Freedom Fox,an immaculately maintained, high-wing, single-engine tail-wheel plane with burly 29-inch bush tires, monster shocks, extended wings, and a 140-horsepower fuel-injected turbocharged engine, climbed from Reno-Stead Regional Airport at 1,500 feet a minute. The stamped alkaline flats of the Great Basin gave way to the dense pine forests of California’s Lost Sierra, a huge swath of mountainous backcountry about an hour north of Reno. On the horizon, the jagged crest of the Sierra Buttes came into view. Palmer, who was piping a Shakey Graves tune through the headsets, exuded competence, bonhomie, and (in the confines, I couldn’t help but notice) a pleasant, soapy smell.