I didn’t learn to fly until I was 48! My first plane was a Cessna 182. It was pure excitement for the first couple years. Then I started to see too many places I couldn’t land. So I learned to fly a taildragger with oversized tundra tires. It let me land on beaches, river gravel bars, mountain ridges, and other short field situations.

The day I met my first airplane!

It was only another couple years before I discovered too many places I couldn’t land in the taildragger! I did a lot of research and concluded that a helicopter would be safer for the type of flying I wanted to do. First, it has less landing risk. Unlike a fixed wing where you have to commit to your landing spot at 45 knots, in a helicopter, you hover in slowly, and if you don’t like it, you pick up and move on. I also feel safer in cloudy weather; I can turn back on a dime, or put down and wait for the weather to improve.

Believe it or not, the average private pilot flies only 35 hours a year. While that may work for a fixed wing (airplane) pilot, I find helicopter to be far more committing. It requires constant control inputs. And there are more things to think about while flying and more emergency maneuvers to master. I fly 100-150 hours a year and train periodically with an instructor. There’s too much at stake to fly when you don’t feel highly proficient.

But the rewards are well worth the investment.

The helicopter takes me to amazing places that hardly anyone sees. I want to share some of the favorite places I’ve landed.

I love to take the kids. One of my favorite spots is this waterfall in a side valley high up the Lake George Glacier, about 25 minutes from Anchorage.

In the middle of the Knik Gorge--one of my most difficult landings. I powered down, opened the door, put my right leg on the ground...and the helicopter started to tip backwards. I threw my leg back in, powered up, and scouted painstakingly to find a more stable platform for the skids--which is hard on uneven rock. Shot with my drone.

It doesn't take much real estate to land a helicopter. I love the feeling of standing on a ridge with the whole world stretched below. (However, this is not me, but rather a friend in the photo.)

With my youngest son, Adam. I have a saying, "Adam rides hard"...but that's a story for another day.

Base of the Whiteout Glacier. This stream is the gentle outflow of a thunderous waterfall that cascades a half mile down a mountain face.

Overlooking Lake George and Colony Glacier. This was not an easy landing. I must have burned 15 minutes of fuel trying to find a place to set down on rocky escarpment above the lake. I shot this with my drone while holding the controller in my right hand. (I'm the guy on the right.)

Aviana Lake, at the pass between the Skwentna and Nagishlamina Rivers. Pan left to see the helicopter.

Another low quality drone shot. This time I was alone on the Trimble Glacier focusing primarily on drone footage of the glacier.

11:15pm on a June night atop Mt. Dickason. I remember it being cold.

Behind The Lens

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Bob Kaufman