Alaska Life hack: Iditarod Air Force seeking pilots


The storied Iditarod Air Force is aging, and in need of new blood.

A crucial part of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, the pilots take supplies out to locations along the trail every March for the mushers on the way to Nome.

They take dog food, straw, and other items out to places like Ophir, Cripple, and Eagle Island, and bring tired-out dogs and spent supplies back to Anchorage.

They fly on wheels and sometimes on skis, and are compensated for gas and oil and for minor maintenance. And they get to be part of something that is uniquely Alaskan. Without them, there is no race.

The pilots are talented, well-experienced in Bush Alaska, said Bert Hanson, director of operations for the Iditarod Air Force, but the organization is down about 10 pilots for next year, and with a commercial pilot shortage, it’s been tough recruiting new people. Over half of the current Iditarod Air Force is over 60 years old.

Bert Hanson, Iditarod Air Force / Jeff Schultz photo

Hanson just completed his 35th year with the Iditarod Air Force. He also ran the race in 1990 and 1993. He’s devoted to the race and it’s up to him to recruit new team members.

At 7 pm on Friday, June 7 at the Aviators Forum at the Aviator Hotel in Anchorage, he’ll be presenting a program on the need to recruit a new generation into the Iditarod Air Force, and what is involved. The hotel is located at the corner of 4th Avenue and C Street, (with a parking lot behind it on 3rd Avenue.)

In addition to Hanson, participants will hear from Dr. Bill Mayer, one of the most senior aviators on the team, who has flown with the Iditarod Air Force since 1990, and Scott Ivany, with the team since 2010. The panel will answer questions from pilots about how they can become a member. The Aviators Forum is a regular event presented by the Alaska Aviators Resource.

Jeff Schultz, the official photographer of the Iditarod, has sent a slide deck of photos to illustrate the work of the Iditarod Air Force; Schultz has covered nearly 40 years of the race and has an impressive catalog of images.

The 2020 Iditarod starts on March 7 — just 275 days away.