Bush Pilot

Peter Ahgook sighed a huge sigh, his dark eyes watching the daily mail plane. The plane was circling high in the crisp Alaskan sky. Soon the pilot would land on the narrow dirt strip that served as Chalkyitsik’s airport.

Sitting in a log shelter that was the only airport building, Peter dreamed of the day when he too would fly a plane through the clouds and gracefully land it on the bumpy village runways of Alaska.

“Bush pilot,” he murmured to himself. “Peter Ahgook, bush pilot.”

He was surprised out of his daydreaming by the laughter of his friend Sam Pitka.

“What’s funny?” Peter asked, quickly lowering his gaze to his friend’s grinning face.

“While you were watching the plane, I was watching you.” Sam’s grin broadened. “Daydreaming again?”

Peter felt his face go red, and he turned his head to hide his embarrassment. He could feel his friend’s eyes on him. What is so funny about wanting to be a pilot? Peter wondered.

Suddenly Peter heard himself asking, “Well, what’s wrong with watching my friend Mike land his plane?”

“I didn’t know he was your friend!” Sam exclaimed in surprise.

“Sure he is,” Peter said, trying to look confident. He wished now that he had thought before he spoke, but it was too late. He would have to make the best of it.

“If you and that pilot are friends,” Sam asked hopefully, “could you get him to let us sit in his plane for just a minute?”

Before Peter could answer, four more children sat down on the bench. They too had come to see the plane land.

“Did I hear you say we can sit in the mail plane?” asked one.

“That will be fun!” another exclaimed.

Peter pretended to be so busy watching the plane land that he didn’t hear them. He kept his eyes fixed on the plane as it touched the dirt runway, bounced several times, and then taxied to the end of the dirt strip. The mail plane stopped just a little way from the log shelter. The pilot climbed out with the mailbag in his hand.

“Are you going to ask your friend?” Sam wanted to know.

Peter was miserable. He couldn’t ask such a big favor of a man he didn’t know. He stared at the plane a minute longer, then turned to face his friend.

“Sam, I guess I was daydreaming about that too. I don’t really know the pilot. I don’t even know his name.”

Peter didn’t notice that the bush pilot was standing near the log shelter. In fact, Peter didn’t notice anything. He hung his head as he sat on the bench. The other children ran off to get a closer look at the plane while Peter sat all alone thinking. He was angry with himself. Now that Sam knew he hadn’t told the truth, would Sam ever trust him again?

Peter turned his attention to the plane. It was a small four-passenger plane, blue and white with a silver stripe. He wondered what it would be like to sit in the pilot’s seat. His cousin Fred had written last week from Fort Yukon to tell Peter about a friendly bush pilot. The pilot had let Fred climb into the plane and even sit in the pilot’s seat right in front of the controls. Maybe sometime when this pilot is not too busy, Peter thought, just maybe I can make friends with him.

Peter did not know how long he’d been thinking, when suddenly he felt a big hand on his shoulder. He turned to see the pilot smiling at him.

“What’s your name, boy?”

“Peter—Peter Ahgook,” he managed to stammer.

“My name is Ben. I heard you talking to your friends. I want you to know I like an honest boy.”

The pilot’s big hand was still on Peter’s shoulder, and Peter suddenly felt happier. His words came tumbling out. He told Ben that he liked the blue and white plane and that someday he wanted to be a bush pilot himself.

The pilot smiled a friendly smile. “I’ll tell you what,” he said. “One of these days when I have a few minutes, maybe you could climb in and see the plane from the inside. Would you like that?”

Peter could hardly believe his ears.

“Oh, yes!”

“It’s a deal. But for now, how about carrying this mailbag for me?”

As Peter hoisted the heavy mailbag and followed his new friend across the airstrip, he was sure he had never been as happy. Peter grinned the very broadest grin that could fit on his nine-year-old face.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Jerry Thompson