In Print: Alaska Aviation with Sarah Russell

woman in black filson jacket sits in pilot seat of small aircraft touching switches

For Sarah Russell, Alaska has been the answer at the end of a long search for freedom. We spent time with Sarah last summer as part of our Above Alaska trip where she let us into her world and shared a bit of her story with us.

Where did you grow up?

I’m a military brat. My dad did two tours in Vietnam flying helicopters and then he got out of the Army and joined the Air Force where he flew B-52 bombers. He was in the service for 32 years, so I’ve lived everywhere, but Montana was always home. Both my parents were from Montana. I graduated from high school over in Germany. I was originally going to stay in Germany and go to college in Vienna but I got claustrophobic. We would go snowboarding in these really cool jagged mountains in the Swiss Alps and you would think you’re in the middle of nowhere but there’s a village around every corner. So I decided to come back to the States and go to college in Montana instead. I wanted to go where I could get away.

sarah in green vest working on a green plane

So why did you decide to move to Alaska?

I loved the solitude that I found in Montana but it just wasn’t enough. There were too many people in Montana for me so I came up here to Alaska looking to find more of the wild places that I love. That led me all the way up here – so I was in this wild place but there weren’t many roads. I started to get that claustrophobic feeling again because I couldn’t go anywhere without bumming a ride from friends that were pilots. That’s when I decided to get my pilots license so I could start to take more adventures on my own.

talkeetna airport tarmac with multiple small craft parked

So did you come to Talkeetna because of the aviation community here?

It’s perfect for flying. That’s the main reason I came to Talkeetna. It’s a little tiny town at the end of the road. Not a lot of traffic, not a lot of people. It gets kind of quiet in the wintertime, which I like, but the flying is gorgeous. The weather will be crap everywhere else but you can always fly in Talkeetna and the winds aren’t that bad. It usually stays fairly warm here too by Alaskan standards. If it dips down to 10 below people complain (laughs). I lived in Fairbanks before and it would get to 70 below zero.

Sarah flying small black plane over river cutting through pine forest

What do you love about flying?

Flying is pure joy. I used to help with a flight school and I loved seeing the look on people’s faces when they get out of the plane after their very first lesson. They are just ecstatic. I haven’t found anything else that can replicate that feeling. It’s also just my time for me. I’m a private pilot, I don’t have my commercial license and I have no intention of ever flying for hire. Flying is my happy time and as a mom of three kids, I go flying instead of locking myself in the bathroom (laughs). Flying for me is just so invigorating. When I take off and get above the trees it’s like taking a breath of fresh air. All of my stress just falls away, I’m immersed in the moment and all I have to do is fly.