Willy Fulton is a floatplane pilot based in Kodiak, AK. We caught up with him to ask a few questions about how he ended up there, with arguably one of the coolest jobs in the world.
How did you first decide to become a pilot?
Back in the late 80s, I was running pack trips to the wilderness in the summer and guiding elk hunts in the fall. One time, I had four fighter pilots on a pack trip for ten days, and I got so tired of hearing all their stories…that was it. When I got out of the mountains, I tried to join the navy but they wouldn’t have me. I was maybe a year too old and I needed glasses; they wouldn’t let me in. So I just decided to go ahead and do it on my own. I went and knocked out my commercial license shortly thereafter.
Where did you get your start piloting after that?
I did some aerial spraying, towed gliders for a bit, and did a little primary instruction. That stuff just wasn’t my bag. Then I got an opportunity to start backcountry flying in Idaho and Utah, and that type of flying really appealed to me. That just naturally led me to Alaska. There is so much more country that’s only accessible by planes. It’s unbelievable how big Alaska is—I just had to come up here.
How did you end up on Kodiak?
I had a pilot buddy up here, and he kept telling me I needed to come to check out the island. I came up here with him one time, and we went out on the town one night. There was this amazing bar fight—chairs flying everywhere—and I was like, “Oh yeah, this place has potential.” About two weeks later, my truck was on the ferry and I was here. I’ve been here ever since.
What’s it like flying in Kodiak?
You encounter unusual situations here. That’s what keeps it interesting. It’s not routine. Every day is different. The view changes every day out of the office window too, which is nice. You can get up and plan and look at the weather, but you never can plan for everything. You’ve got to be able to think on your feet. You might have an emergency situation and need to respond fast but keep your cool at the same time. You’ve got to be able to make quick decisions. I like that; it keeps me entertained. When the weather is really difficult, you’re always making adjustments and quick decisions while you’re flying. You might attempt to get in somewhere and then realize it’s just not going to work.
The weather here is something that is always changing—I’m sure that has to make it a challenge to pilot here.
Oh sure—there have been plenty of times when we’re out on a trip and radio back to the base here and they tell me the wind is blowing 80 in town and not to come back. So we just go find a beach somewhere and tie down and spend the night on the plane. We always carry gear for sleeping in the plane—the weather messes with our plans all the time here; it’s just part of life.
Alaska really seems like the dream for pilots who want adventure. Do you think it takes a certain type of person to fly here?
Alaska definitely draws a certain type of person. We’ve had guys come up for a day or two and vanish—just left because they couldn’t handle it and knew it wasn’t for them. It’s certainly not for everyone, but if you like flying small planes in wild places, there’s nowhere better in the whole damn world.