Message 27.02.2015

McCarthy's Workhorse

Life is rugged and challenging in Alaska and because of that, one must use only tried and tested machines for work and life. That's why I fly my PC-6, N283SW, the last Piston Porter in commercial operation. Gary Green, Owner of McCarthy Air

McCarthy is a small village in the Wrangell Mountains, Alaska. The air-taxi is mostly used for tourists visiting my home, Wrangell St. Elias National Park. Larger than the whole of Switzerland but populated by a mere few hundred people, the area is an expanse of icy and isolated wilderness. Visitors pay to go into the air, to grasp the gigantic scale of the glaciers and peaks, and many brave travelers even have me drop them off on short and remote bush strips scattered throughout the Park to then go hiking or hunting. 

But, of course, in the wilds of Alaska a workhorse like the PC-6 has also become a lifeline for the community and I fly all sorts of interesting cargo from rafts to whole cabins, tools and horse feed, ATVs and snowmobiles – even harvested moose and buffalo!

Flying History

My Pilatus Porter PC-6 was built in 1962 with the serial number 540. Today, N283SW is among the ten oldest operational PC-6s in the world. Even more impressively,  it is (currently) the last Porter in commercial operation still powered by a 350HP Lycoming 6-cylinder engine. Most of the other “classic” PC-6 Porter were converted to Turbo Porters and fitted with a PT-6A turbine. But not mine!

This aircraft has had a long and glorious career. It was the very first PC-6 on floats; in that configuration, it was used as a demonstrator in Switzerland and Sweden. Later, across the Atlantic, the Porter moved up through Canada, working hard for years on a missionary delivery route through the Yukon and Northwest Territories, and also for several guide outfits. After 40 years, I became the proud owner of this Swiss workhorse.

Fleet Expansion

I started McCarthy Air in 1988 and have been flying in the area for over 25 years. The business grew and in 2002, I bought the PC-6 and put it on wheel-skis for  glacier landings and high-elevation drop-offs for mountaineering trips. Other than that, no modifications were added when it became N283SW. The current paint job, a white base with light blue and dark blue strips running the length and width of it, looks immaculate and natural amongst the icy crags and sheets of snow. 

I fly about 150 hours a year in my PC-6. The McCarthy Air fleet also includes a smaller Cessna 180 and a Piper  Super Cub. They are used for the less demanding tasks in terms of payload. But the Porter is the ideal choice for hauling hunters, rafters, and hikers to short rough strips in the mountains. The Lycoming powered version does a remarkable job, but as always, there is no substitute for horse power. A piston-powered PC-6 was all I could afford, unfortunately.

Buffalo In The Back

The Hartzell three-bladed propeller – I still use the original hub – is the first thing I see approaching the airstrip by ATV over a hill. During hunting season, my working days are long and start in the early morning. I like to fly early in the day for cool weather and lack of thermals.

Every year, two lucky hunters win a lottery to harvest buffalo. They then inevitably contact McCarthy Air, because we are the only operator out here with a plane that’s big enough and the local know-how to get them in and out with their very large harvest. A buffalo can yield some 2000 pounds (900 kilograms), pushing the limits of the PC-6’s 2270 pounds useful load! I help them haul the buffalo out of remote strips near the wide and winding Chitina River – sometimes I even have to find a suitable strip on the riverbed on the fly!

Hat Or Headset

Operating out of McCarthy, I never use a radio; there’s just not enough air traffic to warrant communication! For years I was the only air-taxi operating in the area anyway. Most importantly, I simply can’t wear both together – a headset and my Stetson cowboy hat, which I never go without. The Piston Porter and I – we probably both belong to a different era!