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Several years ago some books started popping up in pilot houses around Western Alaska. They were titled CloudDancer’s Alaskan Chronicles, and featured a picture of the author on the back cover–with a paper bag over his head. The story, as it was told to me, was that he had previously flown around the Kotzebue area in the 1970s or 1980s, and currently flew for a reputable airline. The stories in the books were supposed to be accurate tales from his days as a bush pilot. The bag was to protect his airline job once the stories got out. (The bag certainly added an air of mystery to the books … and the hinting from various pilots who said they knew CloudDancer’s real identity furthered the legend!)

At the time I was fairly burnt out on Alaskan aviation and the last thing I wanted was to read someone else’s sensationalized accounts. As a result, I missed several years of truly entertaining and accurate accounts of the flying life in Western Alaska.

Aidan and CloudDancer

At Gwennie's Old Alaska Restaurant in Anchorage

When I finally did pick up the first book, I started at a random chapter and noticed the mention of a Polar Bear. Later that night I had finished all 231 pages, and started searching under the sofa for Volume II.

Since then I’ve read the first two books all the way through and started on the third (there is also a fourth book out). The stories in the first two books are told in a larger-than-life, exuberant style–and it works. I often tone down my own Alaskan flying stories. Other pilots flat out don’t believe you or think you’re boasting about unlikely, seldom-performed exploits. Cloudy’s style makes these commonplace events both believable and entertaining at the same time.

The third book takes on a more somber tone as Cloudy talks about lost companions. While the accident rate is down in Alaska, we all have good friends who are missing from the dinner table. It’s good to see Cloudy tackle this subject and adopt a more serious tone. I’m looking forward to cracking open the fourth volume to see where the winds are blowing him now, and to see how his writing style has continued to evolve.

Cloudy contacted Mike and me this past spring, but many months and several missed opportunities passed before we managed to get him on the phone to have a chat. When we finally connected in September, it turned out to be an even better discussion then we’d expected. We chatted about what it was like to fly in Kotzebue in the 1970s and 1980s–when it was still the wild west (at least to a 243-hour pilot from Texas!).  We also got Cloudy’s perspective on making the shift from the world of a bush pilot to the highly regimented world of a Part 121 airline.

If you have an interest in Alaskan aviation, CloudDancer’s Alaskan Chronicles are well worth a read!

In this interview you’ll hear about:

  • Cloudy’s first flying lesson at age 13 in Texas.
  • The chance encounter with an Alaskan bush pilot in 1973 that changed the course of his life.
  • Cloudy’s early days flying in Kotzebue.
  • His 16 years flying in Western Alaska.
  • Why pilots in rural Alaska in the 1970s and 1980s knew their passengers so well.
  • Why the term “bush pilot” refers more to an era than a job description.
  • How flying in Alaska has changed over the years.
  • Cloudy’s best advice for you if you want to fly in Alaska.
  • The two big things to consider before you head north.
  • The one skill you’re guaranteed to master while flying in Alaska.
  • The “Use More Flaps” trick (and how it works in virtually any airplane).
  • What it was like to transition from flying in Alaska to flying for a major airline in the lower 48.
  • Why pilot hiring at the major airlines is like “black magic.”
  • Why CloudDancer started writing down his stories, how he grew his audience on an aviation forum, and his unexpected journey into book authorship.
  • Why his stories are really the stories of the 12,000 men and women who have been doing the same thing since 1935.
  • Why anyone aspiring to be an airline pilot should read Ernest Gann’s book Fate is the Hunter.
  • Why anyone who thinks of flying as more than just a job should read Richard Bach’s book Jonathan Livingston Seagull (and see the movie too!).


Press the Play icon to begin streaming the audio, or right-click the text link and choose Save As or Save Link.

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Right-click to download the MP3 file (1 hour 24 minutes – 76.5 MB)

Did you like this interview? Scroll down to leave your comments and questions!

More Information

You can learn more about CloudDancer’s books, and read excerpts, at www.clouddancer.org.

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7 Responses to “Interview: CloudDancer (Alaskan bush pilot turned airline captain and author)”

  1. Gareth says:

    Definitely one of your best interviews guys. Thanks also for the recommended reading.

  2. Jason says:

    Great interview! Very inspiring I’m off to go find these books by Cloudy. Absolutely motivates me to finish my CPL and start looking towards flying in Alaska.. Thank you Odd Ball Pilot!

  3. Troy says:

    Great interview.

  4. Ian says:

    One of your best interviews yet guys! I totally enjoyed every word of it and just wished Cloudy was sitting around the table here sharing a few cold beers and telling stories. You guys just add to that enjoyment because you share similar experiences yourselves and do a great job of interacting while keeping a focus on the interview. Bravo for that!

    If I may suggest though….. is it possible to upgrade your recording system or at least increase the volume on the downloads? This one was better than most but I still need to turn my computers volume WAY up to hear everything. Just a thought…… 😉

    • Mike Singer says:

      Hi Ian. Glad you liked it! We’ll chat with Cloudy again, I suspect.

      This one was done via phone, hence the volume issues. I’ll see what I can do about boosting it up next time.

      Thanks for the thoughts!


  1. i'm writing a book - right here! - Page 47 - November 9, 2012

    […] Here is an interview with CloudDancer on Oddball Pilot: Interview: CloudDancer (Alaskan bush pilot turned airline captain and author) | Oddball Pilot […]

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