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You’ve heard of private planes, commercial airliners, and military fighter jets. But what about bush planes? Heck, what even is a bush plane?

A bush plane is a plane that’s designed to be used for flying to remote areas of the world that cannot be done by other means. Typically recognized by their oversized tires, high-wing configuration, and beefed-up undercarriage, bush planes can go places no other planes can go, even without a runway.

Bush planes are without a doubt one of the most unique types of aircraft out there, as well as one of the most unknown. Sure, pilots and prospective pilots might have an idea of what they are or have at least heard the term. But can you really describe what a bush plane is? If not, have no fear; that’s what we’re here for! In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about bush planes.

All the information you read in this article has been gone through with a fine-toothed comb to ensure you’re getting the most accurate information possible. With our many years’ worth of experience in the general aviation field, we’ve come across all types of planes — including bush planes. This first-hand experience combined with input from other experts in the field all comes together to create the article below. So sit back and enjoy!

Table of contents


What Makes A Bush Plane A Bush Plane?

Although they are not one of the most common types of airplanes out there, bush planes are incredibly useful due to their uniqueness. They’re also one of the most unknown kinds of airplanes, with very little information being put out there about them. Well, that’s where we come in, with this complete guide on what a bush plane really is.

So what even makes a bush plane a bush plane?

In short, a bush plane is defined more by how it’s used rather than any actual specific type of plane. A bush plane is a type of plane that’s designed, built, and used to fly passengers and other cargo to remote areas in the world that other planes simply can’t access. These areas are often what’s referred to as “bush”, which basically means remote backwood areas inaccessible to most vehicles.

So bush planes are basically just planes that have been built or modified to be able to take off and land in areas and conditions that are not conducive to normal flying conditions. Many different types of aircraft have been used as bush planes over the years, but they’ll typically require some substantial modifications to survive the harsh conditions. Some of the most common things that make a bush plane a bush plane include:

  • Big, low-pressure tires that often look way oversized for the aircraft they’re on. These tires help the pilot land and take off from surfaces that are uneven, full of debris, or a combination of the two.
  • Conventional landing gear with two main wheels in the front and a smaller rear wheel. This configuration helps to reduce stress on the aircraft’s frame and also allows for more room for failure — a broken tailwheel is less consequential than a broken nose wheel.
  • The plane’s undercarriage is typically strengthened and also fitted with various landing gear including floats, skis, or wheels depending on the type of terrain it’s being designed for (water, snow, grass, etc.).
  • A high-wing configuration is typically used on bush planes for a number of reasons. Higher wings add more clearance while on the ground for less chance of damage during takeoff and landing. They also increase downward visibility while flying, which is essential when flying into undeveloped areas like bush planes do.
  • Lastly, it’s ideal for bush planes to be designed with high aspect ratio wings and as many high-lift devices as they can be. Since remote areas of land that bush planes fly into typically don’t have a runway, they need to be able to get off the ground in as short a distance as possible.

While these are the most common things that you’ll see on the vast majority of bush planes, keep in mind that there are no hard and fast rules about what can be used on a bush plane. It all depends on the areas and the terrain that they are being designed to be used for. The characteristics of the plane need to be designed to ensure safe landing and takeoffs where it’s actually going to be flown to.

How Do Bush Planes Land?

With all that in mind from above about all the different things that make a bush plane a bush plane and the harsh conditions in which they fly, we know what you’re thinking.

How in the world do bush planes land?

The answer is simple: very carefully. Of course, we say that a bit tongue-in-cheek, but in general, it really is the truth. If a bush pilot is flying into an area with no runway, less than ideal terrain, and an airplane full of passengers, they need to be as careful as they possibly can be as they’re coming in for the landing.

Sure, all pilots of all airplanes need to be careful during landing. After all, it’s widely agreed-upon as being the most difficult part of any flight. But with a bush plane, landing is made even harder due to the conditions that they’re being flown into. The pilot must use their knowledge and experience to fly the plane to the best spot in the area for landing. They’ll look for areas with flat ground, open terrain, and as little ground debris as possible.

Also, keep in mind that bush planes are almost never going to be flown to a remote area completely blind. By that we mean that these planes aren’t being flown without first scouting the area out. Most of the time, the pilots have extensive experience landing in the same area of the location over and over again, and it just becomes second nature over time.

So the bottom line is that landing a bush plane comes down to the pilot’s ability, having the right equipment, and finding the perfect landing spot.

Can Any Pilot Fly A Bush Plane?

So we’ve mentioned the term bush pilot a few times up until this point, but what does that really mean? Can any pilot fly a bush plane or are bush pilots specially licensed to fly them?

In terms of actually flying the aircraft, the vast majority of the flight will be no different than any other flight in a similar aircraft. As you now know, the specialty really comes in navigating the bush and landing/taking off. Commercial bush pilots, i.e. those paid to fly passengers and cargo into the bush, do require special licensing. While it’s not a group of rules set in stone, the most common things a bush pilot needs include:

  • 500 hours of flight time
  • Commercial pilot’s license
  • Instrument pilot’s certificate
  • High-performance endorsement
  • A&P licenses (certified as an aviation maintenance technician)

Now if you want to build your own bush plane and fly yourself in your personal aircraft, then you don’t need everything listed above. In that case, it would be just like flying your own personal aircraft anywhere else in the world. But bush flying is not to be taken lightly, and you should not try to fly a bush plane into unforgiving conditions without proper training and experience.

How Much Does A Bush Plane Cost?

If you’re interested in flying a bush plane or having one of your own, one of the biggest things on your mind is definitely going to be the cost. Keep in mind that most bush planes are just modified versions of other standard aircraft. So oftentimes, it helps to look at how much it will cost to get your hands on a suitable airplane to begin with. From there, it would just be the cost of the modifications.

If you’re planning on having the modifications done yourself, expect to add anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 to the price of the plane, depending on what you actually need done to the aircraft. And since you can get your own airplane for around $15,000 to $40,000, expect to pay at least $20,000+ for the most basic bush plane, and anywhere up to $50,000 or more.

You would likely be better off buying a fully-built bush plane that has some proven flight time on it, just to be sure it’s capable of flying wherever you’re looking to fly. As an added bonus, it’s also almost always cheaper to buy a plane that’s already been modified. The general price range will be similar, but you can get ahold of a ready-to-fly bush plane for around $20,000 to $40,000.