January 12, 2011
On Friday night Discovery Channel will introduce their viewers to the Tweto family in the premiere of Flying Wild Alaska. Jim Tweto, his wife Ferno, and two daughters, Ariel and Ayla, are at the helm of Unalakleet-based Era Airlines, Alaska's largest regional airline. Calling Era an airline seems like an unfair characterization that simplifies the business he built. Instead think of bush pilots flying in the most challenging conditions day after day to deliver people and goods to some of the most remote locations in the country.
Discovery Channel has had great success with a formula that combines quirky families with unique and interesting businesses. Last night I had the privileged to view the series premiere of Flying Wild Alaska. As a pilot, this show was right up my alley. I think this show also has great potential to engage the standard Discovery Channel viewer and generate greater interest in aviation. The Twetos follow in the footsteps of the Teutuls of American Chopper and the Pelletiers of American Loggers in sharing their interesting day-to-day lives with viewers nationwide.
In business most people say they wear multiple hats. Jim Tweto takes this saying to a new level. In the premiere he serves as bush pilot, fuels aircraft, manages flight operations, schedules pilots, teaches his daughter to marshal aircraft and oversees a fuel crisis that has potential of grounding a significant portion of his fleet. He does all this with some of the most basic tools, including the master airline flight schedule that he keeps on a sheet of handwritten paper folded in his pocket. Eighteen-hour days are common for this dedicated businessman who has grown a one plane operation to a 70+ aircraft airline that operates across an area the size of one-third of the continental United States.
The first episode focuses on introducing viewers to the family and importance of the work they do. Era Airlines provides a lifeline to remote towns in Alaska that are not connected by roads, its home base in Unakleet is itself separated from the Alaskan highway system by hundreds of miles of uninhabited tundra. Era airlines transports supplies and passengers to some of the most inaccessible areas on the planet. One of the first flights the viewer rides along on is to the remote airstrip at Kavik, permanent population 1.
Most pilots have at one time or another dreamed of becoming a bush pilot. This show gives them a first hand look at what it is like to push the boundaries of an aircraft's operating limitation while landing and departing from off-airport locations. Combine that with learning about an interesting and challenging business and I believe Discovery has another hit on their hands.
Pilots may find that the show explains aviation jargon and knowledge in a way that would be rudimentary to them. For instance in the premiere episode significant time was dedicated to explaining the effects of water in fuel, how the rudder effects a plane and what thinner air does to a plane's performance. Hopefully by doing so they will bring in a broader viewership and help educate those viewers about aviation. Discovery Channel Executive Producer Christo Doyle explains, "We don't just take you into the wild world of flying in remote Western Alaska; instead, through the eyes of the Tweto family and their free-spirited bush pilots, we also reveal how the last frontier in the United States survives." The result is a show that pilots can enjoy for all the aviation related material and that non-pilots may enjoys though learning about aviation and through unique storylines.
The ten episode season premieres on Discovery Channel this Friday at 9pm Eastern/Pacific and 8pm Central. Check out the preview below and enjoy the full episode later this week.