January 12, 2011

Discovery Channel's Flying Wild Alaska Review

fyingwildalaskalogo.jpgOn 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.

flyingwildalaska.jpgThe 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.

Update: The show has quickly become one of Discovery Channels most popular shows. As a result Flying Wild Alaska is preparing for a second season! Learn more...

Posted by at January 12, 2011 9:00 PM

What a treat, I saw the airplane (the Sherpa) that I gave my last checkride in as an FAA inspector before I retired last March. (I was the only FAA inspector qualified in the airplane and traveled to Fairbanks from Nashville for the flight check). It was last Feb. in Faribanks, just 3 weeks before retiring after 34 years as an FAA Operations Inspector. I also spend 2 years in Juneau in the late 70's and 80's and discovered flying is different in Alaska. They say once you visit Alaska, you never really leave...so true.

Posted by: Larry Williams at January 14, 2011 10:22 PM | Reply

The show is about 90% B.S. Jim is a really great personable guy but the characterization of the airline is absolutely off-base.

Posted by: UhhhNO at January 15, 2011 2:05 AM | Reply

Well if it helps I live in the village, (in school in the states right now) I grew up with Ariel and my dad was the DJ at the beginning. Seems to be pretty true and accurate. Good representation of people and business

Posted by: Aaron at January 15, 2011 2:29 PM | Reply

Accurate? Really? Era Alaska is NOT based in Unalakleet. It's based in Anchorage. Jim's 180 is not the workhorse of the fleet. I'd have to say the Beech 1900's are. Penair flies into UNK more than Era. I really hope that the FAA doesn't watch the show and issue a few fines for the violations I saw. What would I know though? I've only worked there for 10 years.

Posted by: UhhhNO at January 16, 2011 1:25 PM | Reply

Interesting show, we'll probably start watching regularly- IF they get rid of that RAP music BS!

No need to pollute an otherwise good show with a cultural symbol of hatred and bigotry.

Posted by: betterediting at January 16, 2011 7:11 PM | Reply

@Uhhhno In nearly all businesses 80% of what they do might not be remarkable. It is the 20% of what they do that might be worthy of a show. I am sure that is the case here. Sure Era offesr a ton of basic passenger flights that account for much of their business and would not make for a great show. However, it is the other part of their business that is around the unique flights that is worthy of coverage.

Posted by: Todd at January 17, 2011 5:11 PM | Reply

aircraft is very similar to its history ... very small,
still remember the history of the aircraft?

Posted by: suka at January 17, 2011 10:19 PM | Reply

i love flying wild alaska its down to earth stuff that people want to watch not this stuff they throw at us from the seaming new york crap.keep it down to earth and well watch.

Posted by: steven at January 18, 2011 7:34 AM | Reply

And I think that Ariel girl is the cutest thing ever! Nice and relaxing show.

Posted by: Thomas at January 22, 2011 3:34 AM | Reply

I worked in Alaska as a bush pilot for 7 years, before there were any shows about Alaska. I didnt know I was doing anything special. I dont fly on the edge now like I did back then, but in Alaska that was just normal. One thing a little misleading, ERA Aviation is not based in Unalakleet.

Posted by: Billy at January 22, 2011 1:17 PM | Reply

The show never says ERA is based in UNK. It says its a major 'hub' for the airline due to the fact that Jim Tweto lives there and maintains his office there.

Posted by: Crew at January 22, 2011 4:45 PM | Reply

Looks like Wild Alaska Flying on the Discovery Channel is taking off! If you & your friends are crazy about it, be sure to check out the "CloudDancer's Alaskan Chronicles" book series. Hair-raising Alaskan flying adventures, both comedy & tragedies. Includes all the "behind the scenes" cast partying and uh, "adult situations" (Written in PG-13 format) See previews of all the adventures at

Posted by: CloudDancer at January 25, 2011 12:06 PM | Reply

To me, this show is first-class. From the scenery, people and I'm 49 and think the music is incredible.The production is sensational and I look forward each week to watching. I hope they do a CD or two of the music. I used to be in aviation but could care or less about any slight technical diviation. Would enjoy seeing how they film this show.

Posted by: Doug at January 29, 2011 5:18 AM | Reply

Ariel is so refreshing and just "Darling". I hope this is just her true nature coming through...stay untarnished!

Posted by: lruduski at January 29, 2011 6:29 PM | Reply

As a pilot I find a lot of inconsistencies and bs in this show (what bush pilot relies on his notoriously inaccurate fuel gauges?), but it is fun to watch the flying and the family interactions. The scenery is fantastic. No nit picking needed, just sit back and enjoy a new type of flying show!

Go Tweetos.

Posted by: John at February 1, 2011 4:11 PM | Reply

I am a pilot and one of those that always dreamed of flying the "bush". I can't believe those that complain about accuracy. It is TV after all, not a documentary. It's darned entertaining and as a pilot I can say most of the actual flying is pretty accurate. I'm recording the whole series and might book a trip there to get a new certification.

Posted by: Gunner at February 2, 2011 6:18 PM | Reply

Does anyone know what kind of airplane bears the show's logo? It looks sort of like a Ryan ST, but I can't be sure. I'm pretty sure it isn't part of ERA's working fleet, however.

Posted by: Stu at February 5, 2011 8:56 AM | Reply

This TV show is meant to entertain and enlighten (to some extent) the hazards of bush pilots flying in this beautiful, and hazardous, state. Love the scenery, and Ariel, what a darling. (If this depicts your real person, don't EVER change.)

I had a brief stint of work related duty on the DEW line in 1963. Will never forget the natural beauty of the state. Even considered relocating there, but family responsibilities over ruled.

Folks, just sit back and enjoy the series. It is great!

Posted by: James Seals at February 5, 2011 11:37 AM | Reply

I was born n raised in Hawaii because my dad was a Chief Quartermaster on one of the US Navy's many LST ships (Landing Ship Tank) that was assigned to provide transportation for men n materials from the lower 48 to Alaska in order to build the DEW (Defense Early Warning) line across the northern part of Alaska in the 1950s n 60s.

I only mention the above because it was here early one morning as I was riding with my parents as my Mum was taking my Dad to his ship that was beached from Middle Loch or West Loch in Pearl Harbor. The LST 1110 was preparing for it's yearly trek north to Alaska. It was that that the aviation and Alaska bug first bit me hard. There on the deck of his LST was a OH13 - Bell 47 helicopter. As a six year old this begun my fascination with Aviation.

Naturally my dad would have lots to say about Alaska, especially northern Alaska each time his ship would bring him home to us. So for me both aviation and northern Alaska, even thou I lived in the tropics was a big part of my up bringing.

So for me an old guy having earned his commercial ticket I find the aviation part of Flying Wild Alaska well worth the time and free electrons to watch. Than remembering all my dad's storied about his summers in Alaska and the little boy still in me remembering how I would day dream of flying off my dad's ship all over Alaska, I personally think the show is great.

The Twetos and other characters of FWA is equally as interesting as the show. And yes I agree, Arial has an infectious personality and grin. I just hope her recent treks to LA doesn't end up ruining the natural path her life would have taken if Discovery would not appeared in her family's life. Love to end up following Arial thru earning her various pilot's tickets via Discovery's cameras. However, sadly at her age I am afraid the LA influence may quell this interest in aviation, sure hope I am wrong.

One last thing. Vary disheartening to learn via FWA of the tragic facts that AK's Eskimo youth has a 9 times higher rate of teen suicide rate than do the lower 48's youth have. Lets hope Discovery's management sees n feel both the responsibility n opportunity to make some kind of difference via there powerful influence.

Posted by: Hawaiian 49er at February 9, 2011 7:59 AM | Reply

Hollywood. Some of it's good, all the off site stuff. Way cool and you guys are awesome....but....Come on man, the GPS isn't a radar. Flying explosives is no big deal....at all. How do you think our wars are won??? When a master caution goes off the warning panel tells you where the problem lies. Hollywood.

Posted by: everydayflyer at February 13, 2011 2:02 AM | Reply

Go never been kissed before Arial Tweto I thought she had a good out look on life on Wipeout but now seeing her in her real life setting I know I was right

Posted by: jarrod richards at February 13, 2011 3:26 AM | Reply

Ariel is a cute GOOD Alaskan... you go girl. I think that you are the star of the show. Your mom is nice... I can see why your dad moved up there.

Posted by: wjk at February 14, 2011 7:03 AM | Reply

I'm pretty impressed with the show so far.
I liked "Ice Pilots", Discovery's parallel
show about Buffalo Airways in NWT, just that
Ice Pilots isn't available in the U.S. yet.
Sure, there is Hollywood B.S., but look beyond
that, and you see real aviation. I'm a pro
pilot, but I prefer to stay relatively
warm, and my hat is off to the tough pilots
of Alaska and Canada (and Russia)....

Posted by: Harm at February 14, 2011 5:58 PM | Reply

I spent a few years flying in western AK along with some fill in trips down to southeast AK in my younger years. What I learned is not really that usefull in the lower 48 (with the exception of a few areas) but increased my capability and confidence to know that I can land just about anything anywhere and get it back out again safely. The show is great and shows some of the things that bush pilots are capable of. I'm damn proud to be a part of that remarkable group of men and women.

Posted by: sburn at February 20, 2011 4:17 PM | Reply

to all the pilots posting on here - yes there are quite a few inaccuracies, exaggerations, dramatizations - it's TV. when has TV ever portrayed our profession/business accurately? these are nice, hard working aviation folks like you and me, and if the Twetos get a little glory, good for them! and I must say the whole "explosives" episode was hilarious! particularly the end when the locals load them on their ATV and ride off without a care! great flying, great video and interesting people.

Posted by: gottafly at March 1, 2011 5:00 PM | Reply

As a flight instructor, I really enjoy the flight instruction clips! WoW! Closing your eyes is too much!

Posted by: john marceaux at March 4, 2011 9:44 PM | Reply

Making me homesick. Ferno's maiden name is Ryan, and HER father started the 1st air service out of Unalakleet back in the late 1950's or early 60's. I never got to meet him, but her family kept the air service going and I flew for the Ryan family out of UNK in 1980 and '81. It still exists today.
To hear about what flying the arctic was like in the 1970's and 80's, before the satellite phones, radar, and paved runways; tune in tomorrow morning (Sat. Mar. 5th) to www.flighttimeradio.com at 10:30 Eastern. I'll be on the air talking about CloudDancer's Alaskan Chronicles. Check out www.clouddancer.org

Posted by: CloudDancer at March 5, 2011 1:23 AM | Reply

To Ariel! Keep taking flight lessons! Take some acrobatic's lessons, hit the aviation books, and try to fly in calm air until you are flying the airplane and not the airplane flying you.

Posted by: john marceaux at March 5, 2011 1:57 AM | Reply

Ariel has the whitest teeth I have ever seen.
Very sexy. Does she have a boyfriend??
Is her sister ever on the show??

Posted by: Mark at March 8, 2011 8:38 PM | Reply

I love this show. I spent a year at Unalakleet around '63. I was in the Air Force stationed at a DEW line radar site on the hills behind town. Maybe where the wind turbine towers are now. It was a gravel runway with not much action back then. I spend the peak of summer up river fishing. Going up river with one other GI in a flat bottom boat was a great adventure.

Posted by: Bob at March 14, 2011 4:18 PM | Reply

I LOVE this show. I have only been a pilot for about a year and am fascinated watching the Tweto's. Ariel is a little Ray of sunshine. Watching her learn to fly brings back memories of me when I first started...Don't give up kiddo...you can do it! No one thought a 50 year old would get a pilots license, buy a 182 with a 300 modified engine, and build her own hanger. It took a while but I did it.
Keep the wings up and wheels down!

Posted by: PSAthey at March 15, 2011 11:03 PM | Reply

I love the show! Everyone check this out, I watched Flying Wild Alaska on my VFRpad digital flight bag, going cross country last week. You have to get one of these, you can do everything with it!


Posted by: Richard at March 18, 2011 10:34 PM | Reply

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Posted by: Solar Panels at April 17, 2011 4:15 AM | Reply

But now I'm starting to wonder, where IS
'Flying Wild'? It's been a while since
Disovery Channel has had it on the schedule....

Posted by: Harm at April 22, 2011 7:40 PM | Reply

Second season coming soon. Filming in progress.

Expect to see more of the ERA operation this year than just the bush flying. Rumor is we'll see some of their "mainline" stuff too.

Have it on good authority from one of my buds that Discovery was filming at the airport in Aniak last week.

Should be back up soon.

Meanwhile, if you're starved for great Alaskan bush flying adventures, check out "CloudDancer's Alaskan Chronicles" at www.clouddancer.org

Three great books of true Alaskan bush flying stories, both comedy and tragedy. Volume IV, another books of the funniest Alaskan bush flying tales is due out late this summer.

Posted by: CloudDancer at April 23, 2011 3:47 AM | Reply


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