Ice Pilots NWT
Photo by Barry Meek.
there can’t be a single pilot in Canada who has not heard of the
highly successful television series ICE PILOTS, NWT. It has
been running through two seasons on the Canadian network,
HISTORY TELEVISION, and this show really got me hooked. In
fact, ICE PILOTS is the highest rated Canadian-made series ever
broadcast on History TV. My winters are spent in the U.S. where
this program is not available, so I turned to the internet to
view it. Without the waits for the next episodes an entire week
later, I could stay up late and watch as much as I liked.
Just in case you’ve not had the
opportunity to see the series, it’s a reality-type show with
real people running a real airline in the Northwest Territories
of Canada. Based in Yellowknife, Buffalo Airways serves the
north with dedicated pilots and staff using airplanes that were
made before most of their people were born. DC-3’s and 4’s,
Electra’s, and Curtis C-46’s all saw service prior to and during
WW11. Somehow, obviously with a huge financial commitment,
Buffalo keeps the old birds flying.
Normally my opinion of anything on
television is that it’s not worth my time to sit down and watch
it. But this series, even with its occasional flaws and
exaggerations, is very well done. There’s a careful mixture of
the dynamics surrounding the company, its operation, the people,
issues and hardships they face, and of course the flying
itself. The producer does a good job of describing and showing
the problems of flying in the extreme conditions of the Canadian
north. And each episode includes interesting personal
challenges as they occur in the lives of pilots, engineers,
rampees, cargo handlers, and even management.
The big boss is Joe McBryan,
a.k.a. Buffalo Joe. A crusty, cantankerous, sometimes downright
miserable old guy to work for, he’s portrayed firing people on
the spot, putting down and insulting his staff and generally
aspiring to be the boss you would least like to work for. But
they also bring out a softer, gentler side of Joe in situations
surrounding his family and close friends. He obviously has
great respect for at least a few of his staff, including Arnie
Schreder, the chief pilot and for one or two of the engineers.
A young, French female pilot hired to work the ramp, obviously
touched a soft spot with Joe too. And I couldn’t help feel bad
for him when his beloved old dog was hit and seriously injured
by a car.
Without Joe’s son Mikey, the
television series would not have been as entertaining as it
was. Mikeys title is general manager of Buffalo Airways. It’s
obvious however, that Joe runs the entire show. Mikeys title is
symbolic. But he has the respect of the rest of the people
there, probably more because of his gentle, easy-going attitude,
quite the opposite of his father. He’s the go-between who they
all confide in with problems and ideas that he in turn, takes to
Joe to face the music. Mikey seems to have the thick skin
needed by someone who has to deal with a boss like Joe.
Probably the only reason he’s still working for Buffalo is he’s
I particularly enjoyed
seeing how the pilots handled some of the events that occurred
on the show. The mechanical breakdowns at 30 below, the engine
failures and tense situations being caught with low fuel and
oil, the emergency landings, delays and weather problems, all
things most pilots can relate to. The producer spent too much
time in my opinion, going on about some of the personal staff
problems and dynamics. But that kind of diversion from the
business of northern flying probably rounded out the show enough
to capture the interest of the thousands of non-pilot viewers.
On the final episode of
season two, Arnie retires from the chief pilot position, in part
because he’d been there so long, and because of some personal
family issues. His daughter had been fighting cancer, and they
needed to be closer to medical facilities. Buffalo Joe faced
appointing a new C.P. and no decision had been made at the close
of the show. However, it appears Justin Simle was offered and
accepted the job. His name appears on the listings now as the
new Chief Pilot.
I’m grateful to a friend of mine in Vancouver
who used his computer savvy to locate and download the entire
season two episodes of ICE PILOTS, NWT for me. I watched all
thirteen shows in about three days. Like the good book you pick
up and can’t seem to put down, this was a show that made watching television something to look forward to again for me.