Many bush pilots across Northern Ontario's Sunset Country have made their living by flying highly customized, rugged aircraft to transport people and cargo to the region's most isolated, remote wilderness communities and fishing lodges.
It is a necessity for many camps and lodges that they transport their guests and goods via bush plane. In fact, most remote outposts each have their own personal bush pilots to whom they entrust this incredible responsibility. For one man, however, being a bush pilot is more than just a necessity.
It’s a way of life
Erik Lohn, operating bush pilot for KaBeeLo Lodge located 50 kilometers outside of Ear Falls, Ontario, is a man of great integrity who, through his awe-inspiring commitment to his craft and family, makes his living by navigating the remote areas of the dense northern forests.
Erik grew up in Prior Lake, Minnesota, about 1 hour south of Minneapolis. He was raised between borders, attending school in Minnesota in the fall and, during summer, traveling to Ontario with his parents, lodge owners Ann and Harald Lohn. He spent most of his summers at the lodge, and from a very young age developed a profound appreciation for his environment. Erik’s interest in flying sparked due to the abundance of planes that were always at the lodge. He was always curiously hanging around the docks, climbing on the wings of the DHC-2 Beavers and interacting with local pilots. It was through his curiosity that he would meet one of the many influential people who would turn his spark into a fire.
Faron Buckler, a former KaBeeLo Lodge bush pilot, introduced Erik to the world of aviation. Faron would take Erik high above the vast Ontario landscape and teach him how to fly. Erik started doing passenger runs and lumber halls with Faron when he was 9 years old and has had no shortage of adventure over the past 30 years. He recalls one time having to rescue some local fishermen who became stranded on Slate Lake after their engine failed. He and Faron safely commuted the men to their destination and brought a mechanic out to the plane to repair the engine. It was through events such as this that Erik learned the importance of being a bush pilot, and continues to emulate that through his unending devotion and dedication. “My objective is just like any other pilot: safety is number one.”
Erik started his training to become a licensed pilot under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) when he was fifteen years old before he was legally allowed to obtain a driver’s permit. His mother and father would drive him to the airport in Lake Ville, Minnesota where he would fly around the base with an instructor. Erik has a great deal of gratitude for his parents and says that it was through their love and support that he became a pilot. They always supported him, emotionally, and financially. They were always there. From his first solo run when he was 16 years old; in which he felt excitement and fear pulse through his body as he needed to be ready for anything, including engine failure - to him he received his pilot's licenses in both Canada and the United States. They continue the be an inspiration for him.
Erik’s father was the only other person in his family who had experience in flying. He flew as a necessity; something that he saw needed to be done. “His viewpoint was to keep the planes mechanically safe, keep excellent pilots in the seat, and always operate them safely.” His father instilled these values into Erik and to this day is something that he remembers as he continues to fly the 100 square miles around the Ear Falls region.
Erik moves cargo and materials to various outposts throughout Northern Ontario. A lot of his flights involve flying KaBeeLo Lodge customers to and from their destinations. From hunters and fishermen to campers and explorers, he has used his intrinsic piloting skills to safely transport thousands of people over the years in KaBeeLo's commercially registered aircraft. He has also done reconnaissance for forest fires and has helped geologists get into extremely remote lakes for field mapping.
Erik feels a strong connection to the environment. Over the years, Erik had the opportunity to see his surroundings from a truly unique vantage point. He has witnessed some truly spectacular things while flying, like a moose protecting its young from a pack of wolves. "Very few people get the opportunity to see something like that..." Having seen these types of events unfold, unprompted by humans, is why Erik has developed such a fond connection to nature.
Flying has been the foundation on which Erik has laid the building blocks of his life, and it was flying that has both led him to some of the greatest things in his life. “To me (being a bush pilot) has led me to fly around a Canadian geologist who I later fell in love with, married, and now have three beautiful kids with.”
With his wife, Allyson Lohn, and their children, Hillary, Alastair, and Winston, Erik has found within himself his true calling in life. “My family… my wife and kids, dad and mom… their motivation and motivators.” Erik has seen the true value of flying through his family and says that being here is where he belongs. “It’s been such a (big) part of my life… there's a lot of things that could potentially take for granted - the things that you grew up with… but now that I’m older and have my own kids I appreciate the uniqueness of being able to fly.”
Erik and Allyson Lohn are currently in the process of acquiring KaBeeLo lodge from his parents. It’s an undertaking that has been a couple of years in the works, but they are ready to take on the upcoming challenges. “It’s difficult - if you want to be a married individual with kids… you can make a good living at it, you’re going to work hard and it’s going to be every day of the week.”
Erik's Ultimate goal is to keep flying different sorts of planes and notes that being a bush pilot is a great career choice for those who are interested in flying. "I think that’s something that people tend to overlook... you can fly float planes from May to October and take the other part of the year and get involved with something else.” Erik does construction in Minnesota in the off-season but still finds that his passion will always be flying because of its challenging nature. “You have to think outside the box, and every situation is going to be unique.”
He wants to eventually pass his knowledge on to his children and will keep flying until he can safely and consciously make a decision to pass the torch.
- Confederation Lake
- Bear Paw
- Dead dog