Iditarod Air Force plays imperative role in success of race

(Photo Courtesy of Jeff Schultz & KTUU)
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Often hidden from spectators, the Iditarod Air Force has since the dawn of the Last Great Race on Earth played an imperative role in making sure the race goes on without a hitch.

"Without the Iditarod Air Force, we couldn't do this event," said Iditarod Race Director Mark Nordman. "They put their heart and soul into this race."

The IAF flies out food for mushers and dogs; transports supplies that contribute to the feeding and otherwise taking care of racers; carries veterinarians, volunteers, officials and communications staff to and from stops along the trail; and moves dropped dogs from race checkpoints, among other duties. This year, about 30 pilots will fly for the IAF. All of them have gone through vigorous requirements to fly for the race at all, as well as extensive training since the fall specifically centered on the logistics of the race.

"It's just one heck of a group," Nordman said, "and it's not just any pilot here in Alaska that could do it. These are some really savvy guys."

Greg Fischer, a pilot with the IAF, said that while the operation is very much like a regular commercial operation, the overall experience is like none other.

"It's great flying when the weather is good," he said, "but flying dogs is great. When you get a dozen dogs in the back of your airplane, and they're all so socialized, so sometimes they'll come upright on your shoulder, and be right there when you're flying along."

This year, Fischer and the other pilots will be watching over 57 mushing teams and nearly 1,000 dogs, along with the rest of the crews out on the trail.

"It's an elite bunch of fliers," Nordman said, "and they love it, they love the dog race, and love supporting the event."

You can learn more about the IAF and this year's pilots by visiting www.dogflying.com.

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