Jul 18, 2016

My Job: The Guy Who Flies Over Beautiful Places All Day


Bruce Gordon and EcoFlight take wing to save the most important places in the American West.


Bruce Gordon grew up a city kid: born in Chicago, raised in Brooklyn, college in Ithaca. He returned from Vietnam in 1969, moved back home to the New York-New Jersey area, and took a job in mutual funds on Wall Street. It appeared that a life among skyscrapers, car horns, and concrete was in front of him. But Gordon lasted a whopping six months in the city before rambling west to find his place within the natural sprawl of wild-flower-laden meadows and craggy peaks.

On his way to California, Gordon stopped in Aspen for a week and never left. He worked in restaurants, taught outdoor education at local schools, and guided climbing and skiing. While Aspen was growing into itself in the late 1970s, Gordon enrolled in flight school using money he received from the GI Bill. He found his life’s work when he got involved with conservation flying in the 1980s. For more than 30 years he has dedicated his professional and personal life to preserving the wild, and in 2002, Gordon founded EcoFlight in Aspen, providing a bird’s-eye view of threatened areas and critical conservation issues affecting the West. Most recently, his company has been providing aerial views of Bears Ears, the area in southern Utah currently at the center of a national debate over preservation. His mission is simple but bold: “Do good and fight evil.”


If someone sitting next to you on an airplane asks what you do for work, what do you tell them?
In short I tell them I do “conservation flying.” It is a term I have come up with. I then tell them I am a pilot and the mission of my organization is to educate and advocate for the environment using small planes. We fly political decision makers, media representatives, and concerned citizens and give them the aerial perspective to help balance the debates around conservation issues.

What is a typical day like for you?
A typical summer day is up before daylight, coffee, banana, and out to the airfield. I usually meet my passengers early for the best flight conditions and best light. I not only take photojournalists but also take a bunch of photos myself on each mission. Then, it's the mission du jour. I land, debrief, and take a short break. Many times when I am flying a series of missions in different areas, I move the airplane to my next destination, answer emails, phone calls, and get a workout in before early dinner and early bedtime. This is when I am on the road away from the office. It's busy but cost effective and extremely productive.


How does your job affect someone's day?
I usually make them get up a bit earlier than they are used to and my mission is to stimulate them to the point that they are ready for advocacy and further immersion and education into the issue we are flying. If it is a bit bumpy, flying can be quite tiring. Add to this an intimate platform (the six-seater airplane) and thinking about the issues and the stunning landscapes zooming by. So perhaps after filing their stories they are ready for a nap.

What was your first job in the outdoor industry?
My first “job” was that of a mountain guide. It was more recreation than work. I climbed extensively in the Himalayas during the ’70s and ’80s and even into the ’90s. I designed and led outdoor education programs for the local schools here in Colorado.

How does someone get your job
Short answer is they don't. Not sure how to answer that as it is a pretty unique situation. It encompasses a broad skill set to include fundraising, motivational speaking, conservation knowledge and experience, networking, and of course piloting skills. Unique is the word.


What are the pros of your job?
Lots of pros: the landscapes, working to positively affect issues you care about and believe in, the people who work alongside you…and believe it or not, during the course and challenges of fundraising, the people who donate to your cause and share your concerns and beliefs. Being around the best of people and the best landscapes on the planet. Oh, and of course flying itself.

What are the cons?
Cons include raising the cash that runs the motor–the engine of the plane, and the small staff that does the outreach from each and every flight including our famous photo gallery and video clips. Keeping the organization small despite growing demand and keeping the financials and fundraising in a manageable order.