living fossil

Coyote Air

Dirk Nickisch and Danielle Tirrell

Owners of Coyote Air Service, Dirk and Danielle are showing the world the beauty of the arctic refuge - one adventure at a time


A Family Where Flying is Truly in the Blood

The first thing little Bremner told me when I met him as a 6 year-old was that he wanted to fly. Scribbled on the side of the Nickisch summer homestead in remote Coldfoot, Alaska, alongside the sign for Coyote Air, were three simple words, "Bremner's Air Taxi". He told me (and his father Dirk) that he wanted to fly the big planes - the ones that you can put down on land or water. Bremner, of course, was not referring to the float planes that crisscross interior Alaska, but rather the kind of aircraft where the fuselage is shaped like the hull of a ship - a Grumman Albatross or Mallard. Bremner's little sister, Derian, wants to be an animal doctor. She even made the trip all the way to Way Kambas to visit the rhinos of the forest. During the short Alaskan summer Derian raises ducks, chickens, dogs and a variety of wild creatures that have found their way to the Nickisch home.

Natives of South Dakota (Dirk) and Oregon (Danielle), the two soon found themselves drawn to the last frontier. Remarkably, flying goes back three generations on both sides of the family. Dirk's grandfather, Elmo, and father, Willard, were both pilots and his dad still flies today. Grandpa Elmo, got his pilots license in June 1947 and was known for delivering mail to blizzard-stranded farmers by throwing mail bags out the window of his Stinson 108. Today, Dirk and Danielle run an air taxi service that takes people into the remote Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding wild lands. Dirk is optimistic about the future of the arctic. He believes that if people see firsthand the wonders and solitude of the refuge that they will come away with a greater appreciation for its value as wilderness. Dirk has carried arctic travelers, journalists, senators, and even rhino doctors into the arctic. Each one returns with memories and are richer for it. Recently, Dirk attached a large IMAX camera to the wing of his Beaver for a film premiering in 2012 that explores the issues of the arctic environment in To The Arctic, a MacGillivray Freeman Film.

Dirk flies two de Havilland Beaver airplanes, a tried and true Canadian original that is well suited for remote air transport where landings are usually on unimproved gravel bars, open tundra and mud flats. The Beaver reminds me of some kind of giant moth with its big wings and pondering movements, but it is a powerful and reliable aircraft.