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Dave Wiewel, Pilot

Flying around Talkeetna, especially during the climbing season, is all about burly singles with wheel skis. The ability to land on the glaciers is what it’s all about!

At least that’s what I thought. Is it any wonder that I dismissed the common Navajo that taxied out every day, rain or shine, to shuttle tourists around the peaks of the Alaska Range? It wasn’t until late last summer that I realized the Navajo (operated by Talkeetna Aero Services) was heading out when the weather was crap and most of the ski-planes were grounded. (Only Talkeetna Air Taxi has bothered to establish an IFR program for their Single Otters).

Slowly I started to pay more attention to the super relaxed, mellow guy flying the plane. Originally, I’d pegged him as a former airline guy trying out his dream of being a bush pilot. As I listened though, it became clear (as is often the case) that there was more to Dave Wiewel’s story then a run of the mill career flying jets.

Dave’s wife was working dispatch at TAT where I was flying the C-185. He stopped by frequently for short visits to say hi, and to pass along pertinent weather to the Otter drivers. True to his low key demeanor, Dave rarely mentioned his past flying exploits. But everyone kept telling me, “Dave is a guy you need to talk to.”

So, as the summer was drawing to a close, Dave and I sat down to dig into his flying past. It’s a career  that started in the 1960s and has included flying a DC-3 around the world, flying a 737 for a major airline, and lots more. Dave has seen many changes in the world of aviation, and he has a good perspective on the pros and cons of a flying life.

I hope you enjoy listening to Dave’s story. I certainly did.

In this interview you’ll hear about:

  • Dave’s first flights with his flight instructor dad … in 1961 at the age of 13.
  • Soloing (in a Piper Apache!) at the age of 16.
  • Flying a DC-3 for around the world (including navigating across the Atlantic with a “drift sight”).
  • Working as a contract DC-3 ferry pilot for Warren Basler.
  • Flying twin Otters for Air New England in the late 1970s.
  • Weathering airline deregulation and the PATCO strike.
  • Dave’s best advice for success in the airline industry.
  • Flying for Provincetown-Boston Airlines and Bar Harbor Airlines, and getting furloughed.
  • Accruing Continental Airlines seniority while flying the ATR and the Beech 1900 for Rocky Mountain Airways and Continental Express based in Denver.
  • Working as a Continental 727 flight engineer for a year out of Newark.
  • Taking a leave of absence from Continental to fly a Dornier 328 for Mountain Air Express based in Colorado Springs, and then Air Wisconsin.
  • Returning to Continental to fly the 737 (Classic and NG) until he retired in 2007 at the age of 60.
  • Why an airline career is largely a game of chance.
  • How technology and a fixation on automation has taken away basic stick and rudder skills, and why pilots need to consciously spend more time looking out the window, and hand flying (to maintain proficiency).
  • Heading to Talkeetna to fly a Piper Navajo for Talkeetna Aero Services (and how his experience flying in the Colorado mountains helped make up for his lack of Alaska time).
  • Flying a Turbine Beaver for Fly Denali.
  • How to apply to the companies he works for, why it’s important to have tailwheel experience, and why it’s important to make the trip to Alaska if you’re serious about getting hired.
  • Why being a tour pilot means you’re “a performer on stage” as well as a pilot (and how that’s really different from most flying jobs).
  • What it’s like to fly scenic tours of Mount McKinley in a Piper Navajo (including IFR departures/arrivals and legs above the mountain at 22,000 feet).
  • The challenges an airline pilot lifestyle presents for a marriage (“The airlines pay well … but they’re paying you to be away from home”).
  • How airline flying has changed over the years, why the lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and why it’s important to have a Plan B.


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Did you like this interview? Scroll down to leave your comments and questions!

More Information

Talkeetna Aero Services

Fly Denali

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2 Responses to “Interview: Dave Wiewel – From a DC-3 to a 737 to Denali”

  1. Gareth says:

    I could have sat and listened to you two chat all day. This interview struck a cord with me when you talked about different flying career paths and even changing career completely to start a flying career.I gained my JAR UK ATPL at age 41 and found no Airlines would respond to my CV so I had to return to my IT career before I went bust. I thought that would be a temporary move but after that the only thing that flew was time. Five years later I renewed my license and ratings before they lapsed forever. I’m now back where I was 6 years ago scratching my head where to go next with this. Your site has certainly opened my eyes to the wealth of really interesting opportunities out there. My only concern is what the oddball operators would all make of a 47 year old low hours “wanabe” from the UK with no operational experience. The answer that always comes up is I’ve got to show up in person which of course presents its own challenges. Nothing good comes easily :0)

  2. Aidan Loehr says:

    Glad you like OP!
    As for chances to fly as you get older, you might be surprised. I used to think that not only were operators skeptical of pilots starting a career at a later point in life but that the pilots themselves might be in for disappointment. After all lots of these jobs involve lots of work and sometimes sketchy living conditions. As a bonus the new guy tends to get all the crap flights. Thats easier to take when you haven’t already had a successful career/life.
    What I have found as I’ve looked more into these jobs is that there are a fair number of pilots who started out in their 40’s or 50’s and are very happy with the decision. I think a lot of it depends on the job you take and your current situation. A understanding spouse would make the career move a lot easier. Another thought I’ve had for pilots who want a middle path is to look into seasonal work or part time work, possibly flying skydivers or towing gliders on the weekends.
    My suspicion is that in the UK opportunities are more limited then here in the US but there are drop zones(skydiving) and glider sites around. You might check them out. Maybe trade some towing for glider lessons?
    I knew glider pilot from the UK who ended up doing ferry flights out of Florida and now works internationally for a US DOD contract company.
    It’s not a short or easy route but if you keep looking around chances usually open up.
    Good luck!

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