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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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