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Alaska Has More to Offer Than an Abundance of Flight Time

News > Alaska Has More to Offer Than an Abundance of Flight Time
On the flight deck. Photo courtesy: Drew Glastetter

A guest blog by Drew Glastetter of Alaska Airlines

When I was a child, I was fortunate enough to be raised by a family of travelers. My family enjoyed seeing new places and finding adventures in different parts of the world. During one of our vacations when I was 12, I was invited into the cockpit by the pilots where they spoke with me for an extended period of time about being a pilot. I decided right then that I wanted to fly planes when I grew up. I began flight school 3 years later.

I used Gleim for the majority of my pilot training and continue to keep my CFI current with the Flight Instructor Refresher Course (FIRC) program. I find that Gleim is concise and has given me all the information I needed for the exam. It also has provided me the references necessary if I wanted to delve farther into a subject area. Since there is so much we need to know in aviation, especially for professional pilots, there is always something we can learn or improve upon.

After my initial ratings, I found my first job as a flight instructor at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington. Timing is everything, however, and mine wasn’t the best. Within a couple months after being hired there, September 11th shocked the world. Many lives and industries were sent reeling; aviation was certainly one of them. Since I was very new in my path, I had quite a bit of trouble trying to build my flight time and experience. I lost students for various reasons. Industry growth stalled, career-oriented students quit, and leisure students stopped flying because of the expense, and soon I was doing very little flying.

I desperately needed to build flight time. Luckily, after meeting a wonderful couple, I found myself in southern California instructing them in their Cessna 182 and working a night desk job to make ends meet. It was a wonderful time, but I knew I needed to move forward at a stronger pace to reach my goal of being an airline pilot. So I started looking at different places to work that might provide me a better opportunity. I decided upon Alaska, where flying is a way of life. I applied to many places and finally found a job as a flight instructor in Palmer, AK. In April 2003, I made my way north, driving from Laguna Beach, CA, to Palmer, AK. Look it up, it’s a long drive!

Mt Augustine. Photo courtesy: Drew Glastetter

Alaska is a very unique place. It is a massive chunk of land, is populated by relatively few people who are scattered throughout the state, and has very few roads. Many of the smaller villages have no roads whatsoever to connect communities together. As such, Alaska relies heavily on aviation to connect to the rest of the world. Mail, food, and supplies are primarily transported via aircraft. Places such as Dutch Harbor, AK, located roughly 800 miles southwest of Anchorage down the Aleutian islands, rely heavily on aviation to take the rich bounty of the Bering Sea to markets all over the world. A lot of people forget that Alaska is a huge place; it is 1/5th the size of the Continental U.S. You can squeeze Texas into it twice. Just like the lower 48, the different regions of the state bring their own unique logistical challenges along with extremely unique and challenging weather.

Photo courtesy: Drew Glastetter

It didn’t take long for it to become clear that I made the right move in heading up to Alaska. Being an avid traveler, it was an another awesome adventure, and I was finally able to build flight time at a faster rate than I ever had before. I was hired in the fall of 2003 by Peninsula Airways (PenAir), a regional airline that focused on Western Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. During my tenure at PenAir, I had many more fantastic adventures. They took me out to St. Paul Island, a small town of about 500 people in the middle of the Bering Sea, where I have never seen snow fall so rapidly. St. Paul Island is also a renowned bird-watching haven with hundreds of different species visiting throughout the year.

We would depart after Christmas for “A” season to transport thousands of fisherman and processing plant workers to the small town of Dutch Harbor to fish for Pacific cod. This busy season is during some of the worst weather of the year which is very stressful but has resulted in many adventures and stories. I’ve seen brown bears feeding on whale carcasses in Bristol Bay; polar bears in Barter Island; countless wildlife at low altitudes in “The Bush;” and some of the most awe inspiring views of the largest mountains, glaciers, and icefields in North America.

If you’re a history buff, come to Alaska! The state is rich with history, from the Gold Rush (read “The Klondike Fever” by Pierre Berton) to the stories of World War II and the ‘Battle of Attu’ (read “The Thousand-Mile War” by Brian Garfield). These are just a couple of books detailing true events that help capture the history of this vast and varied land.

Ice Fishing. Photo courtesy: Drew Glastetter

For people who are aspiring to come here and fly, they should be ready for an experience of a lifetime. If the choice is to go out to “The Bush” to fly, they should probably buy some lined Carhartt clothing and a Leatherman multitool or knife. Do your research on the different regions of Alaska, as there are so many different opportunities in different places. There is plenty of float plane flying in the southeast, ski flying out of Talkeetna, flying down the Aleutians, and running around the North Slope and interior along with much more. It is a wonderful place for aviation enthusiasts because there is so much history and nature to see and learn about, and it is truly awesome to see how aviation connects it all.

There were times where I would hear stories from some of my aviation peers who were flying for various regional airlines in the lower 48, and they would tell me about their hair-raising experiences. Now, by no means am I trying to diminish the tales of my friends, but there usually wasn’t much of a comparison. That said, as far as weather is concerned, their thunderstorm stories always blew me away, since Alaska doesn’t have many thunderstorms.

Another aspect of flying in the State of Alaska that I enjoy immensely is the communities that I am able to fly into. Over time, you get to know the people, the passengers, the gate agents, etc. The small populations mean that there are a lot of familiar faces. We would get to know what is going on in the communities and developed a real interest in the people and projects there.

I now fly for Alaska Airlines, which was always the dream job that I was striving for back when I lived in Washington. After living in Alaska, I only felt stronger about wanting to work for Alaska Airlines. I said in my interview, “I didn’t know what the path was going to be to get here, but I always knew this was what I wanted for my final career destination.” I still feel that way. At Alaska Airlines, I still get to have some of those same experiences with weather and community. However, now I also fly to places such as Hawaii and Chicago from time to time. That really just adds to the pleasure and experiences in my career.

Dr. Gleim, Drew Glastetter, and Mrs. Gleim at the Great Alaska Aviation Gathering. Photo courtesy: Drew Glastetter

I have also had the opportunity to be a part of the Gleim team as a part-time Aviation Editor for the past 4 years. With this position, I have found myself studying subjects in a way that I most likely wouldn’t have otherwise. Editing questions and answers and responding to questions from customers have given me a wealth of knowledge and a deeper understanding of many subject areas. It has been an incredible experience to return to some of the fundamental questions and help explain them to students. I have always found that instruction is the best way for me to understand information. I work with some extremely knowledgeable pilots, however, we still forget things from time to time and simply need a refresher. I’ve been lucky to have the repetition of information required by my work for Gleim, which has helped me retain information I may have had difficulty retaining otherwise.

I know there are many paths that can be taken during a career as an airline pilot. I may not have made the most direct one, but I don’t regret my efforts to get to where I am. I can now look back and relive the adventures, the people, and experiences I have had thus far. I know there are more to come.

About Gleim Aviation

Since 1980, Gleim Aviation’s team of pilots, instructors, writers, designers, and programmers has helped aviators pass millions of FAA knowledge and practical tests using the unique Gleim Knowledge Transfer System. Gleim is an environmentally friendly company headquartered in Gainesville, FL.

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