Wantdo is lucky to have many adventurous fans. They climb the mountain, sail across oceans, and ski down steep hills. The guest for this episode of Wantdo Stories flies above mountains and glaciers. Her name is Sarah (IG: @7sarah7). Read on to find out her story.
Sarah grows up in an aviation family. Her grandfather and her parents are all aviators, so she is immersed in aviation growing up. However, she has never thought about becoming an aviator until the age of 18. She flies in Alaska for the first time and immediately falls in love with the environment and culture up here.
The aircraft she primarily flies is called "Piper Pacer," a single-engine aircraft that can carry four people. She flies these planes in the summer with floats on them to land on water. In the spring and winter, she equips them with skis to land on snow. She also flies the Pacer with large "bushwheels" on them so that she can land on more rugged and off-airport sites.
Besides being an aviator, she is also a Piper Pacer instructor. The courses she usually teaches last about 3 to 5 days. Over an entire season, she typically flies with 50 students or so. She primarily teaches people who already know the basics of aviation, specifically how to fly in the Alaskan backcountry. Usually, people show up with at least their private pilot's license already, and then she works with them to introduce them to the aviation concepts that are unique to flying on floats, skis, and bushwheels. Sarah says that the wonderful thing about the place she works is that all her students are adventurous and willing to step out of their comfort zones for a new experience, so she tends to get along well with all her students. "I have made a lot of friends with my students!" she says.
We asked Sarah what it is like to be an aviator. Sarah told us that being an aviator requires a lot of dedication and focus. There are a lot of different hazards that one needs to keep an eye out for constantly -
- Extremely turbulent winds;
- Wind shear;
- Moose walking across the runway or swimming across the lake you're trying to land at (which has happened multiple times to Sarah),
- Bad surface conditions, whether that's deep powder snow or a large, rocky gravel bar or white-capping waves on the lake, etc.
In addition to environmental hazards, pilots are constantly scanning their instruments for mechanical failures, such as a loss of oil pressure or reduced RPM. As an instructor, she also has to allow students to learn as well. Therefore, oftentimes, her biggest hazard is to allow enough room for the students to mess up a little bit and learn but still keep everyone on the plane safe.
It might sound like a job not everybody can do since a bit of mess-up can be deadly. However, Sarah does believe that everyone can learn how to fly. It takes a lot of dedication and focus, but it's something that Sarah believes everyone can attain. Sarah believes that the theory, "mastery at anything comes after 10,000 hours of practice", rings true in aviation. To be competent at off-airport flying, she says it can take anywhere from 100 or more hours to get a good understanding of it. Therefore, if you want to learn how to fly and have the time and effort to put into it, you can definitely become a pilot.
When it comes to herself, Sarah is quite modest. She says that she is definitely not anywhere near being a master at flying. She said that she only has about 1,000 hours in the air, and still has a long way to go before claiming mastery! It is also why Sarah only teaches at an introductory level to most students she works with. But she believes it is part of what makes flying so exciting! She feels like she is still learning something new on every flight.
Sarah feels very content with her life and her work at the moment. She told us that her workday changes a lot throughout the different seasons. In general, she usually starts her day by walking her dog or letting her swim in the lake around 7:30 AM. She will have her first ground lesson at 9 AM, and then typically, she will hop in the airplane for a 2-hour flight around 10 AM. She has a break for lunch and then has another ground lesson and flight around 1:00 PM. Some days she will have introductory classes in between or after her main student. Usually, the day ends around 4 or 5 PM, and then it is very common to sit around a campfire with her co-workers or take the sailboat out for a sail with them when the day is done.
The content Sarah is feeling also comes from the environment she is living in. Sarah has been to many places, but she has never felt there's a better place than where she is right now. Sarah told us that she is very fortunate to have lived in these amazing places. She went to LA for college, during which she got an opportunity to study abroad in New Zealand. Also, during college, she took a semester off and worked in Hawaii at a helicopter maintenance hangar. She really loved how accessible so many things are in LA, but having grown up on a cattle ranch, she learned that city life is not for her. Even though she thinks Hawaii was amazing and she has family there, she really loved flying floatplanes, and she knew the best place in the world to do that is in Alaska.
Right now, she lives in Talkeetna, Alaska, which is a small village with a population just below 1,000 people nestled right in Denali National Park's shadow. She told us that she genuinely believes it is the best place in Alaska! The town is so charming and has a lot of fantastic aviation, mining, and mountain climbing history. If you ever make it up to Talkeetna, Sarah strongly recommends taking a flightseeing tour of the Alaska Range; "it is the most awe-inspiring and magnificent place on Earth, and you really can't capture how huge the mountains are until you're flying up at 10,000 feet and still looking up at the peaks," Sarah says.
Sarah owns a Wantdo parka. To our delight, she said she loved the jacket! "I was surprised, to be completely honest, about how high quality it is while also being so affordable," she says. The first day she wore it was actually a really special day. One of her very early students was an F-22 fighter pilot who came and got his floatplane rating with her two and a half years ago. Sarah became friends with him, and he came back up last summer to fly with her again as well. This spring, he got new orders to move to Virginia, so on his last day in Alaska, they took his squadron dog, an Old English Bulldog named Blue (because the squadron mascot is a bulldog) up to a glacier! Blue loved it up there, and Sarah believes she is the first dog ever to summit that glacier! They all had a very bittersweet and beautiful last day in Alaska for Sam before her friend took off on his road trip to Virginia. The jacket kept her warm the whole day!
We are, of course, glad to hear that Sarah loves our jacket. However, we are more pleased to see her making her passion her profession, living in the city that she likes the most, and feeling excited and content every day. We hope everyone can live the life you dreamed of and wake up every day feeling excited about the things you are going to do.
We also hope you have enjoyed reading this story and found it interesting getting to know Sarah, learning about aviation and Alaska. Like always, please let us know how you think about the story, and we will select one winner from the comment section below to receive the jacket Sarah has.