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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Legacy of Aviation

Ever wonder what mark you will leave on the world, or the lives you'll impact along the way? Could the love of aviation be a genetic trait... or could it be the power of passion? This story begins with a young man born in 1931. Jack Sallee. A name that everyone knew at Braniff, and in Sequim, Washington and... I'm sure every place he traveled.

One might say that Jack Sallee began his flying career in the military piloting an F86, and ended that career with Braniff as a 747 Captain, and they'd  be right.... sort of.

It's what happened in the middle of that career where Jack left his mark on the world. While he'd also flown the DC3, Convair, Electra B720, B727 and DC8 aircraft.... it was a family, an airport, and Cessna 402 that sustained the legacy of his life.

I met Jack in the fall of 1986. After I finished college, I'd decided to get a job with a local commuter to build hours until I was ready for that airline job. I went out to SeaTac airport to pick up applications. They actually had them at ticket counters. When I'd arrived, I found an airline I'd never heard of: Coastal Airways.

At the time the agent was on the phone with what turned out to be the owner. Jack Sallee. She handed me the phone and he asked, "Why do you want to work for Coastal?" I'd said, "So we can put San Juan out of business." He laughed and said he'd becoming over to Seattle to fly his scheduled trip, a Braniff freighter flight, that evening. He'd like to meet me. Well, he also invited me to jumpseat to California and back. He wanted to get to know me.

How could I pass up that opportunity? Wow! Riding in the cockpit of a B727. Exciting. That was the night that I got to know Jack, too. He bragged about his wife, his sons, and his dream of turning Sequim Airport into something huge! He was also a man who colored outside the lines, and did what it took to get things done. At top of descent, arriving into Seattle, he told me to get in the right seat and take the landing. Are you kidding me? Nope... he wasn't. You had to know Jack.

I landed my first 727 before the type rating. I guess I did alright because he hired me to fly for Coastal. My job, flying Cessna 172's and Cessna 402's. I also flew with one of the sons while he shot instrument approaches under the hood... for hours. I'm thinking that was Joe.

One day Jack brought a friend to Longacres Race Track to have lunch with my husband and myself. Who was that friend? None other but Tex Johnston. That famous pilot who rolled the Boeing 707 over Lake Washington during the hydroplane races. My husband happened to be at the lake during that roll, so it was fun for  us both to meet him. Tex told me he took a shower with his boots on that night. Click Here to see that famous flight.

Jack lived large. He was the first official commuter when pilots didn't do that and had been written up in the paper with this amazing story. He told my eldest daughter, when she was five, that he loved little girls and if she came to live with him, he would buy her a pony. She clung to my leg.

If you had the great opportunity to meet Jack, you'd never guess anything other than roses grew in his path. But reality was, he had the same struggles that we all face... and then some. One of his sons, lay in a hospital bed in a coma after a car accident on his graduation night. Braniff was filing bankruptcy. He had dreams of building his airport and airline, but financial struggles prevailed. And his lovely wife Winnie, faced crippling arthritis. He had a family, a dream, financial obligations and huge loss...The stress on this family horrendous. But Jack always had a smile on his face and saw the positive side of everything. He never gave up.

Jack also experienced a dream come true when he was able to fly a commercial trip with two of his on a schedule Braniff flight. Yes... they worked for Braniff, too. That night they decided to call me and recruit me to ditch Evergreen and come fly for Braniff number two. As Jack said, "The airline is really going places!"

After I joined Braniff, they shutdown nine months later. Despite the outcome, I wouldn't have changed that decision. I loved Braniff. And Jack was confident they were going places until that last day.
That's who he was.

Sequim airport Runway in progress

1997 I found my way to Northwest Airlines. The same year that Jack died in an accident in his hangar. I didn't hear until months after it happened. Jack, you are missed by all. But you left a legacy in your wake. What did he leave behind? What happened to his airport and his dreams? Where is Coastal Airways? Where are those sons and what are they doing?

More to come tomorrow...

Enjoy the Journey!

~ Karlene


  1. Great story, Karlene, I will be back to read the rest tomorrow! What a terrific man Jack was. Thank you for sharing. . .

  2. I miss Braniff. I never got to fly on them, but they were big and bold. Just like (some of) their pilots!

    Now their base here in Dallas (Love Field) is dominated by Southwest Airlines, Texan in their own way, but a corporate whimper compared to Braniff's loud "Yeeeehaaaaahh!"

  3. I've commented before on how much I like that B747 picture - in the top left corner you can see a couple of Dan-Air DH4C Comets, I used to maintain those during the industry parts of my co-op aeronautical engineering degree. I was in the Ops room at Gatwick when news came through that we had just lost a B727 at Tenerife in 1980. I got the job of saying "no comment" to any and all callers that afternoon and evening.

  4. What a touching story of a strong soul. I can't wait to read more tomorrow!

  5. I sat down this morning and read this blog about my grandpa. I think that it's very difficult to do someone like him justice, but you did an amazing job! Very accurate information, GREAT stories, and you portrayed him in the way that I remember him. Thank you for writing about him. I'm really excited to read every day this week!

    I try to apply the great example he set to my life and my aviation career. There is nothing better than helping someone else. I often hear stories from people about him and it inspires me every time.

  6. Thanks Linda. He was quite the man. Nothing was going to stop him.

  7. Hi D.B. Wow... what a job that was. I would have a challenge with the no comment part.

    Yes, Braniff was spectacular. Definitely the last of the good old boy airline... and they were really good. They called you darlin not to sexually harass you, but because they were genuine.

    Loved Braniff. Loved the pilots.
    Thanks for the comment. Enjoy Texas!

  8. Thanks Heather, he was a strong soul and passed it on through the generations.

  9. Thank you Daniel for the great comment. He would be so proud of you and all you accomplished. You're keeping him alive in your life, and generations to come. I'm glad his inspiration keeps you going.

  10. This was a wonderful comment from family... and it was posted on Thrust Lever day. So... I'm cutting and pasting. It belongs here!

    Anonymous said...

    What A Wonderful Post! As A Niece, Of Uncle Jack & Aunt Winnie,That is some wonderful info... that I can tuck away... & share with my children!!! Thank You!! Will Pay It Forward!!

    You're welcome!!

  11. I always felt sorry for the Branniff employs. It seemed like a second class outfit compared to AA. I guess I was wrong.

    1. Ahh... Braniff was not a second class outfit to anyone. Just an amazing Airline and incredible group of people!
      Thanks for your comment!


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