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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.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Capt. Jim Wright

Friday's Fabulous Flyer

Jim Wright

Due to a sleepy little town called Seattle, Jim fell in love with the sea, met his soon to be wife and the rest is history. Literally. His connections to Seattle, hers to Alaska, and a bush pilot named “Mudhole Smith,” is undoubtedly filled with aviation history. Take a journey of an incredible man living life out loud with his beautiful copilot at his side...

Jim Wright...
"By Alaska standards my bio is unremarkable; born in Seattle just prior to WWII where my Dad had worked in the “Little Red Barn” and was later in charge of the B-17 Handbook Unit at Boeing. Living in a seaport town, my interest in seafaring developed at an early age.

At 15, a deckhand/mate job opened up in a 136’ converted minesweeper running to British Columbia and Alaska for Marine Medical Missions – (I also met my future wife, Carol, on this vessel).

“Jim in Willis Shank Wheelhouse”

After completing high school, California Maritime Academy offered me the opportunity to attend and graduate with a license as 3rd Mate of Ocean Steam & Motor Vessels – Any Gross Tons and a BS in Marine Transportation. This was followed by tug boating jobs to Alaska before being commissioned in the US Army to manage and operate harbor craft in Ft. Eustis, VA and Pusan Korea.

The Korea part was an unaccompanied tour that coincided with our first year of marriage.

“Married 2 weeks before being sent to Korea”

This year we will have been married 51 years with 3 children, 8 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren; one grandchild is now taking flying lessons and aspires to be an airline pilot.

 “J C 50th Anniversary”

 “Two Sons, Daughter, Carol, Jim”
“Our Grandson taking his first flying lesson”

After completing active duty, I went back to sea as a deck officer in break-bulk cargo and container vessels, mostly in the Alaska trade.

  “North Star”

These jobs gave me the opportunity to accumulate Alaska and Puget Sound pilotage and raise my license to Master of Ocean Steam & Motor Vessels of Any Gross Tons.

Prior to the completion of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline terminal in Valdez, Southwest Alaska Pilots Association found themselves short of pilots and invited me to join their group. 
After accepting their invitation we moved our family to Homer, Alaska then later to Anchorage. The next 30 years were spent piloting vessels of every size and description from 300 DWT (Deadweight Tons) trampers to 270,000 DWT VLCC’s (Very Large Crude Carriers) in and out of Alaska ports from Icy Bay in the Gulf of Alaska to Kotzebue Sound and ports in the Arctic – most of our work was in Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound including Valdez, Dutch Harbor and the Kodiak Island Group.

So, what does a Harbor Pilot do? The simple answer – Pilots travel to a “Pilot Station” in small boats, occasionally under difficult conditions. The photo was taken at the Bligh Reef Pilot Station and could be subtitled, “Why old pilots retire”.

“Bligh Reef Pilot Station"
Once the pilot boat is alongside the ship the Pilot boards by means of a rope-ladder and takes navigational control of the vessel.

“Jim Dave R. Pilot Ladder"
This includes directing the conduct of the vessel by courses or rudder orders to the helmsman, engine orders to the mate, VHF orders to assist-tugs (if tugs are available), handling communications with VTS and/or other traffic and directing line handling and/or use of the anchor. The relationship between the Master and Pilot is quite unique. While the Master remains in command of the vessel, the State Licensed Pilot has navigational control.

When the vessel is ready to sail the pilot takes her back to sea and disembarks at the Pilot Station. Boarding and disembarking are nearly always done underway.
 “Jim-Pilot Ladder Arco Spirit"

Travel to and from the job for an Alaska harbor pilot often involves flying in charter aircraft both on floats and wheels but mostly on floats. Since float planes typically are not IFR certified, much of our flying is done in MVFR conditions. The definition of the term “MVFR” often seemed to be related to the urgency of the job.

A now retired UAL Captain and former Pan Am pilot, who we’ve become close friends with, warned Carol that “getting there was the most dangerous part of my job”. He was proved correct when a 206 on floats taking me, a fellow pilot, and a trainee to a passenger ship job in Prince William Sound went down in Portage Pass in bad weather.

“Plane Crash & Float”

Following this incident (now some 8 years ago) Carol saw her chance to convince me to retire.

Retirement has opened up consulting work instructing “Bridge Resource Management for Pilots” and evaluating pilotage candidates at simulator facilities in Seattle and Seward. Various other Simulator assignments with pilot groups have provided a venue for interesting “Automation Dependence” discussions. Relating “Automation Dependence” examples from aviation to the maritime setting has provided good feedback from pilots in simulator and classroom sessions.

Boating has been a part of our family’s life for many years and has provided opportunities to pass on life’s lessons to our kids, grandkids and great-grandkids – often a challenge.

 “Cape Fairweather”

We have taken our current boat, “Cape Fairweather”, several times through the Inside Passage to SE Alaska and revisited places from my early days in the Alaska trade.

Carol was raised in SE Alaska and still has friends and family members in the Ketchikan area. Carol’s parents originally moved to Cape Yakataga, Alaska, 1n 1947 where her dad worked for the CAA (FAA now).


This experience brought them in contact with many of Alaska’s early bush pilots including “Mudhole Smith”, who’s company later mutated into Alaska Airlines. When her Dad transferred to Annette Island (a major refueling stop in SE Alaska) Carol commuted to high school in Ketchikan with Ellis Airlines and worked summers in the Pan Am Terminal coffee shop. Here she served coffee and donuts to many interesting people including Charles Lindberg who often passed through as Vice President of Pan Am. Her brother still lives in Ketchikan and has served many years with the Air Search & Rescue Unit. His aviation stories reinforce the hazards of flying in Alaska. 
  “Flying to Seattle 1947”

 “Yakataga Carol 1947”

 “Yakataga Mail Run”

Jim contacted me a month or so ago with a question about automation taking over the oceans as well as the skies. He had a question about the video the Children of the Magenta...wondering if there was a more current version out there. After you leave a comment, check out his concerns on Automated into Mediocrity, if you haven't yet.

Enjoy the journey!!
XO Karlene

Thank you so much for reading and sharing my novels Flight For Control and Flight For Safety with your friends. If you haven't left a comment on Amazon, please do so. It helps so very much! 


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Bernieshoot! He's a great guy and looking forward to meeting the man behind the story.

  2. An amazing story about a remarkable man. And not to forget the woman that supporter him all the way. I sure want to meet these people when I return to the States Karlene. They are very inspiring people. I'm sure they can tell and learn us a thing or Two. Let's do this and go to Alaska for a trip!

    1. Thanks for the comment An, and Yes... we must remember the remarkable man. So... when you come to the states we will head north to go visit them. :)
      I miss Alaska!!!

  3. If Capt. Jim needs a volunteer "ship handler" to improve Simulator training scenarios...let me know.

    Thanks, Bryan G (CFII)


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