Taking flight: Family features five commercial pilots

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 28 2009 11:45 a.m. MST

Even John, who is one of the lawyers, remembers sitting around and hearing his Dad tell "crazy stories about being in the Guard and flying. "It got us all excited about being pilots. It almost made me want to do it, too."

Learning to fly is one thing, of course, and becoming a commercial pilot another. It generally starts with a private pilot's license, but there are hours to log, experience to be gained.

Paul got his private license in 1988, went to Georgia for instrument and commercial training, moved to California and taught for a number of years before going to work with Scenic Airlines, in Page, Ariz., then to Sky West and finally to Delta.

When Mike was a student at Jordan High School, there was a tech program where he could take ground school and get high school credit, "so by the time I was out of high school, I had soloed. I got my license in 1985, one week before I left on my mission."

But maintaining a license is not cheap. "I could barely hang on until I finished college. But I knew I wanted to fly full time; flying was always my passion."

He followed his brother's advice and career path, also going from Scenic to Sky West to Delta. "Paul and I were the first brothers to be hired by Delta. They used to have a nepotism rule that prevented hiring other family members, but they did away with it just as we came along," says Mike.

Don taught Tom to fly. "I didn't really get serious about it until I had graduated from the University of Utah. Dad taught me in his plane, and Mike and Paul taught me about flying in clouds." But he, too, had to pay his dues, work his way up. "I lived in Dave's garage for two years while I built up experience."

"The first few years, you may have the ratings but you're not necessarily employable," explains Mike. "You have to serve your time as an indentured servant or apprentice."

But the family connection has proved to be a valuable one, the men say.

"Pilots are a tight-knit group," says Mike. And at Delta, his father was well-respected. "When I was first hired, all flights had a third guy in the cockpit, a flight engineer. They don't do that anymore. But on my first flights, I flew as a flight engineer with captains who had first flown as Dad's flight engineer. The respect and goodwill they have for Dad has really helped the rest of us."

"I've never heard anyone say a bad word about him," adds John.

Paul and Mike have flown mostly domestic routes; Tom, who joined Delta in December 2007, has "flown the wide-bodies to Europe and the Mideast," although he has now transferred to domestic routes. With NetJets, Joseph flies mostly business and private charters.

But they all love what they do. They love the variety, the chance for exploration, the travel benefits for family members, the great views. "We've never seen ourselves working in an office," says Paul. "My office is a cockpit. It's small, but it moves."

"I love my time off with my family," adds Mike, "but when I strap in, I'm happy, excited to be there. The sights, the smells; it's such a rush. There's always something to love."

Don is proud of all his sons. "They all became Eagle Scouts, and they all went on LDS missions — but most of the credit for that goes to my wife. I was gone a lot. I'm glad that some of them listened to me. I wanted them to do something that gave them more control over their time."

But mostly, like any parent, he wants them to be doing what makes them happy. And it is fun having so many pilots in the family, he says.

The job of any parents, it is said, is to give their children both roots and wings. That's true for all of the Wilkinsons — it's just that for some of them, the wings are more literal than for the others.

E-mail: carma@desnews.com

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