Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Career Day makes a successful landing at Moose Lake High School


Provided Photo

Clouds of fire retardant are spread over burning forests and grasslands from a plane flown by pilot Todd Olson.

A plane flying over the forest dumping bright pink clouds of fire retardant was shown to Moose Lake High School students on a video by pilot Todd Olson during Career Day on Feb. 28. Olson was just one of many presenters that spoke about their careers to the students during 45-minute sessions.

Olson, who grew up and graduated from Moose Lake High School in 1978, told the students about his experiences and career as a pilot.

"When I was in high school, I liked driving fast cars," he said. "I really liked to go fast. But I didn't know what career I wanted. After sitting in classrooms, I did not want to go to college. But, in hindsight, I wished that I had."

To satisfy his urge to go fast, Olson took flying lessons.

"There was a flying club at the Moose Lake airport at the time so I started taking lessons when I was 14," he said. "I got my license at the age of 23. I talked to an Air Force recruiter but I didn't take that path. I went to the Dunwoody Institute and got electrical training."

Olson still didn't know what his career path should be but he had the electrical training for an occupation in the meantime. He still thought about flying.

"When I was in Minneapolis, I saw planes going by," he said. "And then I met an airline pilot named Bruce. He set up a five-year plan for me to go from being a private pilot to a commercial airlines pilot. I decided to make a career change at the age of 29.

"There are two routes to get into commercial flying-military or civilian. I applied to the military but I was too old at 29. There are four-year colleges where you come out with a degree in aviation."

But those options were not available to Olson. He worked hard as an electrician while training to advance in his ratings for flying.

"I earned my instrument rating and then I earned multi-engine ratings," he told the students. "In order to get a job in commercial aviation, I had to get hours. Most people become flight instructors."

Olson finally achieved his goal of becoming a commercial airlines pilot when he was hired by Mesabi Airlines when he was 32.

"I flew 50-seat planes to begin with," he said. "By the time I left there, I was flying 90-passenger jets all over the country and to places like the Bahamas. I sat on the right seat and trained new captains and new officers."

Olson said that his next job was to ferry airplanes from Tucson in the desert, where the air is dry and planes do not rust, to Montreal in Canada. Sometimes he flew planes from France to Tucson, Arizona.

"I grew tired of the airline transport business and my kids were grown up," he said. "I wanted to work overseas. I focused on Japan. It was a safe country, and the airline pays my taxes. They pay well."

Olson said that he spent two years flying Japanese airliners but found it difficult to be so far from home.

"To come home, it was a 12-hour plane ride and a 15-hour time change," he said. "I decided to come back to the United States to work."

Now Olson works as an aerial firefighting pilot with Aeroflite, a company based in Spokane, Washington. He flies a plane that holds 3,000 gallons of flame retardant.

"At nine pounds a gallon, that is 27,000 pounds that falls off the plane when I dump the retardant," he said. "I have to put a lot of force on the plane as I drop that load."

Olson said that he is able to control the amount of retardant dropped.

"When I am flying over big timber, I can drop the retardant in shorter bursts or I can stretch it out on grass fires," he said. "Retardant doesn't stop the fire but it slows it down so the guys on the ground can put it out."

Olson explained that the recent forest fire in Paradise, California, was fanned by high winds.

"The winds were 60 miles an hour," he said. "It was too dangerous to fly."

Olson described the Fire Traffic Area, where different types of aircraft are flying over an area where a fire is burning.

"Large air tankers usually orbit below us," he said. "Those guys go one way, we go another way. Helicopters and single-engine planes are below us. It looks like a bee's nest."

Olson spends two weeks working and two weeks off, often working on a float plane of his own at his Moose Lake home. The float plane is a Murphy Rebel that he plans to fly all over the country.

As Olson looked back on his career, he told the students what his motto always has been: "Live your life with intention. Live the life that you always dreamed of – the life you always imagined living."

He said that he has achieved that goal.


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