In the shadows of the mid-2000 economic slowdown, many young airline pilots like Gordon Alvord were asked to remain in the employment “holding pattern.”
Times were tough for the entire nation and the luxury of air travel for everyday citizens was replaced by necessity. With less money to go around, there were simply fewer routes to fly and that meant “standby” for thousands of professional aviators.
Unsure of when his full time flying gig at Alaska Airlines would return, Alvord notes with a laugh that he “quickly realized…I don’t have any skills besides flying airplanes!”
Like many aviators, Gordon’s first job graduating from the University of North Dakota’s professional pilot program was flight instructing. Rapidly building his time, he moved into the airlines with a dedication to the profession that continues to drive his career.
“I always loved teaching, so I thought ‘Why don’t I teach and make some money?”
And so, in 2007 Rainier Flight Service in Seattle was born.
Alvord and his nearly 20,000 hours have grown Rainier Flight Service into the largest private flight school in Washington state. Alvord’s business partner Bradley Donaldson also deserves volumes of credit.
With 16 aircraft on the line, hundreds of successful students, and office space that is dedicated to educating aviators of all levels, every fiber of the school is built around the enjoyment of flight.
When asked what advice he’d give to someone considering becoming a pilot, Gordon is quick to respond: “You need to follow your passions. If you’re looking at this as a career, it’s a great career. If you want to do this as a personal challenge, then embrace it. We’re lucky to have the opportunity.”
Standing near the taxiway at Renton Municipal Airport in Renton, Washington, in the shadow of the school’s namesake, that’s hard to argue against.
What do you fly
A 2017 Cirrus SR-20. It’s a phenomenal airplane. The technology and the resources are beyond anything available on a commercial aircraft. Full glass, synthetic vision…the autopilot will keep you out of trouble.
If you are really spatially disoriented, there’s the blue “level button” and if you hit that, it’s going to go to straight and level — not from any attitude, but from any reasonable attitude. The safety features are just increasing in reliability. It’s pretty incredible.
Why do you fly it
I like the safety features, especially if I’m flying my family or loved ones around. There’s a lot of opinions about the parachute, but what I can tell you is look at the data. Of all the parachutes that have been pulled within the envelope, there have been no fatalities. How do you argue with that? That’s important, especially in this environment. We’re around the mountains, the ocean, there’s not a lot of good ditching areas like there are in the Midwest.
I like the comfort. The technology — I’m kind of mixed. The pilot part of me sometimes wants to turn it off and just fly the airplane. But if I’m going somewhere and want something that is safe and comfortable, that’s what I’d choose.
How do you fly it
I like to explore new places. Locally, I love going down to Packwood, just a tiny little airport down in the valley. They have the Blue Spruce Saloon & Grill. You go in grab a hamburger and some ice cream. The scenery is fantastic. I’ve flown all over the country and, besides southeast Alaska, the next best thing is Puget Sound.
Challenge yourself. If you ask any pilot, no matter how much experience they have, they will all say that there is more to learn.
That’s one of the things that I love about this industry.
And I encourage people to use that to keep their passion alive. Don’t get into a rut flying over and over the same airplane to the same places. Explore, embrace that adventure and enjoy the challenge.