When Your Kid Chooses a Dangerous Career

As I’m sure many of you are aware, yesterday, an air tanker fighting the fires in Australia, crashed, killing the crew.


Fly firefighting air tankers is my 16 year old son’s singular goal in life.

I’ve had a lot of family and friends tell me this is a dangerous career.  Yes, I know.  They ask how I feel about his career choice.  I say I’m supportive of it.  They kind of look at me in wonder.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m still supportive of his career goals.

But the crash gave me pause.   It hit closer to home for some reason.

Evan has always been interested in aviation.  My Dad is a private pilot and has a plane, so he was exposed to it early.  One late afternoon several years ago, we were on our way to a Scout meeting.  A large fire was raging in neighboring Mendocino County and air tankers were flying in and out of our local Cal Fire Air Attack base.  As we were driving, a huge (and I mean . . . huge) air tanker roared over our head so low, it startled me and I was like, “what the heck was that??” as I stared through my sun roof.

That, Evan said, is what I want to do.  He was hooked.  And has remained so since that day.

So, eventually, he started flying lessons.  In late March, he will finish up his private pilot licenses in both fixed wing (airplanes) and rotary (helicopters).  You think its hard to watch your kid drive off in a car for the first time by themselves?  Yeah, try watching them fly away in an airplane and then a helicopter by themselves for the first time.  He completed his solo flights in both airplanes and helicopters on his 16th birthday, before he got his driver’s license.

The other day I heard a helicopter.  I went outside . . . yep, it was Evan, circling the house.

When Air Tanker 134 crashed yesterday, Evan got a text from a friend, letting him know about the accident.  He’s made a lot of contacts in the industry.  Maybe that’s why it hit close . . . it was clear to me that he’s IN this, he knows people in the industry, he’s already a part of that community.

It was quiet in the car as he texted back, “Any survivors?”.


I asked Evan if he was sure that’s what he wanted to do.  Maybe he’d like to find a less dangerous pilot job.  “No way.” he said.  And we talked about it.  “There are many, many air tanker pilots who go their entire careers without crashing or even having some sort of incident” he argued.  I acknowledged that he was correct in that statement.

Aahhhh . . . to be 16 and invincible.

When I tucked him into bed (yep, I still tuck him in most nights), I asked if he was upset about the crash.  “No.  You seem to be way, way more upset about it than I am.” he told me.

Well, he’s certainly right about that.



One Day . . . Two Solos!

He did it!!!  The weather cooperated and my son celebrated his birthday by successfully completing both helicopter and airplane solo flights!  I was so happy, so relieved, so proud!!!!  Evan was just about walking on air.  And he should have been . . . soloing in both a helicopter and airplane on your 16th birthday is not a very common accomplishment.

Our local paper came out and did a great article on Evan.  Here’s a link . . . https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9416706-181/sebastopol-youth-celebrates-his-16th

We started the morning at Helico, Evan’s helicopter flight school.  He went through pre-flight and then took off with his instructor.  They flew over to “helicopter practice area” and did a couple of patterns.  Evan then landed and instructor Konnor got out.  Off he went!!!  It was a little surreal watching the small R22 helicopter flying around, knowing that it was just my 16 year old kid up there

.20190321_103921-1.jpg    Post-helicopter solo!!!!

After lots of pictures and congratulations, we went home for lunch.  A couple hours later, we were back at the airport, this time at North Coast Air, Evan’s airplane flight school.  Again, he went through pre-flight under the watchful eye of his instructor, but without any input.  They took off together and did three take-offs and landings.  Then, once again, instructor Art got out and Evan was off on his own!  Again, everything went beautifully.  Whew!!

20190318_120034.jpg   And post-airplane solo!!!

I think I was way more stressed about the day than I realized.  I know I was stressed over the weather.  People kept asking me if I was nervous about him flying by himself.  I’d bravely answer, “No!!” and usually follow it with something like, “I have complete confidence in his instructors and know they won’t let him go if they’re not 100% convinced that he’s ready.”  I meant that.  But maybe watching your 16 year old fly around by himself is actually stressful.  Whatever it was, at the end of the day, I was absolutely exhausted.

Completing your solo flight is akin to getting your driver’s learning permit.  Evan has a lot more training in front of him.  His ultimate goal is fly air tankers for Cal Fire or a private air tanker company.  Challenging, dangerous work.  Flying lessons are extremely expensive so I started a GoFundMe page . . . especially since I just lost my job.  Go take a look, donate if you feel so inclined. . . and, if you don’t, goodness knows I won’t be offended (I’ve always been a little divided on the whole GoFundMe thing, personally).  Here’s the link to that:  https://www.gofundme.com/help-evan-fly

Thanks for celebrating with me!!!!