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April 1, 2007
By Dan Namowitz
It started with a scary helicopter ride in Honduras. A little boy who'd gone along as a passenger while the helo sprayed crops didn't like it, not even a little bit. He begged to be returned to the ground. The pilot complied, but despite the trauma, a seed sprouted in the boy's thoughts. It could be fun to be a pilot.
Born to American parents living in both Guatemala and Honduras, Jim Dickson, now of Bangor, Maine, took the first steps that would fulfill his boyhood fantasy and eventually make him a familiar fixture of the Bangor aviation scene. First came studies at the University of Maine and college loans. An ad seeking someone to work part time on the line crew at Bangor International Airport came to his attention, and the debt-laden student pounced. He began flight lessons in two venerable Cessna trainers. Recalling how long it took him to earn a private pilot certificate, Dickson, now 48 and a master sergeant in the Maine Air National Guard, speaks in calendar time and logbook time: "300 and 64 days; 41 hours." That's pretty good in a weather-bound place, especially those 41 hours.
So no, you weren't seeing double if you watched a city-uniformed red-haired line attendant fuel a trainer, then saw another fellow dressed in civvies, but identical in appearance, get in and fly it. You weren't viewing in triplicate if someone who looked like the line attendant and the pilot, but wearing a soldier's uniform, disembarked later from a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker on the ramp of the Maine Air National Guard's 101st Air Refueling Wing. That's Dickson too. He went part time with the Guard while working the airport's GA line. In 1999 he took the chance to "make the Air National Guard my only career." He was sent off to "boom school." Dickson, married and the father of two, has flown about 2,500 hours in tankers as the boom operator who performs air-to-air refueling — interspersed with 300 hours of flying the single-engine trainer over Maine for fun.
He's made it as far as the Canadian border in the Cessna. With the Guard, he's been to Korea, Japan, Alaska, Iceland, Turkey, and Ecuador. "That's a pretty good circle right there. Across the top, and around the bottom," he says. The little boy in Honduras was right. Working around aircraft has been a great way to earn a living and raise a family.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.
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