Small Plane Aviation in Alaska


Al Merrill with his RedBird Flight Simulator that is used to teach and train rising pilots.

Monica Sutton, Reporter

Small plane aviation contributes a large amount of money to the economy of our state. The pilots who run the business are important too, so here is a view of three pilots, their lives and their personal experiences when it comes to aviation.

First is Julian Griggs, a freshman pilot who received his license in the beginning of 2019. Griggs’ desire to earn a pilot’s license began when he was a sophomore at Service High School. His aim was to get his pilot’s license with his dad, Richard, but before they could reach their goal, Griggs’ dad passed away from cancer. Even though his dad was gone, Griggs decided that he was still going to reach their goal.

As a junior in high school, Griggs took two semesters of Aviation Technology at what is now King Tech. “[Aviation Technology] really jumpstarted and really catapulted me to get my pilot’s license,” Griggs says. After high school, Griggs went to Land & Sea Aviation in order to get his license. Three years later, he has reached his goal.

Griggs’ stepdad, Theo Chesley, is also involved in aviation and owns Precision Air. One advantage Griggs has found in aviation is the efficiency of flying. When flying to Talkeetna, Griggs says, “A three and half [to] four hour drive is only a 45 minute flight.” Griggs also enjoys taking people flying who have never flown before. When discussing his future goals, he says, “… become a pilot, eventually move to the airlines, but not right away. I think I want to keep bush flying…When I’m 45, 50, maybe then I’ll consider jumping to the airlines.”

When it comes to his favorite part of aviation, Griggs says the flying itself is the best. Griggs strongly encourages young people to pursue earning a pilot’s license. “It’s such a cool thing to do. Flying somewhere, seeing new things… flying is a totally different perspective.”

Al Merrill, a senior pilot and business owner gives us his opinion on aviation. Merrill owns Angel Aviation, a flying school for rising pilots. Merrill has flown both small, private planes and commercial airliners. All of Merrill’s sons have been or are currently flight instructors and are very involved in the aviation world. Merrill says his favorite part of being an instructor is, “The joy of seeing people happy that they can actually learn how to fly an airplane.” Merrill says that to him, confidence and honesty are the most important things for a pilot to have.

Lastly, a local chiropractor named David Mulholland gives his view on aviation. While he mainly practices chiropractic medicine, Mulholland flies as a hobby. He received his pilot’s license in 1986 and believes that what has really changed about aviation since then is the technology. “[The new technology] is good because you absolutely know where you’re at, what your altitude is, who is around you and you have so much more technology available to help you.”

At the same time, Mulholland says it can hinder certain skills, such as reading maps. Mulholland says that he is the type of pilot who flies because he loves the culture, the engineering and the systems of flying.