In this Interview with an Aviator, we explore the careers of two Jet Linx flight professionals – both of whom found themselves flying for Jet Linx not once, but twice in their careers. Doug Nelson (DN) is a system floater pilot that used to fend off feral dogs and ostriches while living in Luanda, Angola. Chris Clark (CC) is a pilot for Jet Linx Dallas and a former Marine with a deep love for his home state of Texas. Read their stories and learn how their desire to Supply the High brought them back to Jet Linx.
When did your interest in aviation begin?
CC: I first became interested in becoming a pilot after I left the Marine Corps, and was looking at various colleges, and trying to decide what to major in. I was not in the Air Wing, or around aviation at all while on Active Duty in the military. One day when I was bored I took a discovery flight at the airport. I just wanted to see what it was like; I didn’t expect a whole lot out of it. That first flight got me – I was totally addicted after just one ride. I never looked back. I then went to school and became a pilot. I knew I could never sit in an office all day, and flying for a living is nearly the opposite of that!
DN: I was always interested in airplanes and aviation in general. And as it happens, I had some older distant relatives who were pilots, but I didn’t know they were pilots until after I started flying.
What do you enjoy most about being a pilot?
CC: I love aviation. This is what I was meant to do. I like the history of it, and where it is growing as an entire industry. A lot of the technology and communications, such as Wifi in the airplane, is really fascinating if you think about it. Aviation has afforded me numerous opportunities with more coming. It has allowed me to live in various parts of the great state of Texas and has taken me around the globe. Plus, it’s not a 9-to-5’er, and every day is completely different from the last.
DN: I like the places it has taken me. I’ve been all over. My time working in Africa was an experience I’ll never forget. I like the opportunity that comes along with flying. You can work anywhere and meet anyone. No day is ever the same.
Can you describe your career path before coming to Jet Linx?
CC: After 9/11 happened I felt the need to go serve my country. My grandfather served in WWII and his father served in WWI. Neither of my parents were military, and I had never thought much about joining until the towers fell. I wanted to honor the American tradition of answering the call and defend the legacy my grandfathers and their fathers left for me. I ended up in the Marine Corps because they’re highly trained in multiple fields, and I wanted a challenge that no other place could offer. The Marines are the real deal. While a Marine, I served on an Amtrack (not the train), which is an amphibious vehicle, kind of a cross between a tank and a boat, although the vehicles are only equipped with .50 caliber machine guns and an automatic grenade launcher. I was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, with the 3rd Tracks Battalion. My one and only deployment didn’t involve Iraq or Afghanistan, but I’m proud to have trained newly commissioned Officers as they were going through Initial Amtrack training. The Marine Corps was the most challenging thing I have ever done, and I’m proud of it!
After the Marine Corps, my primary flight training came from various certificate 141 training centers and colleges. After that, I became a flight instructor to earn more hours and experience. I then flew freight for several years on the back side of the clock, gaining more flight experience and building the right type of flight experience. When I came to Jet Linx, they afforded me the opportunity to move in to Part 135 flying. Since that time, I have earned four type/jet ratings with them.
DN: I was at a career fair as a junior in high school and followed a friend into an aviation seminar. The presenter represented a local community college with a respected aviation program. He explained the opportunities available to graduates of his program and the expected pilot shortage in the future. I decided to attend Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville, Iowa, earning an Associate Degree, a commercial instrument rating and a flight instructor certificate.
After school I became a multi-engine cargo pilot and then worked as a pilot for Great Lakes Airline for nine years. In my next role, I was a Chief Pilot for Air Cargo Masters in Sioux Falls, and after a shuffling of the company I found myself acting as the Director of Operations. I realized I wasn’t suited to sit in an office all day, so I moved on to fly a Mitsubishi Diamond Jet for the Setliff Sinus Institute in Omaha. In 2004, I was hired by Jet Linx where I found the first-class professional environment that I craved.
What is your favorite aspect of being a Jet Linx pilot?
CC: I feel like here I am not just an employee ID number but an actual person with a name and a face. I can go directly from my local Base management all the way to the top at the National Operations Center with any questions, concerns, or issues. It’s a very transparent environment, which speaks volumes about the integrity of the company. They’re always willing to have a conversation if it means improving safety or furthering the mission to be the best in the industry.
DN: I enjoy that we are supported to do things the right way, to not cut corners, and to pay attention to safety. I appreciate the environment where we aren’t being asked to take unnecessary risks. The rigid standards enforced by Jet Linx translate to a better experience for everyone involved. Safety really is valued here, and so are the team members. It’s impressive to see an organization always put safety over revenue.
What do you value most about the culture at Jet Linx?
CC: Although Jet Linx is not a small company, I can speak with anyone at any time. The focus on safety is not just a marketing ploy, either. We’re not asked to take risks that would put us in unnecessary danger. The emphasis on training is real and has come in handy multiple times.
DN: Compared to when I was flying in Africa, Jet Linx is in another world. From service to safety, everything is completely different. In Africa I was presented with unthinkable options compared to how Jet Linx operates. I was really happy to come back to a safety-oriented operator like Jet Linx. Doing things the right way is the culture here, and that makes me proud to fly under the Jet Linx flag.
In both of your careers, you have spent time away from piloting for Jet Linx. What happened to both divert you away and pull you back?
CC: It was an incredibly hard decision for me to leave. I left in an effort to gain Boeing experience. My significant other lives in Antwerp, Belgium. So, gaining Boeing and 121 flight experience would afford me the opportunity to get to her in the most financially responsible way. I’d also been flying Part 135 for ten years and wanted to see what else was out there. However, my decision to leave was short-lived. I actually called Jet Linx back before I finished orientation with a different organization.
DN: Factors out of my control forced me to find work elsewhere, but that was at the outset of the recession – 2008 was a hard time to find work for people in all industries, and aviation was worse than most. Hundreds of pilots with my same flight experience were being laid off in America, so I applied for work all over South America, Asia, and Africa. Then a position for a division of Zimex, a Swiss company operating in African oil fields, opened up. I loved my time in Africa and will always treasure it. Minus some of the safety concerns (in my six years there I had to tangle with some feral animals and even a disgruntled ostrich!), I had a great schedule and saw some amazing things. But to reiterate, the reason for leaving Jet Linx was influenced more by outside circumstances than me making the decision to leave. If the choice were mine, I would never have left!
What do you wish to see for the future of Jet Linx?
CC: When I first started at Jet Linx, none of my friends in the industry knew who we were. Now ALL of my friends in the industry know who we are. I would like to see us continue to grow and expand. I hope to fly for Jet Linx Europe someday – hopefully with a Base in Antwerp, Belgium, so I can see my significant other! We are not the biggest (yet), we are not the cheapest, but we get you there and back safely, with assurance. This side of the industry is more friendly and easy going than commercial alternatives. We as pilots also have a direct link to our passengers and can make decisions quickly, which only improves safety.
DN: Looking at the future, I just believe Jet Linx offers the most opportunity for me. It’s a growing organization with a good head on its shoulders. I see Jet Linx going to the right places, and I want to be here for that. I like the emphasis on safety, and I enjoy working for a truly first-class private aviation company. As Jet Linx grows and grows, I believe my best opportunities will be here. Crossing oceans in heavy business jets is more likely to come to me as the company scales up and adds to our fleet nationwide. I see a lot of opportunity here.
What are some of your favorite memories as an aviator?
CC: It might sound crazy, but my favorite memory is returning to the ground safely after an engine failure in flight on an empty leg. We came together as a strong and confident team, and returned to the ground safely – in fact, it was no big deal. It proved our training works. Jet Linx goes above and beyond to prepare us for these situations and I’m proud to be part of an organization that can handle things that arise with calm and ease. It speaks volumes about what kind of outfit we’re running.
DN: During the eclipse a few years ago, I flew a family on a special mission to experience a total eclipse in a jet plane. We had no way of knowing how to optimize the experience for them (this was new territory for us all!), so we had to improvise based on assumptions. We timed our departure out of St. Louis 20 minutes before totality. Then we flew toward Kansas City in order to intercept the totality track, and then turned southeast and let the eclipse overtake us. Because of our altitude, it never got totally dark. The effect was of a 360-degree sunset all around the plane. A memorable experience for both crew and passengers alike.