Doug McWhorter picked Flight 73 from Juneau to Anchorage today as his last as an Alaska Airlines pilot, adding one more memory to a lifetime in the sky.
After 14 years with Alaska Airlines, McWhorter is retiring. A celebration with family and friends was planned for later today in Anchorage, his home.
"The real memorable things flow together," McWhorter said. "The cornucopia of beautiful dawns and dusks. The wonderful people you've flown with."
As is traditional, two airport fire trucks sprayed an arch of water as the plane taxied through the mist at the Juneau Airport just before takeoff this morning. And following tradition, McWhorter asked friend, instructor and fellow captain Dick Smith to be his first officer. They met during training in Anchorage years back, sharing jokes in a serious environment.
"We spent a lot of hours walking around the park reciting procedures," Smith remembered.
McWhorter's wife, Nonie, along with daughters Mollie and Susan, joined him on the flight today. A third daughter, Katy, lives in Tennessee. Friend and former neighbor David Ross also made a surprise trip from Chattanooga, Tenn., to join the group. During dinner Tuesday night in Juneau, everyone traded memories, fishing stories and more jokes.
McWhorter is an avid fly fisherman, active in his church and a Habitat for Humanity volunteer, Ross said. He also is called the "candy man" by some flight crews for a habit of handing out packages of M&Ms, lollipops and gum, explained daughter Susan, 10. He was a U.S. Navy pilot and instructor and flew reconnaissance missions in the Vietnam War.
Taking into account the weather, navigational aids, runways and other variables, Alaska provides some of the "most challenging and best flying in the whole world," McWhorter said. Over the years, he's traveled most everywhere in the state - Kodiak, Bethel, the North Slope, Aniak.
"The Aleutian chain on a clear day - there's nothing prettier in the world," he said.
Some of the most difficult but enjoyable trips have been the so-called milkrun flights that travel through Southeast Alaska - Flights 65 and 64, 61 and 66, he said.
"Those are the best in the spring and the fall," he said. "It's hard but it's fun."
Most recently, McWhorter has flown Boeing "next generation" 737-400s, 700s and 900s, he said.
"I started off flying planes that flew in World War II," he said.
By federal law, commercial pilots are required to retire at age 60, and McWhorter's 60th birthday is March 1. He would keep flying with Alaska Airlines if he could, and hopes to find another job as a pilot. Right now, he's not sure what he'll do next.
People who fly have a connection that goes beyond the superficial, he said.
"The things you've seen are unique to a certain group of people people who fly," he said. "I've never met a pilot who doesn't have a strong belief in God."