Another Aviation Field Trip

Tour group in the maintenance hangar with a F-18 – Contributed photo

Mari Peterson, Assistant Chief Pilot at Westwind Aviation shares this with you…

Hi San Juan Update,

Took my students on another class trip on Sunday the 2nd, this time to the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station! Here’s the run down:

Myself (in Westwind Aviation’s Cessna 172, donated by Westwind Aviation) and four volunteer pilots (Bob Tauscher in his Cessna 172, Dennis Willows in his Glasair, James Cox in his Bonanza, and Darryl Swenson in his Light Sport Aircraft) flew the seven students (and my STEM counterpart Derek Smith) from the Friday Harbor Airport to the Oak Harbor Airport on Whidbey Island. There we were met by four Navy personnel who escorted us onto the base.

These four volunteers (Air Traffic Controller Petty Officer 3rd class Elsier, Air Traffic Controller Petty Officer 3rd class Whitson, Air Traffic Controller Petty Officer 2nd class Chrisman, and Air Traffic Controller Petty Officer 1st class Schultz) gave my students and volunteer pilots a guided tour of many different areas of the base. This was a real treat for everyone, because many professional pilots go their entire careers without seeing these kind of operations that are so integral to Aviation as a whole. Whidbey Island NAS controls the airspace surrounding their base, which includes part of the San Juan Islands. All airplanes flying through the area from Lopez Island to Everett talk to the Whidbey Air Traffic Controllers.

The group was able to see the Air Traffic Control Room (Radar Room) and learn about how their Air Traffic Control system operates and how airplanes are observed from their point of view. The students were able to see a few different types of approaches that are conducted there and what services are available to both military and general aviation pilots. No photos were allowed in the Radar Room.

After this, we went out on the tarmac and up to the Air Traffic Control Tower, where Air Traffic Controller Petty Officer 1st class McKinnis explained to the students more about the base and their tower operations. We were able to go out on the observation deck of the tower to watch a military 737 land carrying soldiers who were returning home. The students said watching the homecoming (seeing the soldiers reunited with their families) was a highlight of the day. No photos were allowed from the Control Tower.

Tour group and fire trucks – Contributed photo

From there we went to the ARFF (Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting) building, where we received a tour of the firehouse from Sean Conley, one of the Navy Firefighters. We even got to see the trucks in action! Sean and two other firefighters brought out three of the fire trucks, and the students got to ride in them around the taxiways of the Naval Air Station and actually spray water!

Next we went to a maintenance hangar and were able to see multiple F-18s. Aviation Electronics Technician Petty Officer 1st class Brosnan explained to the group the varieties of F-18s and the various systems of the different aircraft. The students and volunteers were able to get up close and personal with some pretty incredible active fighter jets. Limited photos were allowed in the hangar.

From here we were transported back to the Oak Harbor Airport by the Air Traffic Control volunteers, and flew back home!

The students and volunteers alike had an amazing time. It was a treat for myself as well, because I was able to put a face to the people I talk with on a daily basis.

This trip would not have been possible without the generosity of both the volunteer pilots as well as that of the Whidbey Naval Air Station. They were incredibly accommodating.

If anyone would like more information on visiting the base, please contact me!

Mari Peterson
Assistant Chief Pilot, Westwind Aviation

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Tim Dustrude

Just another part-timer - Part time photographer at and, part time graphic artist, part time blogger at Occasionally a New Photo . And now... full time editor at The San Juan Update.