A life in the air gets started with Alaskan bush pilot

Mike Johnston
Ellensuburg, Washington (AP) 9-07

At a time when many little girls played with Barbie dolls, Teresa Sloan listened intently to her mother tell exciting stories about early aviation pioneers like Charles Lindbergh and Wiley Post and could name the basic parts of an airplane.

While growing up in Seattle, Sloan shared in her mother's love of flight as she watched her mom get her private pilot's license, join the Civil Air Patrol and, eventually, reach the rank of lieutenant colonel and serve as a CAP squadron commander.

Sloan, now a Central Washington University Aviation Department associate professor, said her mother's life, and encouragement from her dad, sparked her passion for flight.

Sloan's remembers her mom's stories about service in World War II in the Women's Air Corps, part of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

“She was my hero,” Sloan said. “When women went into military back then they faced a lot of discrimination and, often, some real hard times.”

Some women, whose husbands were overseas, saw these ladies in uniform and looked down on them, believing they were in the service only to get their man, or to steal their husbands, she said.

Her mom, then Rosa D'Agostino, was 4-feet, 10-inches tall.

“People learned quickly her height didn't mean much; she could take on the biggest of any of 'em,” Sloan said.

Her mother taught male Air Corps' pilots how to fly only on instruments.

Rosa D'Agostino Sloan died in 2001.

Sloan now wears her mother's WAC wings on her flight jacket.

Sloan joined the CAP while in junior high, but it was a single airplane ride, at age 16, that cinched her life goal. A boyfriend flew her in a small but nimble two-seat, one-wing aerobatic plane.

“After that flight I was hooked; I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I didn't know exactly, I just knew I wanted to be a pilot.”

Sloan received a CAP scholarship for flight lessons and learned to fly before she learned to drive. Later, she attended CWU and graduated from its flight program in 1977 with a bachelor of science degree in aerospace specializing as a flight officer. In the meantime she rated as a flight instructor and gained her commercial pilot's license at age 19.

In 1979, she received her airline transport pilot certificate, a rating that perhaps only 200 other women in the nation had at that time.

Sloan had no success in attempts to get a job with commercial airlines.

“I just couldn't convince them that a 5-foot tall woman could manhandle a 727,” she said with a smile.

With a friend, Sloan went to Alaska to work and later was introduced to Jim Foode – a well-respected bush pilot, aircraft mechanic and owner of a flight service assisting the fishing fleet. An Aleut Indian, Foode was one of the first Alaskan natives to become a commercial pilot.

“Jim will tell you something like, 'It was love at first sight. She's so small I can carry an extra 100 pounds of freight in the airplane,”' Sloan laughed.

She worked for Jim as chief pilot and company check airman, flying passengers and mail to remote locations. She and Foode were later married, a year after she came to Alaska.

A daughter was later born and the couple moved to Olympia. Foode flew in Alaska during the fishing season and stayed home to overhaul his airplanes in the off season.

Sloan later decided teaching would be a good profession, following in her mom's footsteps who taught aerospace to CAP personnel. In 1996 she received her master's in education through a Gonzaga University program.

She later learned of an opening in CWU's Aviation Department, applied, got it, and the family moved here in 1998.

Sloan teaches aviation ground school and is the department's Federal Aviation Administration chief ground instructor. That means she makes sure what's taught and the skills that are achieved by students match the requirements of the FAA.

She also is faculty adviser to a group of aviation students who live at Kamola Hall on campus in a “living, learning community.”

Through her work she has opportunities to pass on to students some of the passion she has for flight.

That passion has been sparked even more since she purchased in 2005 a home-built, single-wing Pietenpol Air Camper. It's a small, open-cockpit, fabric-and-wood airplane, the first to be mass produced in 1929. It's the only open cockpit craft operating from Bowers Field.

Why fly such a fragile bird?

“I wanted to experience what the pioneers had to deal with – the cold, the wind, the unstable aircraft of delicate design. Today, our CWU students learn to fly comfortable, well-equipped aircraft with modern navigation radios.

“It's easy to forget how flying got its start and the early pioneers whose dedication and sacrifice paved the way for aviation as we know it today. Flying the Little Piet allows me to connect with the rich history of aviation, and, for a short while, I'm transported back in time.”