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Bush Pilot

Alaska Aviation Legends: Garland Dobson, pilot for the public good

Garland Dobson was born Feb. 1, 1948, in northern Alabama to Thurston and Ilene Dobson. In 1964, Garland and his future wife Anna Marie stopped to admire the blue taxiway lights at Chuck Yeager Airport, in Charleston, W.V., and Garland told her that someday he, too, was going to become a pilot and fly. It wasn't long before Garland did just that.

Garland and Anna Marie were married in 1966, and he learned to fly helicopters in the U.S. Army.

In between tours of duty, Dobson earned his multi-engine rating in Anchorage at AeroTech from Dick and Ramona Ardaiz at Merrill Field.

While in the Army, Garland began his first of two tours in Vietnam flying helicopter missions with the 282nd Assault Helicopter Company, the "Black Cats."

In 1971, Maj. Steve Henault and two others had departed Whitehorse near midnight in a Beechcraft U-8D and crashed into Mt. Sanford.

Garland was asked to find the wreckage and determine if there were survivors. He located the wreckage and attempted to land near the 15,000-foot summit. He was credited with finding the wreckage, and narrowly escaped being dropped via helicopter into the crash scene with a doctor. The following day, famed mountain guide Ray Genet and Pan Am pilot Rex Post, who had climbing experience, were flown in and dropped off, but found themselves stuck on the mountain for several days in bad weather. All three of the aircraft occupants had died in the crash. Post also died as a result of altitude sickness -- a fatality that could have been Dobson.

Later, after two tours in Vietnam, an honorable discharge, a Purple Heart and enlistment in the Alaska Air National Guard, Garland and his family -- now made up of Anna Marie and their two children, Sabrina and Denny -- headed for Alaska permanently.

Six weeks later, the Alaska State Troopers called Garland and he entered the trooper academy in Sitka -- once again requiring a lengthy absence from the family.

In the course of his career with the State of Alaska, Garland would be stationed first in McGrath in 1973, followed by Talkeetna, Palmer, Willow and then Coldfoot in 1989. He finally retired from the troopers in the spring of 1993.

"Being the first Helo-1 (troopers' primary response helicopter) pilot for the State of Alaska offered some benefits, such as operating out of your home, but there were downfalls, as the State expected the Helo-1 pilot to be on call 24/7," said Dobson.

Garland flew everything in the inventory of the Alaska Department of Public Safety -- he even started flying the Grumman Goose.

After Garland retired from the State of Alaska, he still wanted to continue working. Garland had met the third Helo-1 pilot, Mel Nading, when they were in the Army National Guard. Nading hired Garland to fly for Transalaska. It was an old and familiar routine -- deployed for 58 days straight to support an archaeological site, the Mesa Site on the North Slope.

After Transalaska, Garland accepted employment as a pilot inspector for the U.S. Department of the Interior's Office of Aircraft Services. In 1999, Garland again changed jobs, this time to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a Mentor/Instructor Pilot, where he stayed until October 2013.

Garland and Anna Marie are now enjoying spending more time together traveling, riding their Harley-Davidson motorcycles all over the country, and visiting their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Their adventures continue, and Garland is still living his dream of flight that began all those years ago, when he was just a boy who thought he could fly.

Garland Dobson is one of 13 men and women selected to represent the next class of Alaska Aviation Legends, an annual project that recognizes the pioneers who made Alaska's aviation industry and culture what it is today. For more on the legends, consider attending the Nov. 7 banquet in their honor. More information is available at the Alaska Air Carriers Association website.

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