Making It All Work

‘Our business is our heart’

  Sheldon Air Service
  Holly Sheldon Lee poses in front of a Sheldon Air Service DeHavilland Beaver at the base camp of Mount McKinley during the 2011 climbing season.

Name: Holly Sheldon Lee    Occupation: Sheldon Air Service, general partner --- How long have you lived here?   All of my life, except for the years when I was exploring America. --- Why do you love Alaska?    I love the community of Alaska where intrepid souls and independent thinkers come together to support each other or a good cause. I love our Native people’s culture and our fellow Alaskans’ spirit, a combination of pragmatic sensibility and love of adventure I’ve not found anywhere else. I love Alaska’s light all day and night in the summertime, magic of the Northern lights, elegant alpenglow, annual rebirth of spring, and Denali immersed in pastel sunsets all year long. I love the sound of sparkling ice crystals as they chime in the birch trees. I love that a person can cross paths with a moose or a bear or a fox or a wolverine or glimpse a lynx on a walk. I love Alaska because from my office, I can see chickadees, nuthatches, red poles, grosbeaks and waxwings snapping open sunflower seeds and devouring last year’s tree fruit.

I love the rushing Susitna River and the roar of the Bering Sea. I love that I am free to zoom over the last free place on earth, anytime I can spare the avgas. I love that I can count on seeing an eagle in the cottonwood tree when I come home at night. --- What is your average day like? In the spring, I start the soup for mountain climbers who arrive from around the world to climb Denali, plan the day’s flight operations and see to myriad details that keep our busy organization running smoothly. I bake cookies for our customers, weigh the mountain climbers’ gear, check the weather, water flowers around the hangar and in the evenings I make sure everything is clean and button up the operation for the night as well as account for the day’s transactions. --- What’s special about your business? We treat our customers and staff like members of an extended family. We feel a part of every expedition and our hearts are with them as they make their climb. My husband has more than 12,000 hours’ experience flying throughout the Alaska Range. We know every nook and cranny in Southcentral Alaska where people need supplies, and where to land to see the cargo gets there in one piece. I have always operated my own small business as I achieved my pilot ratings and certificates, and degrees at the University of Alaska. --- Why do you love doing what you do? Our business is our heart. Like all true pilots, my husband’s love of flying has kept him at it for 33 years. I love making it all work.  I wanted my own air service since I was a little girl watching, helping and learning from my dad as he operated Talkeetna Air Service. Our greatest pleasure comes from our ability to offer the experience of a lifetime.  Customers come with a mixture of curiosity and adventure, leave with a sense of family and astonishment. We love being able to operate throughout the Alaska Range, or haul supplies out to a cabin, or airdrop a surprise to a friend. --- What’s your impact on Alaska? Sheldon Air Service provides a specialized service that demands specific experience to be successful. We land airplanes on glaciers as well as off-airport areas where our skill-set is required to accomplish the task. The name Sheldon is revered among the hard-core climbing community for the exceptional support my dad provided them during his career. He remains as perhaps the definitive example of the handful of pilots that pioneered glacier flying, which has evolved from specialty catering to the mountain climbing community to a full fledged flightseeing tourist industry. Talkeetna Air Service died with Sheldon in 1975, the village airstrip is unused, the red TAS hangar is a community playhouse. But the essence of Don Sheldon’s legacy continues at Talkeetna Airport, me and my partner Dave Lee fly the climbers who challenge the peaks of the Alaska Range.

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