Whenever Langley resident Aaron Simpson is in the air, he feels like he’s home.
Luckily for the 31-year-old pilot, he’s landed a “dream” job that will keep him in the air seven days a week over the next year.
Simpson was recently hired by Air America as an independent contractor and aerial imaging pilot. He’ll be flying his Cessna 172 around the country using a specialized image system to capture a large amount of photos of land. The pictures will later be stitched together to make 3-D models for use by a wide range of clients, from the government to real estate developers and resource extraction companies.
“My job is to put the plane in the right spot so the machine can capture the images,” Simpson said.
He began training on Sunday in Daytona Beach, Fla. He’ll travel like a nomad over the next year, living out of a suitcase and hopping from one hotel to the next — all expenses paid for by the company, of course. If weather conditions are suitable and his navigational systems are working properly, Simpson will be in the air.
“It really could be anywhere,” Simpson said of his possible destinations. “What I think I can rely on is going everywhere. All of the companies that do this kind of work, most of them span the continental United States. There’s a possibility of even crossing outside the borders a little bit. The only thing I really know is it’s going to be an adventure.”
Despite the nomadic lifestyle, Simpson says it’s the perfect job for his career aspirations. He’s not only being paid to fly for a living, but he’ll also be racking up hours so he can eventually become an airline pilot; the basic requirement for first officers is to have 1,500 hours in the air.
Simpson currently has a commercial pilot’s license with about 250 hours in the air. He’ll gain about 100 hours each month with his new job, which trumps typical flying jobs that typically only net about 60 hours or so per month.
Simpson considers himself “very blessed” to have been hired.
“It’s sort of beyond a dream,” Simpson said. “Every time I step into the air, it’s going home. The problem is that it’s very expensive to be going home. So, rather than shelling out $100 in an hour to be where I am happiest and most comfortable, someone will actually provide that for me.”
“I never thought that would be possible,” he added.
Simpson is a longtime South Whidbey resident who hasn’t been afraid to aim high. In 2012, he ran an unlikely campaign to unseat Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, in a bid for state Legislature.
South Whidbey pilots said they’ll miss Simpson, who they consider to be a “reliable” and trustworthy pilot. But, they’re happy to see him making moves toward his career goals.
“Oftentimes as newly minted commercial pilots, the goal is to build as many flight hours as quickly as you can so you can progress onto the airlines,” said Langley resident Miles Mills, who is also an airline pilot working out of SeaTac. “In my opinion, aerial photography is one of the best ways to gain quality, real world flight experience all over the country.”
Mills said Simpson’s lifestyle won’t be easy. Among the biggest challenges, Mills said, will be flying through busy airspaces all over the country and dealing with ever changing weather systems. But, he trusts his attention to detail and caution will keep him safe.
“Aaron is one of the best pilots I’ve had the privilege of flying with,” Mills said.
Fred Lundahl, a Langley business owner who co-owned a 1974 Cessna 150 Aerobat with Simpson for several years, said Simpson’s new job comes at a time when the market for pilots is booming.
“He’s going to have a great chance to bring up that time he needs to get that airline job at the entry level,” Lundahl said. “That’s why it’s going to be a perfect thing for right now in terms of a flying career.”
“It’s pretty neat that he’s got this enthusiasm and has been able to pursue it. He can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he added.