Mari Peterson was born to fly. It’s in her blood. Her great grandfather was a Navy pilot during World War II. And growing up, her dad flew the family’s small airplane.
“He would cruise around in it and commute to Seattle for work. I practically grew up sleeping in the backseat,” Mari told me as she flew one of Kenmore Air’s Cessna Caravan at 4,500 feet over the San Juan Islands.
Yet despite her family lineage, Mari didn’t grow up with dreams of flying professionally. She spent the majority of her formative years living on San Juan Island — riding horses, playing tennis, and cheering for the local high school. She did take a ground school class (a pilot training class) offered through school, but didn’t pursue her pilot’s license immediately.
Rather, she went to college at Washington State University and earned her Bachelors in Apparel Design. During summer break, between her junior and senior year, Mari worked at Westwind Aviation in Friday Harbor. “Working at Westwind was really amazing. I got my private pilot’s license in about two months. After that, I really wanted to check out of school, but I made myself go back and finish my degree. It just felt like something really important to do,” Mari said.
A free spirit, Mari studied abroad in Paris after graduation. She spent time flying charters for Westwind aviation, and 14 months flying in remote Alaskan villages. “You talk to a lot of pilots and they knew what they wanted to be when they were 14 or 15. I didn’t. I feel really lucky about that. That I tried a bunch of different things before realizing I wanted flying to be my career,” Mari explained.
Mari joined the Kenmore Air family as a part-time pilot in 2018. Her two-week-on two-week-off schedule flying in Alaska allowed her to pick up occasional flights with Kenmore and travel. Transitioning into a full-time pilot in February of 2019 she primarily flies the regularly scheduled flights between Boeing Field and the San Juans.
In her free time, Mari loves to fly her Taylorcraft with her fur baby, Kitax. (Kitax means foot in Aleut, the native language spoken in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands where Mari flew.) “I absolutely love what I do, but I never want it to feel like a job. That’s why having my own plane felt so important. It lets me have the freedom to still do the things I want to do. Plus, I can bring Kitax along. So that’s really fun,” Mari said.
Despite being one of the newest members of the crew, Mari is an incredibly seasoned pilot. “After flying in Alaska, you can handle pretty much anything. Or you know when you need to be firm and put your foot down about not taking off,” Mari told me as she approached the runway at Eastsound Airport. We both marveled at the beauty of the Orcas Island runway, which offered a stunning waterfront view at the north end of the island.
“Flying for Kenmore has been really amazing,” Mari said. “Being from San Juan I often know a lot of the passengers, either because they are regulars or because I grew up with them on the island. Plus, I couldn’t imagine working at a desk. I just love to be outdoors.”
In addition to flying, Mari’s an avid sailor, hiker, rock climber, and snowboarder. “Pretty much anything outdoors I love,” she said. Prior to flying in Alaska, Mari also took over the ground school class at the local high school — something which she hopes to resume in the 2019-2020 school year.
“The class was really incredible. I wasn’t as focused on convincing kids to get their pilot’s license. Rather, I wanted to expose them to different things so they could make up their own mind,” Mari said. To do so, she introduced a series of field trips to Boeing Field, the Boeing Factory in Everett, and the Whidbey Island Navy Base.
What’s your favorite time of day to fly?
Sunrise. It’s so calm, everything is still, and the light is incredible.
What’s your favorite destination?
Roche Harbor. For the past three years my best friend and I have taken my boat and anchored it near Roche Harbor for the 4th of July. Friends will come and raft up. We participate in the Blindfolded Dinghy Race. It’s one of my favorites.
Quick Facts About Mari
- Occupation: Pilot
- Age: 27
- Birthplace: Redmond, WA
- Years Working for Kenmore: 1
- Years Working as a Pilot: 5
- Number of Daily Flights: 6
- Pilot’s License: 2013
- Education: Bachelors in Apparel Design
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