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Freedom in Flight

This former educator’s love of flying has taken him places few have seen.


Since Maynard G. Perkins retired in 1999 from a 23-year career teaching math and science to high school and college students, he has dedicated himself to life-saving work as a member of the Alaska Civil Air Patrol, a nonprofit, auxiliary branch of the United States Air Force that performs search and rescue missions.

Perkins remembers developing a keen interest in airplanes as a young man growing up in the pristine wilderness of rural Alaska. At age seven, he flew in a small aircraft, and says he was instantly hooked by the adventure and beauty of it all. “I loved the freedom of being in the air, the freedom to make your own decisions, and accepting responsibility for those decisions,” Perkins says.

Perkins earned his private pilot’s license in 1964, and later received his commercial, instrument, and instructor pilot certificates after joining the military. Perkins relied heavily on his flying skills when he later started teaching in Selawik and Shishmaref, two remote Inupiaq Eskimo villages accessible only by aircraft.

Living in those villages and learning from the Inupiaq helped Perkins to feel comfortable navigating through remote areas, a skill that he continued to use after joining the Civil Air Patrol. “If there’s an aircraft that is overdue or lost, the Patrol will go out and try to find it,” Perkins says. “We may also look for people who are lost.”

The work can be dangerous, especially during the dead cold of winter, when his ability to fly above the frozen tundra can mean life or death for someone in need. But while his job can be stressful, Perkins feels confident that the training the Civil Air Patrol provides prepares him for most situations. “The best way to overcome fear is to be more educated about it,” he says. “The more you know about something, the better you will be at your job. When you stop learning, you are dead.”

Perkins volunteers regularly as an educator in the Civil Air Patrol’s Cadet Program, teaching eager cadets age seven to eighteen how to fly gliders and power planes on their own. He says he loves the program because it allows him to stay involved in education.

“I enjoy flying with them and it helps teach the students responsibility,” Perkins says. “Some of the cadets go on to get pilot licenses, andwhen that happens I feel proud that I’ve had a part to play in their success.”

When Perkins is not involved with the Patrol, he team-teaches “Arctic Survival,” a hands-on outdoor class offered by the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, where Perkins also taught before retiring. Perkins says that out in the field he uses the skills he learned from his father, who was a big game guide. The class covers cold weather survival techniques and natural disaster preparedness.

“It’s a class for people who want to travel in rural Alaska, but are concerned that they don’t have survival skills in case of an accident,” he says. “I help them learn the skills they need before they go out there.”

In his downtime, Perkins writes for his local NEA-Retired chapter newsletter and does yoga (he’s a certified instructor). He still takes time to fly solo and view the breathtaking scenery that is Alaska. “It’s great being up in the air and seeing how expansive everything is,” he says. “It is exhilarating at times.”

--Jazzy Wright

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