Alaska Airli

From a space shuttle to a 737 – a pilot’s journey to Alaska Airlines

From an early age, newly minted Seattle First Officer, Nicholas Patrick always knew he wanted to fly. The UK native learned to fly in the Royal Air Force Reserve while studying engineering at Cambridge University.

His pursuits lead him to receive a PhD in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and he became a flight instructor. He moved to Seattle to work for Boeing in flight deck design.

In 1998, Patrick was selected by NASA to become an astronaut. He moved to Houston and trained for eight years, which included flying the T-38 in preparation for two space shuttle missions to the International Space Station.

I dreamed of becoming an astronaut or a test pilot,” Patrick said. “At the time, there were no British astronauts, so the U.S. was the logical place to pursue a career in space and aviation.”

From space walks to spectacular views
One of Patrick’s motivations to pursue a career in space and aviation was his love of seeing the world from above. When asked about his favorite memories from his time as an astronaut, two memories immediately stood out. The first was when he saw his hometown from 250 miles above the Earth.

Patrick recalled, “a friend of mine called me up to Discovery’s flight deck: ‘hey Nick, you’ve got to get up here, we’re about to pass over England’. I floated up to the flight deck where my friend was looking out the window. There was England coming over the horizon. Even though it was night, you could see the layout of the lights. I could identify the big cities like London, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Leeds. I could see a darker patch on the coast of Yorkshire where I was born. It’s quite moving to see the place you were born from off the planet.”

His second fond memory from space was performing a spacewalk on his second mission.

I had a couple of moments to myself before my next task and was holding on to the Space Station with one gloved hand on a handrail I had just installed when I looked down. All I could see was a bright yellow glow. It was as if someone had taken a big piece of gold and put a spotlight on it. Then, I realized we were over the Saudi Arabian Peninsula. It was the bright sunlight shining back up off the sand. It was spectacular!” said Patrick.

Alaska is his favorite airline (obviously!)

Patrick retired from NASA in 2012 to work for Blue Origin as the Senior Director of Human Integration and a Flight Director for the New Shepard sub-orbital launch program, which sent its first crewed mission to space in 2021. A few months after that first crewed flight, Patrick directed the mission that sent actor William Shatner to space.

“I loved the goals and challenges at Blue Origin, but I realized the thing I enjoyed most about my job day-to-day was the operations side,” Patrick recalls.

When he started to think seriously about commercial aviation, Alaska was the clear choice because of our Seattle Hub and his previous guest experience flying with us. Patrick remembers the first time he flew with Alaska for work.

I realized that Alaska was the friendliest airline I’d ever flown,” Patrick fondly remembers. “Everyone was happy and helpful, and the standards were very high.”

He described a time he was walking through SeaTac after a flight home from the launch site. “I was lost in thought, when I heard somebody say, ‘can I help you?’ As I looked around, I realized it was an Alaska customer service agent asking me if I needed directions. I replied, no, but thank you very much.”

Patrick was amazed by the kind gesture and friendly smile he received, “they didn’t know whether I was flying with Alaska that day; they just wanted to help me. And I thought, you don’t see that very often.” Anyone who knows our employees, knows these moments of care are what make Alaska special.

Looking forward to joining our Alaska Pilots
As a new First Officer at Alaska, Patrick is looking forward to being part of a company that prioritizes safety and teamwork, as well as reliability and profitability. He looks forward to the fun challenge, learning more from peers and the pace of operations.

“From the training staff to the pilots I’ve met, people have been helpful and knowledgeable. It’s been a wonderful environment to learn in, especially since Alaska pilots place so much emphasis on mentoring,” Patrick noted.

It’s clear from his excitement to get back to the skies and the familiar sights and sounds of a flight deck, it’s an environment he thrives in. “From seeing sunsets and sunrises from above to the muted roar of the engines and the hum of the air conditioning system – they’re all part of the experience of flying that I love.”

Images: ©Nasa & Alaska Airlines

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