Flying for Work--and Fun

Most students don't attend Kenyon to become pilots. Dean Chantiles '75 sure didn't. But the English major from Scarsdale, New York, decided to enroll in a flight course taught by two fellow students, Andy Bourland '73 and Randy Navarre '73, at the Gambier Experimental College in 1973. It just sounded like fun.

Chantiles had always been interested in flying. As a kid, he loved building model airplanes and eagerly awaited descriptions of the aircraft whenever his father returned home from a business flight. Now actually flying planes suddenly seemed within reach. "I realized, hey, I can do this," Chantiles remembers. "It was kind of like a dream."

He sold his Fiat 850 to help pay for flying lessons at the Knox County Airport, and he passed his flight test for a license the summer before his junior year. But flying was still just a hobby, and his friends assumed he would go into teaching when he graduated.

Chantiles wasn't so sure. "I was kind of clueless about my future at that point," he says. "Then one afternoon in my room I just decided I wanted a job that was fun. And flying was fun. So I decided in about twenty seconds what I wanted to do without much guidance from anybody. It was very naive, if you think about it."

After completing flight school in Colorado, Chantiles got to work accumulating flight hours and experience. He became a flight instructor, flew cargo planes, worked for two commuter airlines, and piloted an air ambulance in Arizona. "That was one of the most satisfying experiences I had as a pilot, because it involved life and death," he says.

In 1985, Chantiles started flying for United Airlines and worked his way up from a flight engineer on a DC-8 to the captain of a 767. He now makes regular trips to Hawaii and the East Coast from his base in Los Angeles. "A pilot spends about half his time away from home," he said during a layover in Kona, Hawaii.

Over the years, he's experienced four engine failures and lots of "interesting" weather, but nothing that he'd describe as "white knuckle" territory or anything "you could make a movie about."

"The aircraft weighs several hundred thousand pounds, but the controls are remarkably crisp," he says in the low-key manner of a pilot with more than thirty years of experience. "You could roll a 757 if you had to and it would respond quite well. Of course, you'd never want to do that unless you had to. It wouldn't be so much fun for the passengers."

When Chantiles isn't flying for work, he's flying for enjoyment. A longtime resident of Palm Springs, California, the fifty-one-year-old owns a sailplane and has soared more than 18,000 feet above sea level powered only by thermal drafts. On a recent flying vacation, he roamed high above the mountains of California. "The scenery was breathtaking," he wrote in an online journal detailing the trip. "I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the jagged peaks of the Sierra Mountain range and the beautiful deep blue color of the mountain lakes. I flew near the peak, waving to the hikers summiting Mt. Whitney."

But Chantiles is always looking to go higher. He's an amateur astronomer who has taken in five total solar eclipses, traveling everywhere from Turkey to Aruba to experience the event.

But one of the best places to stargaze is from the cockpit of a jet with the lights low at night. "I've seen meteors, the moon rising, the Milky Way, and the Southern Cross," he says. "It's a great view."

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