What does aviation mean to you?

As a boy, Hinsdale's Bob Boutin went on fishing excursions with his father, flying in sea planes to remote sites around the world. Their trip mates would lobby for Bob to sit in the cockpit.

"At a very young age, I got involved in seeing the planes and flying, and it kind of caught my interest," Boutin said.

This Saturday is Aviation Day, an annual observance on the Aug. 19 birthdate of pioneering pilot Orville Wright. This December will mark 120 years since Orville and brother Wilbur succeeded in the first flight of a power-driven, heavier-than-air plane in Kitty Hawk, N.C.

"They had guts - and vision. It's really amazing when you think about what they were able to accomplish and what they did with very little insight," Boutin said. "I'm surprised they didn't kill themselves."

Outfitted with his own inherent spirit of adventure, Boutin earned his pilot's license in 1969 and, for a couple summers, flew sea planes in southeast Alaska and Canada's Northwest Territories. Radio communication was all but nil.

"It was very basic flying. You flew by landmarks and what lakes looked like," he said.

On one return flight with a charter group, he clipped a floating log with one of the sea plane's aluminum skis during takeoff. What appeared to be minimal damage became clearer to his firm's owners the next day.

"One ski was about four feet underwater. They were not too happy with me," Boutin related.

Years later he found himself needing to make an emergency landing on a Wisconsin road.

"If you fly long enough, there's always something that's going to happen," he said. "You just have to be cautious."

Piloting himself on work trips as a consultant in the food industry has been beneficial. He has shared his knowledge with future pilots as a flight instructor for several decades.

"I've always enjoyed flying, and I want to give back because it's been a very rewarding hobby," he said, estimating he now flies about 150 hours a year. "There's a satisfaction when you see somebody who has never flown, and in about 10 hour-long sessions, they actually fly the plane by themselves."

He equates piloting to riding a bike - once the landing is mastered, of course. Boutin recalled the time he was flying one of two training planes his company had just acquired back to Chicago from California. They landed for the night in Arizona and make a surprising discovery.

"All of a sudden there were three planes," he said.

A farmer and his son also flying back to the Midwest, who didn't have radio guidance, were tailing Boutin to find the best route home.

"He and his son would sit outside our hotel room door because he was so afraid we were going to leave him," Boutin recounted. "The three of us flew all the way back to Fort Smith, Missouri."

Perhaps his most cherished memory is treating his dad to a wilderness adventure during his early pilot days.

"We fished for two-and-a-half weeks in places that had no names," said Boutin, growing emotional at the memory. "We just went."

- by Ken Knutson

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean