Alumnus Featured in Documentary on The History Channel

Published 07.23.2006

Alumni News

This 1955 photograph from the Penn College archives shows the late Don Sheldon (aviation %9248) near The Moose%92s Tooth, a peak southeast of Mount McKinley in the Alaska Range. The area in the photograph is now known as the 'Sheldon Amphitheater.'A documentary that includes a segment featuring one of this institution's most famous alumni was presented on The History Channel this month.

The exploits of bush pilot Donald E. Sheldon, a 1948 graduate of Williamsport Technical Institute's aviation mechanics program, are included in "Alaska: Dangerous Territory." The documentary about dangerous jobs in Alaska aired Wednesday night and was rebroadcast Sunday afternoon.

Immediately after completing his training at W.T.I., Sheldon moved to Talkeetna, Alaska, taking any flying jobs he could. A letter he sent to the father-in-law of fellow W.T.I. alumnus Ed Rightmire in 1949 read, "I do all the flying and maintenance, and haul everything from groceries, whiskey, dragline parts, stiffs, furs ... moose, fish, dogs, and sometimes fabulous payrolls and cleanups from the gold mines."

Beginning in the 1950s, Sheldon specialized in ferrying mountain climbers from Talkeetna to Mount McKinley, and "Alaska: Dangerous Territory" includes footage of his harrowing landing and takeoff at 14,300 feet on the side of the mountain to rescue a gravely ill climber in May 1960.

Sheldon maintained a long relationship with Williamsport Technical Institute, as a friend to his former instructors and classmates and as a mentor to many later students at W.T.I. He returned frequently to the aviation center at the airport in Montoursville, and W.T.I. students modified many of his Piper airplanes to improve their performance and functionality in his bush flying.

Sheldon was the subject of two Life magazine articles and the 1974 book, "Wager With the Wind: The Don Sheldon Story." He died from cancer in 1975.

The segment of "Alaska: Dangerous Territory" featuring Sheldon begins just before the halfway point of the two-hour program.