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Terminal Velocity

A Young Man Leads a Colorful Life in Alaska and Survives to Tell His Story

by Jim Thurston


Book Cover Image



In 1958, Jim Thurston acquired a pilot's license, purchased an airplane on floats, and started accumulating experience flying in remote areas. Because wildfire management and other BLM programs in Alaska require extensive aircraft support, the BLM had an Aircraft Division, which years later invited Thurston to join their ranks, and he did—in effect starting a new career. Because of his fire control experience, Thurston initially started out by running the air tanker firefighting program. Later, he flew a Learjet on high-altitude thunderstorm patrols to detect storms producing lightning fires. Also, he designed a comprehensive aircraft cost accounting system to guide decisions affecting aircraft acquisition and maintenance. Eventually, Thurston was chosen to form a task force to evaluate the various aircraft programs throughout the department and recommend changes. In 1973, the decision was made to create a department-level Office of Aircraft Services (OAS) to consolidate the management of Interior's aviation programs under one roof. Its stated management objectives were to raise aviation safety standards, improve department-wide aviation efficiency, and achieve economic savings. He was assigned to the position of OAS director. This book contains a mixture of exciting ground and aerial firefighting narratives, colorful Alaskan aviation anecdotes, photos, and Thurston's tumultuous experiences fighting to establish the Department of the Interior's Office of Aircraft Services.

About the author

As a youth in New England, Thurston was extensively exposed to outdoor living, camping, and hiking at Lake Winnipesaukee and the White Mountains in New Hampshire. He loved the forest. This infatuation led to the decision to enter the field of forest management, which in turn led to gaining seasonal employment as a U.S. Forest Service smokejumper in Idaho. Later, Thurston was hired by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as a fire control forester in Fairbanks, Alaska. (BLM is a bureau in the Department of the Interior.) Thurston transitioned from forester, to pilot, to aviation manager, and eventually founded the U.S. Department of Interior's Office of Aircraft Services (OAS). In 2003, Thurston, along with his wife Jan, founded Stillpoint Lodge, a seasonal, all-inclusive adventure lodge in Halibut Cove, Alaska, where he still lives full time.


Jim Thurston's first flight in a pilot seat terminated with his one-eyed flight instructor making a forced landing in a Virginia farmer's beet field. Forty seven years later, his final flight as a pilot terminated smoothly in a floatplane on the glassy waters of Halibut Cove, Alaska. During the intervening years, Thurston accumulated a rich treasure trove of anecdotes and photos about Alaska aviation, wildfire firefighting, the Great Alaska 1964 Earthquake, and every-day living going back to Alaska's territorial days. He also narrates his early life as boy raised in New England, his experiences as a smokejumper, and his undertakings fighting wildfires in Idaho and Alaska. Later, he describes his professional transition from forester to pilot to aviation manager and eventually his controversial founding of the U.S. Department of Interior's Office of Aircraft Services (OAS).

Book details

Subgenre: Aviation & Nautical
Language: English
Pages: 338
Paperback ISBN: 9798350927771


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