Pilot helps count polar bears instead of flying executives
Manitowoc’s Greg Goins, center, is the co-captain on flights over the Arctic Ocean surveying marine mammal life.
Nancy Goins, left, knows her husband’s love of flying may prompt Greg to take jobs thousands of miles from their Manitowoc home.
MANITOWOC — With daylight fading fast, Greg Goins is almost finished flying over walruses, seals, whales and other animals living in or near the Arctic Ocean.
"I have the best seat in the plane … one day I saw three polar bears, one of them running across the ice floe looking up at the plane," said Goins, laid off in April 2009 as a corporate jet pilot for The Manitowoc Company.
Initially bitter at losing his job flying executives to different manufacturing plants and financial meetings, the Manitowoc resident said: "The world is an amazing place to see and losing a job can be a new beginning to an incredible journey."
This week, he is the co-captain of a DeHavilland Twin Otter turbo-prop as part of a seven-man crew performing marine mammal studies while flying at low altitude.
"Biologists and native Eskimos are on board documenting different species including bowhead, gray and beluga whales, as well as walruses, seals and polar bears," Goins said. "The sights are amazing and I get paid to do this."
Goins began flying for Bald Mountain Air Service earlier this year. It has several commercial, academic and foundation clients contracting for survey studies.
During much of June and July the sun never sets at Barrow, the Alaskan city that juts out into the Chukchi Sea, above the Arctic Circle.
However, in just one week in November, the sun will go from being up for three hours in the middle of the day to never rising above the horizon. It won't be seen again until late January.
Goins will return by the end of October to Manitowoc to be with his wife, Nancy, the younger of their two daughters, Mary, and her baby, and daughter, Veronica, a Lakeshore Technical College student. Mary's husband is a U.S. Marine scheduled for deployment to Afghanistan sometime in the next couple months.
Goins would like to return in spring to the state with the nickname "The Last Frontier" that Goins called "alluring."
"I'm not a thrill seeker but I like the challenge of Alaska flying … the weather can change on a dime," said Goins, who started flying as a Maryland teenager with his private pilot father.
For the mammal survey flights, Goins said they call into headquarters every 30 minutes. "They track us and we have a search-and-rescue helicopter dedicated to us," he said. "We wear (ocean) survival suits while flying."
Fuel reserves also are carefully monitored. "We have about 7½ hours of fuel and our flights are often about 6 hours," said Goins, 48, who said he has flown 125 different types of aircrafts.
Moved from Maryland
Goins came to Manitowoc from the East Coast in 2004 to fly for the manufacturer of cranes and food-service equipment with manufacturing and service sites on 26th and 30th streets, and 25 other locations across the U.S. and overseas.
Frequent destinations would be a crane plant near Hagerstown, Md., as well as O'Hare International Airport in Chicago for executives to catch international flights to China, Europe or the Middle East, and airports near Boston and New York City.
Goins was familiar with Manitowoc County before taking the corporate pilot job. "I like the area … I am an outdoorsy kind of guy and I like the climate," he said. He enjoys fishing, and canoeing with Nancy.
But The Manitowoc Company's recession cutback from two Citation jets to one left Goins looking for work.
He took a captain position flying for a large company in Pune, India, near Mumbai.
"I flew to every corner of India, as well as Oman and Dubai," Goins said. "They treated me like gold. I lived in a city about the size of Green Bay, but with 5.5 million people."
However, the paperwork necessary to clear Goins, as a non-Indian, for flights out of a joint military-civilian airfield became onerous.
"It was best for me to be replaced by an Indian pilot because of the red tape involved," said Goins, who trained his successor.
By November 2009, he was back in Manitowoc looking for another cockpit opportunity and, several months later, Alaska called.
"He's been a pilot since before we were married," Nancy said. "He leaves when he has to leave, comes back when he can. There's no point in complaining about it."
For, at least the near future, the couple will be together at their North Fourth Street home, along their two daughters and new grandson.
But Goins may not be grounded for long.
"I really like flying aircraft," he said. "There is nothing more I would rather do and I'll keep doing it as long my health stays good."