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Yakima Send Off

Chance of a Lifetime

Kevin Hardin, a 1983 Central aviation graduate, has credited his storied career by a phenomenon that many can attest to. He said that it was not a matter of outperforming thousands of other pilots, it was merely a bit of luck that landed him the chance of a lifetime.

Hardin came to Central at a time when first-rate aviation programs were virtually non-existent. Born into humble means, he and his family did not have the resources necessary to send him to an Embry-Riddle-like institution, yet Hardin attributed his success as a pilot to a program where he learned much of his skills in an unconventional way.

“The aviation program back then was basically in its infancy. It didn’t have any structured flight courses that Embry-Riddle had,” Hardin said. “It was really a self-directed program as far as the flying portion.”

Hardin, with a few other people, invested $5,000 in a plane that was owned by a flight instructor. This served as the solitary machine in which the program taught students how to fly. When learning at Central, he received extensive practice performing cross wind landings, taking off in icy conditions and mastering temperature inversions.

“I can remember it was 15 degrees below zero there for a week, and then we actually got the airplane airborne in that cold weather, and it was 35 degrees at 8,000 feet,” Hardin said.
Upon graduation, Hardin moved back home to Hawaii in a time of airline deregulation which made work hard to come by.

“Very few people were learning how to fly because the industry was bleak,” Hardin said.

After trying to land a job, he began earning his hours as a flight instructor. However, he was having a rather tough time making ends meet so he started selling cars for a guy he met while body surfing in Hawaii one day.

Hardin admits that he was rather proficient in the art of selling automobiles, but he always knew he aspired to become something greater.

He began to volunteer as an air ambulance copilot to gain more experience, flying to islands all across the Hawaiian belt and getting people the medical attention they so desperately needed on Honolulu.

He did this all while still holding down his job at the car lot. To Hardin’s surprise, this job selling cars would get him the first real pilot job of his career.

“I sold a car to a guy from Pago Pago in American Samoa who owned an airline called South Pacific Island Airways, it was one of the airlines that started up after deregulation and was struggling but I just hounded him until he got sick of me,” Hardin said.

Hardin, 24, was making around $700 a month flying as first officer while living in Samoa for 18 months. It wasn’t until a friend he met during his days flying the air ambulance had submitted a resume to Hawaiian Airlines, on his behalf, that he finally received the chance of a lifetime.

Hardin started at Hawaiian Airlines just before they hired 150 more pilots, giving him the seniority he would later benefit from.

“I just walked into it at the absolute perfect time. Hawaiian had some very lucrative investors that wanted to expand it,” Hardin said. “Within my first year there I was moving up to be a DC8 captain, and I was 24 years old! I had never even flown a big jet before.”

A year passed, and Hardin was gaining valuable experience as well as confidence. He decided it was time to try his hand at becoming a first officer, and sure enough he was awarded the position shortly after applying. 

Then 25, Hardin was learning from some of the airline’s best pilots.
“I learned under the wings from experienced senior guys who were, believe it or not, junior to me,” Hardin said.

With every passing flight, Hardin grew as a pilot. He flew people from Hawaii to American Samoa and Guam, and everywhere in between. He still held his ambition closely, and a month before his 26th birthday he took a chance and applied to be a captain.

He hasn’t moved from the left seat since he was 26. Now 57, Hardin has some amazing stories to tell.

“It was one of those careers that I just stepped in to at the right place at the right time, and had enough of the right stuff to get checked out.” Hardin said.

He credits a lot of his success to what he learned from more experienced pilots, such as to not bounce around to different jobs when things go bad.

“A lot of guys jumped ship and went to other airlines [when Hawaiian Airlines filed for bankruptcy], but I said I’m not going to jump ship until the ship sinks,” Hardin said.
One of his most notable feats was piloting the second longest single engine flight in a transport category aircraft, totaling 3 hour 12 minutes when flying from Maui to Portland.

“We were 80 miles from the equal time point and one engine just ate itself. It sounded like someone threw a lawn chair through the front of the engine,” Hardin said. “Everyone had 3 hours to prepare for us to land so we had virtually every ambulance and firetruck on Maui waiting for us at the airport.”

While the flight was one of the longest ever recorded, Hardin said that it didn’t gain much notoriety outside of a few news sources in Maui and Portland.

Looking back on his time at Central, Hardin considers his frequent flights to the Stehekin airstrip (roughly 140 miles north of the Ellensburg campus) to fly-fish among his fondest memories during his undergraduate years. To this day, he still visits the same strip from time to time.

When asked about his thoughts on Central today, Hardin said that he was very impressed with how the campus has developed and how the aviation program has grown. He is excited about the opportunities for future pilots in a growing industry, and still enjoys keeping in contact with his old flying buddies he met during his time at Central.

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