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Bob Nichols is featured pilot at Friday Harbor Airport Aviation Museum

Top photo: Bob Nichols poses with his Cessna 172. Bottom photo: Bob Nichols celebrates his 85th birthday. The island aviator is the subject of an aviator exhibit at the Friday Harbor Aviation Museum, at Friday Harbor Airport.    - Submitted photos
Top photo: Bob Nichols poses with his Cessna 172. Bottom photo: Bob Nichols celebrates his 85th birthday. The island aviator is the subject of an aviator exhibit at the Friday Harbor Aviation Museum, at Friday Harbor Airport.
— image credit: Submitted photos

Islanders are invited to a reception at the Roy Franklin passenger terminal at Friday Harbor Airport on March 27, 4-5 p.m. The occasion is the annual update of the San Juan Aviation Museum, which is honoring Bob Nichols as its featured pilot this year.

The Aviation Museum project was started in 2008. It is jointly sponsored by the San Juan Pilots’ Association and the Port of Friday Harbor. The museum records the history of aviation in the San Juan Islands since the early years after World War II when Roy Franklin first established scheduled air service linking San Juan Island with our neighboring islands and the mainland.

As a living museum, updates of its displays are added each year, to honor pilots who have made major contributions to this community and to aviation. Roy Franklin was he first featured pilot, followed by Marty Stewart, who flew 36 years in the Air Force before retiring to San Juan Island in 1990 and continuing to fly actively here. Their legacies remain on display in the museum, as will other featured pilots in future years.

The name "Bob Nichols" is synonymous with community service and aviation in the San Juan Islands. In addition to being a trusted pilot, Nichols was an excellent and patient flight instructor. His legacy includes a cadre of talented local pilots.

Nichols was a Morse code operator and driver of communications vehicles in Europe during WWII, where he survived the Battle of the Bulge in the middle of winter as a member of the 4th Armored Division.

After the war, Nichols commuted daily from Marysville to work at the Boeing Aircraft Company in Seattle. One day a friend offered Nichols his first ride in a private plane, out of Harvey Field in Snohomish. That changed Nichols life. After returning to Harvey, he noticed a fine looking Taylorcraft, freshly recovered and in perfect condition. With only 20 minutes of flight time, Nichols bought his first airplane, for $650. He then proceeded to learn to fly, soloing in 1957. Over the next three years he earned his private, commercial and CFI certificates.

In 1960, Nichols joined Roy Franklin’s Island Sky Ferries, based in Friday Harbor, the smallest scheduled air service in the country at that time. He immediately became Franklin’s most trusted and reliable pilot for the next 20 years. Many islanders owe their health, some even their lives, to Franklin’s skillful air transport to mainland hospitals, night and day, despite challenging weather conditions and the lack of navigational aids.

After flying Otters for Aeronautical Services from 1980-86, Nichols flew with Executive Airline in Wenatchee until 1997 before retiring to Ephrata with his wife, Vonnie.

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