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Father helps son build aircraft and career

Contributed photo Islander John Thelan gives last-minute instructions to his son, Chris, during a takeoff. The pair built the plane together. -
Contributed photo Islander John Thelan gives last-minute instructions to his son, Chris, during a takeoff. The pair built the plane together.
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Nancy Hilliard
Mercer Island Reporter

John Thelan, a Costco senior vice president and Mercer Island resident, literally “went the extra mile” to parent his son, Chris, a 2006 Mercer Island High School graduate. They built an entire airplane together from scratch and once flew it to the Osh Kosh, Wis., air show.

While Chris Thelan now attends Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., he took with him the example of a father who encouraged him to pursue his dreams. Chris Thelan had been in love with flight since he was a small boy. Father and son took flying lessons together, bought a Van’s Aircraft Kit and assembled it in a rented hanger at Boeing Field.

“As we sorted through a mountain of metal, we talked about all kinds of issues,” said Chris Thelan, now a sophomore at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz. “Because we had to problem-solve, our ability to communicate improved,” he said. “I came to appreciate my dad as a colleague and friend as well as a father. He also affirmed how proud he was of me.”

John Thelan said that while he and Chris had done numerous father-son activities over the years — such as biking, climbing, diving and traveling — their “most adventurous was building this kit plane.”

“This plane is not your hobby store variety; rather it is a full scale, two-passenger, fully aerobatic, high-performance airplane with a cruising speed of 175 knots.”

Over a period of two years, the pair conceived and built their plane, enjoying several cross-country flights throughout the Northwest and beyond. Chris and his college teammates on the Golden Eagle Flight Team won the National Intercollegiate Flying Association’s SAFECON 2008 flight competition at Nashville, Tenn., on May 10.

But a far bigger prize from the experience was the glue that cemented father and son.

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