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Ready for Takeoff

In delivering platelets to rural communities, he flies for a purpose

For Ted Nyquist ’63, much of the joy of flying lies in its technical challenges.

“You’re constantly watching for other aircraft,” he says. “You’re talking to air traffic control and you have to follow their direction, so you have to be on your toes.”

Those challenges are compounded when carrying aboard precious blood platelets bound for medical centers all across Arizona.

Nyquist, who earned his pilot’s license the summer after his sophomore year at Swarthmore, flies volunteer missions for the nonprofit Flights for Life, which provides emergency transportation of human blood to replenish hospital reserves on an on-demand basis. He donates his time and the fuel and other costs associated with flying the plane, which he rents from a flying club near his home in Cave Creek, Ariz., located in the foothills outside Phoenix.

“Pilots don’t need an excuse to fly; they like to fly,” he says. “This gives you a good reason to go somewhere and you’re doing some good at the same time.”

Nyquist, who flies small, single-engine planes such as Cessnas and Pipers, first learned about Flights for Life from fellow pilots in the flying club. As an instrument-rated pilot, Nyquist is certified to fly in low-visibility weather using only the information on his flight instruments.

Enjoying the scenery is part of the fun of flying, he says, but you have to be thinking “at least 30, 40 miles ahead: How am I going to descend and accommodate air traffic control? Is it windy or not? Which runway am I going to land on? How am I going to compensate for the wind?”

When Nyquist plans for a flight—whether for Flights for Life or for a personal trip—he checks the routes, the weather, and all the frequencies needed along the way.

“You have a flight plan you’ll go on, but there are always changes as you go along,” he says. “You just have to be ready for them.”

Nyquist has been just as adaptable in his personal and professional life. A father of five and grandfather of 14, Nyquist studied chemistry at Swarthmore before earning a Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. He worked in research for Dow Chemical and Standard Oil, and in 1980 he moved into the business world.

“I guess I’m a pretty independent person,” he says of the career change.

He and his wife, Gidget, operated franchises for the direct marketer Money Mailer in six states and the hair salon Fantastic Sams in three. He sold both businesses, in 2005 and 2007, respectively, and has been retired since.

When not in the air, Nyquist enjoys landscape photography; he has had the rare privilege of seeing much of Arizona’s scenery from the sky.

“Flying up to Flagstaff, Ariz., at 10,000 feet, it’s pretty neat, seeing all the beautiful canyons and doing something most people don’t do,” he says. “There’s the feeling of independence in doing something like that.”