Profile: John Sessions ’74
John Sessions ’74 turned his love of airplanes in a “working aviation exhibit.”
Published: January 22, 2013
By Jeremy Rosenberg
In the history of aviation, few people have piloted planes as varied as a British Supermarine Spitfire, a North American P-51B Mustang and a Soviet-era MiG-29.
John Sessions is one of the fortunate few.
Sessions is the founder of the Historic Flight Foundation, a nonprofit located on Kilo-7, a taxiway at Paine Field Airport in Mukilteo, Wash. “Some people call it a museum,” Sessions says, “but it’s really a working aviation exhibit.”
Launched in 2003, updated in 2006 and opened to the public in 2010, Historic Flight features a collection of 12 rebuilt and flight-ready military and civilian aircraft manufactured between 1927 and 1957.
The aforementioned MiG was an exception to that three-decade time frame, its acquisition the result of a rare opportunity to legally obtain a modern warfighter still used, Sessions says, in 30 countries. The purchase was an odyssey that took years and involved elaborate conversations with several nations and negotiations with U.S. federal agencies. But the effort, he says, was worth it. “It was a joy to fly,” Sessions says of the MiG, which he eventually sold.
Sessions first took to the skies in 1983. By then, he had earned a business degree and law degree to go along with his bachelor’s in political science from LMU. While working as an attorney for a Seattle-area firm that served as counsel for aerospace giant Boeing, Sessions was invited to visit the Boeing Field Flying Club.
The attorney hitched a ride on a Cessna 172 being flown by a flight instructor and was immediately enamored. “I stayed after and asked the instructor if he could take on a new student,” Sessions recalls. “As they say, it got out of hand after that.”
Sessions’ private interest became the public’s gain. Members and non-members of Historic Flight may visit Kilo-7 and see other aviation ephemera. Supporters can pay to take trips on the historic birds. And the foundation sends actors to schools to play roles such as Charles Lindbergh or deliver “preflight briefings” of famous aviation moments such as Amelia Earhart’s attempts to circumnavigate the globe.
What are the joys of fixing up and piloting all of these 20th century flying machines? Sessions, who owns up to performing “aerobatics” now and then, doesn’t hesitate to explain.
“As I strap on the parachute, I think about how this is a risky business. Then I start up the engine, taxi out, pour the coals on and get in the air. There is a euphoria associated with that.”
Jeremy Rosenberg is a freelance writer in Los Angeles whose work has appeared frequently in LMU Magazine. He also writes for the KCET blog "Departures." Follow him on Twitter @LosJeremy.