Flying high

Tom Knowles

Photo By Robert Speer

Durham resident Tom Knowles has been flying for 26 years, since he was in high school. A former rice farmer, he bought a brand-new Piper six-seater in 2006, and began operating an air charter service ( He flies mostly business clients for whom time and convenience are more important than cost. On the morning of our interview, he was to fly an attorney to Alturas to take a deposition. A year ago Knowles began writing “Pilot’s Blog” on, about his adventures as a pilot. The blog took a sudden turn last July when his wife, Sara, an attorney, gave birth to their third child, Daisy. The baby was diagnosed at first with a terminal genetic disorder, and Knowles’ lighthearted writing became deeply dramatic. Blessedly, the doctors were wrong, though the child was in intensive care for a month.

How’s Daisy doing?

Incredibly well, as you can see by the pictures [on the blog]. She has a genetic lipid storage disease, which means her body doesn’t generate enough protein to break down fats in her muscles. Fortunately, there’s no sign of organ failure. We hope over time she’ll be able to produce the protein to burn off the fat.

How did readers react to her story?

The blog went from about five hits a day to thousands, from obscurity to No. 2 or No. 3 on Norcal Blogs. And the blog became a much more personal thing. If someone asked me what was going on with the baby, I could say, “Check the blog.”

Any upside to the experience?

With all that drama came a lot of blessings. You don’t take anything for granted after something like that. I’ve never enjoyed a baby like I’ve enjoyed this baby.

Your writing style is very readable.

I try to be conversational. People tell me, “Hey, your writing is really good.” When I was in junior high school I did well in writing and English, but I decided to study mechanical engineering instead.

What’s the biggest challenge in your work?

In terms of flying, it’s the weather. Small planes can’t fly in certain conditions. I try to be real upfront with my clients. If they book a couple weeks in advance, I tell them the conditions are subject to change. This drought has been good for me. I haven’t had to cancel a single flight. Business-wise, [the challenge] is getting enough business to meet my fixed costs.

It’s a pretty little plane.

Thanks. I wanted a plane that made people feel comfortable. Many of my clients have never been in a small plane before. It’s a really good plane.