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Johan’s Story

Owner and Chief Instructor

Living overseas in Singapore as a kid in the late 70’s and early 80’s  I had an opportunity to travel a bit. I was always intrigued with the aspect of airline travel, airports and what it took to make the system work and get planes to leave on time. I remember going to the airport and taking photos of the airplanes as they took off and landed. At 15, I knew I wanted to be a pilot. After I graduated High School I flew a bit with a family friend over a few summers back in Sweden. I knew the training both in time and cost would be less expensive here in the US so the plan was made to go. After military service and a few years of different jobs I was ready to go.

In March 1989, flight training began in Las Cruces, NM. 6 months later with a Commercial Multi Instrument and CFII I left for Dallas TX where I instructed for about 8 months. In April 1990, I left for the Alaskan bush. I flew passengers and cargo in Cessna 207’s for a small commuter on the west coast of Alaska for about a year. The scenery was great and the flying was fun and challenging. 1991, I moved to CA to work for a small cargo company flying Piper Saratoga’s. That lasted a few years and as that company shut down in 1993, I started instructing at a flight school in El Monte, CA.

December of 1995, I left aviation to pursue a job in the hotel industry while aviation was rebounding from an economic downturn. In 2001, I was considering to get back into flying, but then 9/11 happened. Finally in 2007, I went back and started flying again at a cargo company around southern CA. 2011, I was part of starting and operating a flight school in Riverside CA which I later became an owner and partner in. 

In 2016, at age 52, the industry was finally hiring older guys and I jumped into the regional airline market. In Oct, I started as a Co-pilot on the Embraer 145 with Trans States Airlines. I enjoyed 2 years there, flying across the US, based in DEN, CO. In Nov 2018, I decided it was time to move on to something bigger and better, and I came to Atlas Air. I have had great experiences piloting a Boeing 767 to many wonderful places with some great people. Flying around America and internationally has been a great treat. I love seeing new places and revisiting old ones. 

From March 3rd, 1989 till present, I have flown over 12,000 hours and countless miles in all kinds of airplanes all over the world. It has been a great ride; what I take for perfectly normal is a life that is so unique and different. I hop in one of the school’s trainers one day and my B767 the next, it has somehow come complete circle.  

I enjoy helping the new generation of pilots that come through our flight school to be the pilots of tomorrow, including my son. I mentor them with tips, tricks and tid-bits of advice. It is rewarding seeing all the young excited students get in a plane for the 1st time and then later graduating, getting their chance at starting a career in this crazy industry.

For all of us that choose to fly it is difficult to explain why we like it so much. It’s more of a lifestyle than a job and any time you close the door and taxi out for takeoff it’s a great day. Rewarding and fun yet it comes with little margin for error and not a lot of 2nd chances. We are scrutinized often by our company, examiners, instructors and our doctors and we have little sympathy from either. We are professionals and expected to always perform at a 100%. Maybe it’s because of this, the unique challenge and bond we all have in common as pilots that make it so special. Most anyone can do it and the industry needs new pilots. You could be next.

Johan Backlund
ATP B767, B757, E145, CFII, MEI