Soldier, musician, pilot (and amateur herpetologist) Adam Townley-Wren began flying for Aloha Air Cargo in 2014.
By Hilary Reeves
Northern Air Cargo 767 Captain Adam Townley-Wren was born in New Orleans to parents who met playing drums in Tulane University’s marching band. He spent his early years on tour with the Goodyear Blimp.
“Both of my parents were officers in the U.S. Air Force – my mother was actually a flight surgeon,” he said. “My father spent years flying the blimp, and I have vivid memories of flying in the airship. It fostered a love of aviation that’s lasted my whole life.”
Moving through Texas, Arizona and to Las Vegas during his childhood left Townley-Wren without a “hometown,” but as a teenager in Las Vegas, his Jimi Hendrix Tribute band, The Foundation, played enough gigs in town to garner quite the following.
“Most of the guys and girls who were in that band went on to be professional musicians, including myself,” he said. “One guy plays on SNL all the time, and another was the bass player for a major rock band in the late ’90s.”
‘I decided that being a professional pilot and doing music as a hobby was a smarter way to go than the reverse.’
After high school graduation in 1996, Townley-Wren enlisted in the Marine Corps as a musician playing piano and percussion, predominately the vibraphone. He was stationed in Hawaii and decided to get a private pilot’s license.
“While doing that training – having already lived the life of a musician – I decided that being a professional pilot and doing music as a hobby was a smarter way to go than the reverse,” he laughed.
After his enlistment was up, Townley-Wren attended college at San Juan College in Farmington, New Mexico. He moved back to Hawaii and took on “just about every flying job one can imagine.”
“I flew DC-3s, Beech 18s, dropped skydivers, flight-instructed, did international ferry flights, was a chief pilot for a farming labor company, worked for a commuter airline, and even became a military pilot for the Hawaii Army National Guard in CH-47 chinook helicopters,” he said. “I did 10 years in the National Guard band and then went to Army flight school for the Hawaii Guard, a very late-in-life military aviator. “
After Army flight school, Townley-Wren needed a job and found one at Aloha Air Cargo in July of 2014.
“Having had the ferry-flying experience, I bid the contract to fly the Saab 340 turbo props we had then across the ocean to their heavy maintenance checks and back again, saving the company a lot of money,” he explained. “As Aloha transitioned out of the Saab, I then transitioned to the 737 and am currently a captain in the 767. The complexities of our international operation out of Miami, along with the monthly commute from Maui, are challenging but also rewarding. I look forward to the day when we are able to fly our own aircraft from Hawaii and look forward to helping the company obtain the certifications needed to do that.”
‘I wore my NAC uniform mostly for customs but was glad I looked like a “real pilot” when the school children all showed up.’
Townley-Wren said he wishes he’d met his wife, Amber, much earlier than he did.
“She’s a professional opera singer and we own a small Cessna together, which we are restoring,” he said. “No kids yet, but we plan to adopt very soon.”
He said he’s most proud of his 23 years in the military.
“My career was pretty tame compared to most,” he said, “but I’m proud to have been a Marine, a military musician, and a military aviator. I was the State of Hawaii’s Soldier of the Year in 2009, a great honor, and participated in the National Soldier of the Year competition. Currently, I’m in the process of retiring as a Chief Warrant Officer.”
Townley-Wren recently volunteered to deliver the very first aircraft he ever flew, a small skydiving plane, to Cuba. It’s the first aircraft to remain in Cuba under private – not state – ownership.
“The locals rolled out the red carpet big time for me and I was even granted a Cuban pilot’s license to instruct the local pilots in the future. I’m told I’m the only American pilot to get a Cuban certificate since the revolution but have no way of verifying that,” he laughed. “I wore my NAC uniform mostly for customs but was glad I looked like a ‘real pilot’ when the school children all showed up. For them, the 45-year-old skydiving bird might as well have been the space shuttle.”
His latest adventure saw him delivering a De Havilland Canada Dash 8 aircraft across the Pacific Ocean for the displaced people of Bikini Atoll – where the United States tested the hydrogen bomb in the 1950s – via an aircraft ferry company he’s been working with for years called Flight Contract Services (FCS).
“They purchased the aircraft so they can visit their homeland again and establish a dive operation there to raise money for resettlement efforts,” he explained. “We landed on Kili Island – where half of them were moved in the 50s – about 200 miles west of Majuro, Marshall Islands on a 4,000-foot grass runway to a traditional greeting we couldn’t believe. The elders were actually crying because this aircraft means they have a chance of seeing their homeland before they die and their culture has a future there again.”
His “lifelong infatuation” with the sea and years spent living on a sailboat have led to dreams of sailing the world and a few rather interesting hobbies.
“My wife and I raise albino turtles for fun and profit,” he said. “We have about 50 of them now but hope to have 500 within five years. The goal is to produce a few thousand albino hatchlings a year for the pet trade. We also play music together and I fly vintage WWII living history air tours over Pearl Harbor in an authentic North American SNJ war bird built during the war. I’m also on the board of directors for the Naval Air Museum on Barbers Point, Oahu.”
‘The rampers were running and screaming, yelling “that’s the most venomous snake in Trinidad!”’
Townley-Wren said his career with Northern Air Cargo (NAC) was a bit chaotic at first.
“Coming from Aloha and being thrust into the NAC pilot group – the 767 program has had many growing pains and I’ve been in the trenches virtually from the beginning,” he said. “I think NAC will grow greatly along with our sister brands. The potential is there, we all know that. We see the management making huge investments in our future with equipment and training and that’s great. I also see the growing pains that sometimes come, but I’m optimistic we can overcome those.”
One is his favorite NAC stories involves a poisonous (or not) snake.
“On one of our first flights into Trinidad with the 767, we found a small snake under one tire. The ramp guys were absolutely terrified of it but, being an amateur herpetologist, I knew exactly what it was,” he said.
Even though it was technically a venomous snake, with small fangs in the rear of its mouth and venom no stronger than a bee sting, Townley-Wren said it had very little chance of even biting his finger, much less killing him.
“Being an animal lover, I didn’t want this beautiful animal to be killed by us starting the plane, so I just went and carefully picked it up,” he continued. “The rampers were running and screaming, yelling ‘that’s the most venomous snake in Trinidad!’ – it wasn’t and even that snake isn’t a threat to an adult human. They all thought I was nuts, but the snake and I lived to tell the tale.”
Townley-Wren said he and fellow pilots have also rescued stunned hawks in Santa Domingo and a tortoise that got loose from its cage in the back of the plane.
“We get some weird animals back there for sure,” he laughed.
He said he’s totally surprised and grateful at how quickly he’s risen through the various positions at Aloha/NAC.
“It’s amazing and I have to pinch myself sometimes.”