Sunday, March 07, 2021

Sue Clark: Rio Vista woman has lived a life in the skies

Susan Clark stands next to her Piper Archer II aircraft at the Rio Vista Municipal Airport, Monday, February 22, 2021. Clark volunteers with RV 2 the Rescue, which flies rescued animals all over the country to find them homes.

RIO VISTA — Sue Clark grew up on a poultry and cattle farm in eastern Pennsylvania, not far from her birth city of Reading.

But she has lived most of her adult life in the skies – living the dream for 55 years and more than 27,000 flight hours.

She has a private and a commercial pilot’s license and is a certified flight instructor. She is the former owner of Scarf n Goggles flight school in El Cajon.

“My father was a poultry farmer, but we also raised beef cattle,” said Clark, 76, a Trilogy resident in Rio Vista. “But we also had horses and pigs and donkeys, pheasants, turkeys and peacocks. You name it, we had it.”

Clark said her love of animals is borne of those farm days, but it was a “little Piper Cub” owned by a neighbor that captured her imagination.

“The story that my father told me is when I was on the farm, I was looking at a guy behind us with a little Piper Cub,” Clark said of the lightweight, low-speed aircraft.

She said she told her father that day she was going to be a pilot.

Some years later, then 21 and living on the West Coast, Clark took a flight that soared above Malibu and the Pacific Ocean.

“They let me handle the controls of the plane, and when I got back, I said, ‘Where do I sign up?’ ”

But Clark found it difficult getting a job as a pilot because she was considered too short.

When the industry was deregulated in the 1980s, the bigger airlines began forming alliances with smaller commuter firms.

It was then she was hired as a first officer, a co-pilot, with Wings West out of San Luis Obispo. She moved into the captain’s seat three months later.

“So it took me 22, 23 years to get my dream job,” Clark said.

Eventually, American Airlines bought out all its commuter firms and placed them under the single banner of American Eagles Airlines.

She flew for the company until forced retirement at the age of 60.

“What happened then was my friend said, ‘Hey, Sue, you have so much . . . experience and you really want to keep flying,’ and she was right. I did,” Clark said.

That is when she learned that the Aero Club was leaving Travis Air Force Base for the Rio Vista Municipal Airport and she was hired in 2006.

That hiring had a lot to do with her federal qualifications as an instructor, a job she had always enjoyed.

Partnering with Rio Vista and Youth Services, she helped develop a program through which children 5 to 12 can take an aviation class, and when that is completed, they get to take flight.

“When I was younger, I taught older people to fly, and now that I’m older, I like teaching younger people to fly,” she said.

Clark, who owns a 1978 Piper Archer II that she picked up in 1997, said along the way she became acquainted with organizations such as Pilots for Paws and other animal rescue groups.

She has dedicated her time, energy and money to that cause for close to a decade, flying and driving rescued animals to new homes through her organization, RV2theRescue.

Her volunteer work also includes transporting medical supplies for the World Health Organization.

Clark’s most memorable animal rescue adventure, she said, was the cross-country trip with Toby, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who was 3 or 4 at the time.

She said the dog was viewed as unadoptable, but she took him in for four days, with the goal of leaving the West Coast and delivering Toby to his new home in Nova Scotia.

But it wasn’t that simple.

“Because I (had been) part of American Airlines, they allowed me to transport an animal as long as they fit in a crate,” Clark said.

The flight started in San Francisco and landed in Philadelphia, where she was to meet a Pilot for Paws volunteer who would take over the transport. But the weather prevented the connection.

So after a short stay at the home of one of her two sisters who still live in Pennsylvania, Clark rented a car and drove the 600 or so miles to Bangor, Maine, where they were to meet up with the Nova Scotia family.

She said she tries not to get attached to the animals she transports, but because she spent so much time with Toby, that was more than a little difficult on this trip.

“Toby and I had to overnight in Worcester, Massachusetts,” Clark said. Then it was on to Bangor.

In all, she and Toby traveled more than 2,300 miles together.

“That was my longest trip . . . and driving back to Pennsylvania, it was a pretty teary-eyed drive,” Clark said.

She does not know how many pets have been transported, adding a puppy from Fresno to Napa last week, to the list.

“We also do medical flights, and what usually happens is we get a call about 11 p.m. and we take the animal to UC Davis ASAP,” Clark said. “We can’t take all of them, but we take what we can.”

Her organization has 20 to 25 volunteers, five of whom are pilots.

In addition to transporting animals, RV2theRescue also brings pet supplies to no-kill shelters.

She said what makes all the programs work are the residents of Rio Vista, who donate the vast majority of the food, beds, leashes, toys and everything else pets need.

At Christmastime, for example, the group delivered more than 800 pounds of food and 300 toys, all local donations.

“The people of Rio Vista continue to be very generous and we could not do as much as we do without them,” Clark said. “I’m amazed with the support from the community, not only in Rio Vista, but our friends from all around America that follow our website (”

She said each animal has its own story, and there are videos on the website that highlight some of those.

“I would say 99% of them know they are going to a better life,” she said.

Clark has no intention of slowing down.

Through another corporation she formed, Aviation Partners out of Reno, Nevada, she and others she is working with hope to develop a high-tech drone center at the airport, though at this point it is only a vision.

One of the primary goals is to educate younger people on how to operate drones safely and within regulations that Clark believes will be enforced with more vigor in the near future.

She is a firm believer that drones will continue to play a bigger and bigger role moving forward, noting particularly the applications in the agriculture industry.

Clark is one of five siblings. In addition to the two sisters in Pennsylvania, she has a sister who lives in Idaho and a brother who lives in Palm Springs.

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