Former Marshalltown resident flies in the sky | News, Sports, Jobs


Photos contributed – Captain David Heiden shown here during his career with Delta Airlines

The COVID-19 pandemic is not something Dave Heiden has experienced, and he has seen a lot of it in a career that has spanned decades and taken him across the world.

Heiden, 64, is from Marshalltown and graduated from high school in 1975. His brother, Jeff, still sells real estate in town.

Now Heiden is retired from Delta Airlines and lives in Fort. Meyers, Florida. When the pandemic hit, Heiden opted for early retirement.

“The world has changed” he said. “I didn’t know it but I was taking my last flight when I went to Argentina. I had no idea this would be my last trip as an airline pilot.

With the flights canceled, Delta and the pilots negotiated an early retirement program agreed to by himself and 1,800 other pilots.

An old photo showing David Heiden with a T-38A, a small supersonic jet.

He always goes to Marshalltown to visit and can feast on many stories from his career, such as his involvement in the B2 stealth bomber when he was highly classified.

“I was selected to do the first air-to-air refueling”, he said. “It was a highly classified program in 1988. It was revolutionary because it was the first stealth bomber. It was a drastic design to be faintly observable so enemies couldn’t see it.

It was during his time in the Air Force at Edwards Air Force Base. When the B2 was tested, refueling was a major factor. Heiden said the B2 will fly nonstop around the world. He would fly with the test team to see how the plane would perform. Due to Heiden’s experience, he had the opportunity to fly in a variety of military aircraft, such as stealth fighters like the F117A. Heiden’s squadron was one of the main ones to fly with the stealth fighters.

Heiden said a sequel to the B2 is in development and is called the B21 Raider. The military is trying to build 150 Raiders, Jeff said.

During his military time, Heiden was also able to fly a T38 Talon, a small supersonic jet.

“I had a good time in the air force” he said.

After his service, Heiden joined Delta Airlines, where he remained for over 30 years. He was one of the first pilots to fly the DC9 for Delta.

“He was all over the world – China, India,” Jeff said.

Heiden was able to fly the Boeing 767 and 777 during his time with Delta, doing domestic and international flights.

“These were my absolute favorites,” he said. “It was big and beautiful.

Thinking about his career, it is difficult for Heiden to choose a favorite important memory. Traveling the world and doing a lot of different things is something that not many people will get to experience.

His favorite destinations are in Europe, like Italy.

“I had to live in Rome for four months” Heiden said.

His second favorite is Germany. Outside of Europe, Heiden also loves Chile.

A few mind-blowing emergencies and incidents such as lightning hitting numerous planes came to Heiden’s mind. One of the engines caught fire, but Heiden stayed with the plane and the fire was extinguished. He narrowly managed to be in the air on September 11 when he traded flights with a friend.

“There was a lot of confusion that day”, Heiden said. “There was no standard protocol. The crews and pilots have just been ordered to land. After landing, the story was confusing. My flying friends and I didn’t understand the full gravity of what was going on. There was a lot of chaos, but it changed the world. It has certainly changed aviation.

Security protocols have become much more important, they have come to the fore, he said. Unfortunately for airlines, like the pandemic, the aftermath of September 11 resulted in reduced travel.

Despite some downtime, Heiden said aviation is a big industry.

“It’s a lot of hard work to get there, but it really puts you in your blood,” he said.


Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 or [email protected]

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