Obituary: Paul Soderlind, 77, Northwest pilot

  • Article by: LUCY Y. HER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 12, 2000 - 10:00 PM

Paul Soderlind's love of airplanes started when he was 2 years old and he would "poke at the flies on the window and say 'airplane,'" he told AVweb, an aviation online publication, in spring 2000.

When he grew up, he helped develop safety procedures for Northwest Airlines.

Soderlind, a former Northwest pilot and director of Flight Operations-Technical, died Sunday of natural causes at a hospital in Columbus, Mont. He was 77.

He was born in Billings, Mont., and took his first flight lesson when he was 12.

"When I was 12 ... I moved to the airport. Literally," he told AVweb. "I wouldn't come home at night if I could sleep in an airplane or a hangar. My folks got used to that, and it kept me out of their hair."

He then worked as a "flunky," or lineboy, and he was the "general pest to everybody and bugged people to wash their airplanes and get some flight instruction."

The pestering paid off, and at 18 he earned his private certificate. At 23, he became the nation's youngest airline captain, AVweb said.

In 1942 he was hired by Northwest Airlines to teach instrument flying to new pilots. During World War II, he was an instructor and check pilot for the Naval Air Transport Squadron. After the war, he worked again for Northwest, and in 1954 became its director of Flight Operations-Technical.

He later helped develop standardized checklists and procedures for the various planes that Northwest used. He also determined what kind of instruments were used and how they were arranged.

In 1968, he coinvented the Turbulence Plot System, which is still used by Northwest. The system sends pictures of a storm's location, its extent and its direction of movement within minutes of its detection by ground radar.

Terry Marsh of Buffalo, a retired line pilot, said Soderlind had a huge impact in the airline industry.

Before the Turbulence Plot System, Soderlind had developed the Jet Aircraft Upset phenomenon, which was a strategy for flying during turbulent weather.

Soderlind also demanded that all Northwest airplanes have the same cockpit so that pilots would feel more at home when flying a new plane, Marsh said.

"I believe it was the first," he said. "It was a huge benefit to pilots. What he has left is a legacy that is achieved by nobody else. We continue to benefit from the wisdom of this great man."

Soderlind retired in 1973. He later became a consultant for Boeing, Embry-Riddle, the U.S. Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration, among others.

In 1997, he was inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame and was the first to get the FAA Citation and Gold Medal for Extraordinary Service to Aviation Safety.

Besides his wife, survivors include two sons, Mark of Thompson Falls, Mont., and Bill of Port Angeles, Wash.; a daughter, Robin Butcher of Nye, Mont.; a brother, Sterling of Short Hills, N.J.; a sister, Shirley Monroe of Corvallis, Ore., and four grandchildren.

Services will be held Thursday in Absarokee, Mont.

Lucy Y. Her can be contacted at

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