Southwest pilot gets a memorable sendoff as he retires: Aerial shots of his final takeoff

“Look up and wave,” read the text message on Ted Orris’ phone.

The retiring Southwest Airlines pilot was in the midst of his final takeoff when he got the text from Ryan Patterson, whom he’d first met in 2015 when he noticed the teenager snapping photos of aircraft and invited into his cockpit, beginning a five-year mentorship.

Patterson, now a professional aviation photographer, was hovering above Orris in a helicopter, taking a photo of the milestone takeoff, something the pilot said he’d always wanted to have done.

When Orris contacted Patterson to give him the details for his final flight, the photographer fibbed and said he wouldn’t be able to join that day. But he had actually spent weeks lining up the proper clearances to get the commemorative shot and was in the air above his mentor’s Boeing 737 waiting to hit the shutter button.

“I drove up to RDU (Raleigh Durham) to surprise him in the helicopter on departure. If you look closely, you can see his first officer waving!”

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