Archive for Aviation

How I Became a Pilot…

I’m always looking at ideas for a book. I don’t have trouble with the writing; no writer’s block… but I’m deathly afraid that it will sound like “What I did on my summer vacation.” My friend, Laura, thinks a story I told her years ago should be my jumping off place. It involves what turned out to be my career path, although a career wasn’t part of my thinking at the time.

I became a pilot, it’s that simple, but the backstory Laura likes is “how” I became a pilot. It strikes me that nothing demonstrates American progress better, more tangibly, and more personally than what’s happened in aviation. The world recognizes the Wright brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903 as the launch event in the history of human flight. It was 120 feet from start to finish at an altitude of 10 feet. I was born thirty-four years to the day after that first flight and the same year that Amelia Earhart was lost at sea during her attempted circumnavigation of the globe. 22 years after Earhart disappeared, I received a lapel pin from the Chance Vought Company for flying their F8U Crusader 1000 miles per hour. 10 years later, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. From Kitty Hawk to the moon in 66 years. read more

Celebrating a Long Friendship…

I’m not a fan of surprise parties, but when Bonnie Moon called me to say she and daughter Taylor were planning a surprise party for husband Ed’s 80th birthday I knew I didn’t want to miss it.

I snapped this on Saturday night as he was arriving at the party.

Ed and I met on January 2, 1967, our first day as Pan Am pilots. Ed was the third African-American pilot hired by Pan Am. We’ve been friends for 52 years. Through work, marriages, divorces, the birth of children, bases in New York, Berlin, and Miami, promotions, furloughs, stolen pensions, a company bankruptcy, illnesses, and unwanted retirements we’ve stayed connected. On Saturday night I saw Ed through different eyes – in his other world – surrounded by friends I had never met. read more

A Real Fighter Pilot…

“We just love our pilots.” Marine Sgt. Major TC Crouson (VMF-323 Reunion)

History’s most famous fighter pilot, the “Red Baron,” Manfred von Richthofen, offered the following description of how a fighter pilot approaches his job:

“Fight on and fly on to the last drop of blood, the last drop of fuel, to the last beat of the heart.”

Since the death of Senator John McCain last weekend, a number of journalists have seized on his days as a fighter pilot to describe his personality and character. The conventional wisdom is that fighter pilots are aggressive, competitive, work-oriented, cocky, conscientious, extroverted, risk takers. Looking back it’s clear that the life and career of John McCain was faithful to both the Red Baron’s and conventional wisdom’s summary of attributes. read more

Yankeedom Meets El Norte…

In the midst of today’s political turmoil it’s natural to cast about for reasons. How did we get here? In a post-truth environment have we seen the last of civil discourse, reasoned debate, and bipartisan compromise? Are American values outdated? Partisan politics has created dueling parties where tribal nationalism is at war with liberal globalism. Can our constitutional infrastructure withstand the pressure of a president’s autocratic impulses? Is America too big and too diverse to be governed democratically? Do we have an underlying unifying principle? read more

The Stars at Night are Big and Bright…

Our Grand Tour of Texas continued last week, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would include a cosmological dialogue about “dark matter,” “dark energy,” and the Magellan Giant Telescope. I had forgotten about Garland’s interest in astronomy and that years ago he and Mollie had given the McDonald Observatory some money to underwrite its operation.

I’ve spoken of this before, but my friend Garland is larger than life. His interests span a broad spectrum that includes Garcia Lorca’s poetry and Bruch’s Violin Concerto, the evaluation of insurance risk and mathematical puzzles like the Collatz Conjecture. He loves Mollie, math, astronomy, cosmology, politics and his beloved Texas. read more