© 2018 Bob Worthington. Website by Wilson Binkley Advertising & Marketing
Writer | Soldier | Pilot
On 1 March 2022, I signed a contract with my book publisher, McFarland Publishers, for my next book with them. My three books with McFarland were all memoirs of my military career (two as a combat advisor and one as an Army clinical psychologist).
This fourth book, though, will be different. In the spring of 1975, at age 38, as an Army major, my assignment required considerable travel, but the airline schedules were inconsistent and took quite a bit of time. Friends who were pilots suggested I learn to fly and fly myself, which I did.
For the next forty years I accumulated over seven thousand flight hours, with 1054 actual instrument hours, owned nine planes, and flew in forty-nine states and three foreign countries. During this time, I also became an aviation psychologist, an aviation safety seminar instructor, and an aviation journalist.
As an aviation writer I have penned almost 2000 articles on general aviation, most in a column I created in 1985 called, The Left Seat. The left seat in a plane is where the pilot in command or airline captain sits. What began as a column in The Cessna Owner magazine (a monthly publication for Cessna Skyhawk, Skylane, and Centurion owners), has found different homes over the past several decades as magazines merged or ceased publication. For the past several years The Left Seat, has been incredibly happy as a part of Midwest Flyer magazine. The owners, Dave and Peggy Weiman, are long-time friends and aviation enthusiasts as much as I am.
For forty years my late wife, Anita and I used our various planes much more than the typical general aviation pilot and spouse. We traveled to conferences and conventions all over North America, as well as business trips. We visited friends and relatives constantly, all year long. We guided small aircraft on 2–3-week trips all over Alaska, meeting our charges in Canada, just over the Montana border. We provided everything such as lodging, tourist events, pilot briefings, rental cars, sharing our knowledge and experience with general aviation pilots who wanted to fly to and around Alaska.
Flying in Alaska is unique because one does not fly over the mountains, but between them. Alaska has twenty-one peaks over 14,000 feet (MSL) with Denali being 20,310 feet tall. Yet during my first flight into Alaska, I hardly ever flew higher than pattern altitude for my home airport in Las Cruces, NM (elevation 4457 feet). It is difficult to describe the feeling, when flying near the side of an Alaskan mountain, your eyes locked with those of a mountain sheep, level with your wings, watching you glide by.
We found adventures everywhere such as chasing moose off back-country dirt strips before landing in Idaho or planning mountain strip landings at the end of a day to avoid density altitude problems or flying into the Bahamas to locate a secret well dug by Blackbeard and his pirates. Flying low over the Everglades in Florida, alligators snoozed below, sunning on shorelines. Even landing next to Air Force Two, the president’s wife’s plane, was neat.
We have used the plane to arrive at 5-star resorts as well as parking next to a trout stream at the end of a rough US Forest Service emergency, Rocky Mountain, dirt strip created for fire-fighting purposes. Our planes were our magic carpet for quickly reaching destinations most other folks just dream about.
When we lived in states, ice and snow bound during winter, we would escape and head for Key West or Palm Springs, or Scottsdale. Living in the Southwest desert our summers might find us winging north to Colorado or the coast of Oregon or Washington. Our magic carpet allowed us to relax in the nicest places or enjoy climates and weather opposite of where we lived.
As I gained experience flying, I reveled in the ownership of aircraft most pilots encounter. Our first purchase resembles what we trained in or leased. As we log more hours we sense a need for greater capacity, more speed, or improved all-weather performance. Each new buy allows us to fly faster, higher, carrying more weight. But as father time catches up with us, we desire less complexity, easier flying, so we downsize. I did all of this.
My first plane was a 10-year-old Cessna 172. One flight my wife asked if it was possible to get a faster plane. A few weeks later we owned a nearly new Cessna 182. Business requirements took us around the nation so more speed was necessary, leading to an almost new Mooney 231, yielding a 40% increase in speed over the 172. My last plane, owned and flown when in my late seventies, was a 44-year-old 182.
In my nine planes, all but one were bought used. The new one was an American General Tiger, a plane I had test flown for an evaluation for an aviation magazine. One plane was an old used 182 RG, which I had completely rebuilt to my specifications (new interior, new paint, new instrument panel, new avionics. New windshield, and new engine). More than once I would run out an engine to have it rebuilt or replaced. I became rather good at learning how to maintain an airplane.
For my first plane, I had no idea how to evaluate it to know if it was a good buy. The owner of the dealership suggested I make an appointment with the local FAA Flight Standards District Office and take all the aircraft logbooks to someone in the aircraft maintenance area. I did exactly that and spent an afternoon learning how to evaluate a plane. The FAA maintenance guy, knew every repair shop that had serviced the plane, praising their work. I bought the plane.
Weather grounded me for business trips, so I realized I needed my instrument rating. I had to take the instrument flight exam four times to finally pass (but I never actually failed the first three… but that is another story). Since I was only going to fly for myself, a Private certificate and Instrument rating would allow me to fly anywhere, anytime. My first mountain flying training was not in the mountains but at an elevation of six hundred feet on flat terrain.
As an aviation psychologist I studied pilot behavior in the cockpit and pilot reactions to emergencies. I examined why good people make bad decisions. As an aviation journalist, I reported aviation history, explained why things happen, provided suggestions to improve safety or point out dangers, and met some of the most amazing people.
Yet, eventually, every pilot must stop flying. Most do it voluntarily, their choice. Some, like me, become medically disqualified to pilot an aircraft. As we age, we should alter our flying patterns and behaviors to remain safe. For me, I had no choice. The widespread use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War (where I served two combat tours) destroyed my heart, leading to several heart issues, all disqualifying.
Safety is the most important aspect of flying. Constant training for emergencies is a key to remaining safe. I know, been there, done that!
As a general aviation pilot, I believe I have done more than most other GA pilots. Because I am a writer (and aviation journalist) I want to share with you what has worked for me as a pilot and aircraft owner, for forty years. I am now authoring a book on general aviation.
The working title is: Forty Years in the Sky: A Pilot’s Guide to General Aviation. This book of about 90,000 words with around thirty chapters, will begin by explaining how to become a pilot, and continue through advanced certificates, ratings, and training. It will cover topics such as insurance, buying and maintaining a plane, safety, survival, how to fly as an aging aviator, FAA and NTSB investigations, flying warbirds, tax implications and how to fly your plane as a business deduction, aviation organizations, and advanced proficiency training.
Most non-pilot people assume that only rich people can afford a plane. Yes, rock stars and film celebrities own multi-million jets; but the average general aviation aircraft does not come close to that. I bought my first plane as an officer in the US Army. My daily transportation was a very small motorcycle. I paid a mortgage and my wife and I were facing the fact that the oldest of three daughters was less than a year away from college. Certainly not rich.
Upon retirement, I became a college professor in a small state university. Not a high-paying job. But in the Army and when retired, my wife worked, and we both owned business interests outside of her job and the Army. My point being is that we were not rich, we did not have trust funds, and our income did not place us in the higher tax brackets. But flying was a passion we both shared. Owning a plane allowed us to enjoy flying, unencumbered by the vagaries of renting or leasing. We budgeted our incomes, learned how to cut corners, and found ways to help pay for our flying expenses. In short, flying was an extremely high priority in our lives so we found ways we could afford it. Most pilots figure this out.
The bottom line, ordinary people, with ordinary incomes, can find ways to finance their flying. My wife and I did it and this book will explain how you can also do it. You do not have to be a Bill Gates, Elon Musk, or Angelina Jolie to afford to fly.
As a writer, I do not work alone. I have an editor with the publisher, who I get directions from and discuss ideas of how to best approach a subject. For this book I have three readers who keep me straight. As I finish a chapter I email it to them, they read it and get back to me, commenting, suggesting trouble areas, or pointing out what does not work or is confusing. These people are the most important part of my writing.
What is a reader? A reader is someone I have asked to read my work and provide feedback. Often a reader is an expert in the subject, frequently knowing more than I do. For this book, each is a professional pilot. All are former military pilots. All three possess an FAA Airline Transport Pilot certificate (the PhD of aviation certificates). One is a recently retired senior airline captain, another is currently flying as a senior airline captain, and the other is a Certified Flight Instructor as well as a certified Airframe and Powerplant aircraft mechanic with Inspector Authorization. Two are general aviation pilots and were aircraft owners. One is a male and two females. This book could not be written without their help.
One last comment about the aviation community. And this may well be the most significant aspect about becoming a pilot and joining this family. Throughout my several decades of life, I have been a part of many diverse groups of people. I have belonged to organizations, associations, collections of individuals sharing similar passions such as law enforcement, the military, veterans, academia, psychology, art, shooting sports, business, writers, firearms collectors, aviation, and many others. But without a doubt, my most enduring and lifelong friendships have come from being a part of aviation. I have been a co-founder of two state pilot associations and have served as a member, president, officer, and director of the United States Pilots Association since 1982, for forty years.
While those pilots who created USPA, dear friends of mine, have since passed, I have many good friends who remain in constant contact, even though I vacated my left seat over five years ago. To me, this is the essence of becoming a part of the aviation community. Shared passions and enduring friendships. No other group has come close to the durable relationships formed during my time as an active aviator than those created and matured as a member of the aviation community.
By becoming a pilot, you too, can share this unique and lifelong experience.
My manuscript should be completed by March 2023 with a projected publication date of fall 2023. If any reader of this project in progress on my web site, has any ideas for the book, please email them to me at [email protected]. I will respond.