Max Karant Awards Go To Five Journalists For Fair Aviation
Listening to ex-TWA
captain and well-known aviation author Barry Schiff speak, is like
hearing your favorite uncle telling stories, only in Barry's case,
they're all true.
The guest of honor at the AOPA Expo 2006 Thursday luncheon
followed an MTV-style slide show of its recently concluded amateur
photo contest where hundreds of exciting aviation images flashed on
the screen. The images flashed for sometimes milliseconds,
sometimes for almost a whole second, to the oohs and ahhs of the
crowd to the tune of a booming upbeat soundtrack.
Most subjects seemed to be self-portraits in flight, kids in
little headsets giving a thumbs-up, float airplanes at dawn,
airplanes in flight over water and mountains, and of course sunsets
with aircraft -- lots and lots of sunsets.
The photos slowed down to show the third, second, and first
place photographs in five categories, and the grand winner was a
lovely portrait of a De Havilland Beaver on floats reflecting
itself on a calm lake taken by Brian Dary of Aurora, CO.
After they eye-opener, Phil Boyer, President of AOPA, was
presented with the actual pages of the first two
advertisements ever published in a magazine -- from 1939. The ads
announced the formation of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots
Association and encouraged membership. Boyer was given the
framed art by the sponsors of the luncheon, DTC DUAT.
Then the Max Karant awards were announced for five general media
journalists who did their best to present "fair, accurate, and
insightful" reporting on general aviation. Two were able to attend
the Palm Springs ceremony.
Jason Paur, of National Public Radio, told the audience that
after his subject Carl Unger finally stopped talking after 15
straight minutes, he knew he had his story. Unger is the 74
year-old pilot of the aptly-named Breezy who gives Airventure
attendees a free flight over the Oshkosh grounds every summer.
The other Max Karant award winner present, Stu Bykofsky, took
the podium and had the crowd of 800 laughing when he said he was
happy to be in Palm Springs, "especially because your organization
flew me out here for free!" Bykofsky wrote a gently humorous column
about his experiences learning to fly. He thinks the "Be a Pilot"
program is a wonderful way to become an aviator, but warned that no
one should sign up for the "Be a Newspaper Columnist" program
because of the low pay and stiff competition.
Then Barry Schiff took to the stage, looked around the room, and
asked "Why are you here?" He repeated the question and then said he
hoped it was because everyone loved to fly, or at least had been
brought to the convention by someone who loves to fly -- a
reference, no doubt, to spouses.
The long-time contributor to AOPA Pilot and other aviation
periodicals began to take the audience on an aviation journey of
the mind as he recounted his experiences after flying more than
27,000 hours in dozens of types of planes. His first aviation
experience was being sent to his grandparents in a radial engined
DC-4 and that began his long love of aviation. He secretly began
flying lessons which he kept from his parents until his flight
instructor accidentally called them to say his lesson was
As a freshly-minted flight instructor, Schiff taught the 60s
actress/bombshell Jill St. John and thoroughly enjoyed the
experience, though he didn't say if she earned her license.
He also taught his pregnant wife. He said she soloed in her
ninth month and he wasn't worried about her stalling because she
couldn't possibly pull the stick back.
Barry Schiff soon began his professional piloting career flying
for TWA while also becoming known as an expert aviation journalist
and author. He is most proud of leading a flight of general
aviation aircraft from Israel to Jordan, flying with American,
Jordanian, and Israeli pilots. He said he naively thought he could
help contribute to Middle-East peace, but knows he made at least a
tiny difference, at least among aviators.
Schiff loves to fly in Africa and said he knows that lions love
to chew on airplane tires -- once. The audience waited a moment,
and he said "think about it."
The U-2 spy plane he flew required Schiff to undergo high
altitude training, and a nearby bubbling glass of water in the
pressure chamber reminded him of what would happen to his blood if
his pressure suit failed.
A depressing trip to Europe brought him to an airport in Italy
where renting a private aircraft was measured in Lira per minute.
Pilots would literally rent a plane to fly for five or ten minutes
because that's all they could afford.
A blimp he sat in departed at a 45 degree angle. Schiff said he
was waiting for the stall which of course never came, because
blimps don't stall.
His favorite flying is in Israel where because the military owns
the airspace above 500 feet, all VFR traffic is conducted if not
slow, then certainly low.
Barry Schiff asked the AOPA members sitting in the room, "Where
do you stop on a long cross-country? Not where do you stop for fuel
and a quick bite, but where do you stop for fun?" He exhorted the
audience to find a small airport wherever they might find
themselves away from home, and rent a plane with an instructor to
fly around an unfamiliar part of America.
He ended with a short film of a 747 flying majestically among
the clouds and sadly recounted the pilot was later lost in the TWA
Flight 800 fuel tank explosion. But Barry Schiff, aviator, author,
journalist, and lover of all things aviation, said to enjoy the
gift of flight that we pilots share.
"It doesn't matter what you fly -- it only matters that you fly.
Pass it on..."