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Wed, Dec 05, 2012

Barnstorming: On Being A Good Aero-Citizen–The Good, The Bad, The Ugly (Part 1)

First… “The Good” – An Initial Discourse On An Amazing, Strange, Tortuous Path

Thoughts and Observations By ANN Editor-In-Chief, Jim Campbell

You must be the change you'd like to see in the world…"
Mahatma Gandhi

Preface: This missive is long, it rambles, it covers a lot of ground and it takes its own sweet time getting to the point… but hopefully it will say (to you) what I want it to and convey the issues that I want to discuss. Just please bear with me, consider my words carefully and if anything we’ve ever done has had any lasting value to you, I hope you’ll help us stay on this amazing path – Jim Campbell, ANN E-I-C, CEO

Another birthday is just around the corner… and it occurs to me that I have been writing about the aviation and flying world for over 40 years, when my first story about aviation was published in a High-School publication (thanks again for that, Mr. Torres). From there, it was a surprisingly short time before my first ‘pay-copy’ stories appeared in a number of aviation publications and a career, and a life (and eventually, a mission) was born.

It started, of course, with a love for flying… and a tremendous respect for flyers, built up from my early years as a kid sitting on the airport fences at Lincoln Park and Blairstown New Jersey… dreaming of all the planes I’d fly, the places I’d go., the adventures I’d undertake, and the people I’d meet.

Well over 40 years ago, my life was an amazing amalgam of promise, possibility and expectation. It was filled with dreams and desires and a true intent, above all things, to be the kind of pilot/person that I so admired in my early teens. My journey to join their ranks started pretty early in life and the desire to fly has such an early foundation in my life that it seems as if it has always been there… from the moment I could form a coherent thought, my desire to fly was full and real and to be pursued as aggressively as my life would allow.


How This Whole Crazy Life Started

My earliest aviation experiences were based in the building of plastic and wooden model airplanes, moving on rapidly to flying R/C airplanes and helicopters (I had one of the first RC Kavan Bell Jet Rangers in the country way back then… and even got halfway decent at flying it… between crashes). But my favorite times of all, were the long bicycle trips, either after my paper route was complete or I was finished with my gas station job at the local Texaco, between my home in Oakland, New Jersey, and the Lincoln Park airport… which Google Earth now tells me was all of 8.6 miles… but I swear it felt more like 20, maybe 30.

Lincoln Park became my field of dreams—the first of many… I met pilots and instructors who selflessly gave me encouragement, advice, and a little bootleg flight time here and there and allowed me to be a part of a family that I aspired to, above all else. Dual instruction in Cessna 150s could be had for as little as $16 an hour and despite my meager resources (limited, in part, because of the fact that half of all my gas station, newspaper route, airport off-job, and other monies had to be set aside on orders of my Dad – who made me put away 50 cents out of every dollar for my college fund), I was able to gain a fair amount of experience… soloing a glider at faraway Blairstown at age 14, and later in powered aircraft at Lincoln Park a couple of years later.

The sights, sounds and aura of those days is indelible… and with little effort, I can close my eyes and be pedaling furiously down Jacksonville Rd., airport in sight, hoping that the guys with the Pitts would be out flying, or that Mr. Bott would be out with his Wittman Tailwind, or that Airport Owner Eddie Gorski would have some odd jobs for me that would allow me an extra few tenths of an hour of dual with Arnold or Tony or Bill or any of the other flight instructors who seemed larger than life to a young teen whose life was all wrapped up in flying… and would be for the rest of my life.

The people I met, the pilots in particular, were my instant heroes… and I’d look up, particularly, to those who were flight instructors, airline pilots and anyone else who had pursued their dreams to the point where they were finally doing the kind of flying they wanted to. And for some reason, so many of those I met decided to be kind to me… to take me along on their trips and offer me opportunities that broadened my horizons at a breathtaking rate. By the time I was out of high school, I knew that not only would I be flying for the rest of my life, but that I had a mounting debt to pay to all those who had been so kind and generous to me as I worked my way up the flying ladder. I logged hundreds of hours with incredible flyers who were so generous to a pesky kid who had his eyes fixed so firmly on the sky that I was known for tripping over my own feet whenever a particularly interesting airplane appeared overhead. It was a beautiful start to a life that was to be dedicated, first, to flying everything my heart desired… and then to giving something back to that aero-world that I loved so much.


You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.
Christopher Columbus


I met and was inexplicably befriended by so many… and it would truly be tough (maybe, impossible) to even attempt to name them all… but their words, their kindness, their counsel, their friendship, and their occasional offer to let me fill an empty seat became the foundation to a life that I was determined to live… and live damned well.

Defining A Mission… and A Life

That was a million years ago… OK, forty plus… but to this day, I am as still as excited about the world of flight as I have ever been -- and now have thousands of extraordinary experiences in my logs, my memories, and (most important) my heart. I’ve flown all over the world, been privileged to pilot some 1200+ unique types of aircraft, flown for thrilling airshows, played for hour upon hour in delicious Zero-Gravity (and even done so with guys like Buzz Aldrin and Burt Rutan), tested countless new designs, worked among some of the most amazing aviators in the world, and most of all… I’ve been privileged to be your guide to the news, stories, events, images and sounds of the aviation life since my first aviation-centric story was published. The bug that bit back then has never diminished and I now see my life as one of service… as much to my dreams of drinking in as much of the flying life as I could, as well as to sharing it, honestly, realistically and vividly with a part of the world that I came to see as my “other” family.

Yes… my family -- my fellow flyers and the rest of the aviation community.

With so very few exceptions, I have loved nearly every second of it.

Still… as much as I loved the thought of flying all the amazing airplanes that seemed so far out of reach while day-dreaming along the airport fence at Lincoln Park, it was the people that populate this world that have made it all the more amazing and at times, indescribably so.

And even when you factor in the negatives that I’ve had to counter, there is little (even now) to dissuade me from the lofty path I’ve chosen… even though I’ve had to deal with some exceptional turbulence along the way.

Over time, my path changed from… must fly everything… must get airline job… must fly fighter jets… must get into space -- to the chance to do it all… and then (most importantly) to act as a guide, for others, to the immensely enticing adventures and intricate excitement of the aviation world. Growing up reading the aero-mags, then in their golden age, it became obvious that there was something very cool and adventurous to be pursued via aviation writing and even more so through aviation journalism (yes, there is a difference—a BIG one). And so, it started in high school, followed then with a few newsletters, a couple of articles in Glider Rider, and thereafter I was off on a free-lance writing path, while either pursuing military service or civilian flying gigs for a number of years thereafter.

And dear Lord, I have loved so much of the process that I pursued, the lessons I learned, and (most particularly) the amazing folks that encouraged me and gave me opportunity after opportunity, along the way.

Over time; my desire to push further and further into the world of aviation journalism became not so much a job or even a really cool vocation, but a life’s work… in service to the industry, the people and the community that I have so come to respect, admire… and yes, love.

Throughout this personal evolution, it was not enough to just to tell people how cool aviation was… or to help people get their jollies via some cool pix and some carefully crafted prose… it became important to be “that guy” – you know, the one that people turned to when they wanted the straight skinny. The guy who had the experience and the guts to tell it like it was – so that their fellow flyers could avoid discouragement, fraud, and a number of other (some incredibly dangerous) hazards. I watched aviation change… and not always for the better. I saw a few cons and frauds perpetrated on my fellow flyers… and over time, as the flying world reached its zenith in the late seventies, I learned the sad truth about humanity… and also about that part that interfaces with flying… that as wondrous as the pursuit, itself, was… that occasionally it would attract those who care not a whit for their fellow flyers, and would often express that through cheating, lying, and even more dangerous actions.

I never understood why… I mean how do you treat flyers that way? How could you? But even though I never understood it, I was bound and determined to try and limit it, even stop it, in every way that I could.

And that’s what became the cornerstone for the businesses I created, the paths that I’ve taken, the decisions that I’ve made, and the contributions I’ve tried to make, lo, these four decades (and then some) since I first took flight on my own and understood the true underlying creed I accepted when I took flight. You can either be a pilot -- a person who understands the mechanics and physics of flying… or you can be an AVIATOR – a privileged caring soul who is a cherished member of an extraordinary and gifted community and, thereby, has the RESPONSIBILITY to pass it along to all those who accept the mantle of flight and to protect each other as much as possible. And you do this, not because it may be appreciated or celebrated (and in fact, it often isn’t), but because it is what the soul of a true aviator requires.

So, for many decades, I’ve done my best, when requested and/or alerted to difficulties amongst my brothers and sisters in flight, to be part of the solution to the ills they faced. No one who has ever seriously asked for help has been refused my attention and effort – as limited as it may, occasionally, have been. I take great pride in that.

Not always successful; I’ve put my heart and soul into TRYING to be the right kind of aviator, even though this mission is not easy or for the meek or faint of heart… and while most problems are solvable with a little effort, experience or insight; sometimes you come across an exceptionally difficult barrier -- one which is so wrong and threatening and hurtful in countless ways. One that harms not only the people that you care for (so much), but threatens the fabric of the world you work and play in. One that must be stopped… even though it is likely to be tough, ugly, costly and hurtful. And, yes, that’s where we find ourselves right now… but more on that, later, as we discuss “…the bad, and the ugly,” a few days hence.

Before I get back to work (on Part 2 and 3 of this missive, among other things), I’d like to express a few things. We flyers are at a crossroads… the aviation world we knew is all but gone and what we see on the horizon is God-awful ugly. But, I have to tell you that every time I wade in amongst the throngs at any well-populated aero-event or airport or other aviation gathering, I get pumped up with the potential we have as a community to reinvigorate and reinvent ourselves. I believe that we can do it… and underlying all that I do is both the desire and the intent to do just that. But I’ve been sidelined… horribly side-lined and distracted, with the issues of a bad economy, running my business, some truly horrific attacks on myself and those I care about, and a few other issues – not the least of which was the loss of someone who mattered more to me than any other.

Mind you; all along this convoluted path, I have had great examples to live up to – the folks who helped me (through their own actions and living examples) determine what kind of man I wanted to be… my Dad, Dr. Morris Schwartz (my Grandfather, and the finest man I have ever known), Bob Hoover (no explanation needed), Jim Moser, Peter Diamandis (who has changed the world… in several ways), Chuck Cohen, John Denver (who knew more about ‘joy’ than any man I ever met), Alan Klapmeier (possibly one of the last truly honorable men left in the aviation business), Mikael Via, Paul Poberezny (who has as great a soul as any man in aviation), Phil Boyer (possibly the best Aero-Leader we’ve ever had), Rich Davidson (who embodies more GA ‘spirit’ than any ten flyers I know), Mike Slingluff (another truly honorable man), so many others… so, so, many… and of course, my dear Vicki – who changed my life… over and over again.

I had a master plan somewhat put together a few years ago, and was making some progress on putting together both the plan as well as a loose cadre of folks who might be counted on to help in making it all happen. I was about as focused, back then, as I have ever been… business was good, I was flying my buns off, I was surrounded by amazing folks, and was feeling empowered to roll the dice and really take a swing at finding the remaining magic in aviation and use it to craft a new future that could endure the upcoming hazards and obstacles so many of us saw coming toward us like a runaway freight train.

I felt that I could play a part in saving and rebuilding the aviation world… as an aviator… and following one extraordinary conversation with my ‘forever friend’ and sweetheart, Vicki; a conversation that finally and blessedly cleared away some long-term ugliness we had experienced, and put us back on a path to again being the forever friends we always promised to be -- it seemed that I was about to step off on an amazing journey that ‘just might’ repay some of the countless kindnesses I had received these many decades… and be allowed to be the kind of aviator I always, always, ALWAYS wanted to be.

And days after that chat with Vicki, the world tumbled and twisted and kicked me as hard as I have ever known – as Vicki died… and so did a huge, even critical, part of me. I won’t belabor it all again… it was simply the single most tragic event of my life and there are times when I think of it and can barely breathe with the pain of her loss…. One that shook me to the core, nearly destroyed my soul, made me vulnerable to a number of setbacks, sucked the very life out of me, and pretty much turned me into a zombie for quite the while.

Throughout it all, my family and friends (not to mention a certain German Shepherd) were supportive, I worked hard and I got through each day, one at a time -- but without the strength commitment and resolve I had gathered up through August of 2009. For a time, I came to believe that the best part of my life was over and that talk of reinvention and transformation (for aviation or for me) was a pipedream. I had nearly given up on myself… but those who cared for me did not…

And now I get to the point of “the good” – that all great things are possible -- that we really can make aviation better than ever.

Easy to do?

Don’t be ridiculous… since when has anything THAT GOOD been easy?

But… I truly believe that it can be done.

We have the essential ingredients – the spirit, the drive, the wonder, the amazing reality that IS aviation and that with the VERY GREATEST of devotion and effort that we can rebuild it all… not into what it was… but something far better, more durable and more valuable… if not for us, then for all those who follow… including the next boy or girl who pedals their bikes all the way down Jacksonville Road to gawk and wonder and dream of the planes that fly in and out of Lincoln Park.

And here, God help me, is where this gets REALLY personal as I note that there is still an off-chance that one of those kids might someday be mine.

Yeah… read that last bit again. If THAT doesn't scare you, nothing will, but I have to tell you that there is now an awe-inspiring miracle happening in my life... and it was truly unexpected.

You see… all things may indeed, be reborn… even me. One of those amazing friends that has stood by me for a number of years, and one whom seemed to be quite content with simply being my friend while remaining beside me patiently… is a sweet, stunningly beautiful, girl to whom I gave her first small airplane ride, nearly three years ago. Since then, and in the past year, in particular, she has become so much more, gradually, patiently, incontrovertibly. Several months back she shocked me… by asking me to marry her.

Wow… How cool is that?

Folks… I was speechless for several minutes (yes, it can happen), but for some reason, this insanely beautiful, smart and sweet girl decided that she wanted me to complete her life… and thereby jumpstart me into the next phase of mine. The time since then has been a whirlwind… not always an easy time, and not without its complications, but as surely as the sun rises and sets, I am in the process of reinventing my life to be worthy of her faith… worthy of the gifts given me by all of you who have trusted and believed in me… and worthy of a future worth creating…

My answer to her proposal?

I said ‘yes.’ And so my world is about to change... yet again.

A transformation, if you will.

And, Dear God, I can’t wait.


Life isn't about staying inside until the storm passes. Life is about dancing in the rain.
(Author Unknown)


She’s a bit younger than I and thinks I’d make a good Father someday (at this stage of my life, I have my concerns -- I’m no kid, after all), but she is one of the most determined people I know and may yet convince me that some kind of a family is in our future...

And yet somehow, the thought of another young boy or girl pedaling their way up their equivalent of Jacksonville Road (if they choose to fly) to check out the planes and pursue the flying life, just fills me with a sense of determination and a type of true awe/joy I have not felt in the longest time.

For them… and for the kids of all my friends, my brothers and sisters in flight, it’s time for me to get even further back on track, to do what I can, to muster as much support as possible and to join in with all those who love aviation to rebuild an aero-world that can take us well into the future. I owe so much… and it’s time for me to get back to repaying the cosmos for this (almost always) amazing life.

And yet… get this… there are those who would take all this from me, from you, from all of us… and in short order, I’ll get to the mid-point of my ramblings… and seek your help in setting right a number of great wrongs, and getting back on a positive, upward, transformative path, once again.

And yes, we CAN do this.

Stay tuned…

FMI: Comments On ‘On Being A Good Aero-Citizen – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (Part 1)’


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