As most of you probably know by now, back in October our parent company, Bonnier Corp., named me the new editor of this storied magazine, succeeding a couple of very fine pilots, Mac McClellan, my longtime boss, who had headed the title for more than two decades, and Michael Maya Charles, who was with Flying for two issues.
I'm not a new name to the readers of this magazine. I started here 15 years ago, in 1995, fresh off a five-year stint working for a number of sport aviation magazines on the West Coast. How I got the job in the first place is a story of unreasonable optimism that improbably paid off. One day out of the blue I decided to send Mac a letter to see if there were any openings at the greatest aviation magazine in the world. I got a reply, which was more than I'd expected. In the very nice letter — we still used paper back in those days — Mac said, essentially, thanks for the interest but there were no openings.
Then, strangely, a couple of weeks later, a second envelope from Flying magazine arrived in the mail. In the letter Mac explained that circumstances had changed, that there was now an opening and that he would like for me to come to Connecticut for an interview.
Two weeks later, I'd gotten the job. Associate editor at Flying.
I remember walking into the offices for the first time on that picture-perfect New England autumn day. I stopped before I'd set a single foot inside and reflected for a second. This was a special opportunity, the chance to work on the greatest book in all of aviation, a nearly-70-year-old institution, the chronicle of the air. And I thought of all the remarkable writers and photographers who had walked through these doors before me — Ernie Gann, Richard Collins, Len Morgan, Dick Bach, Gordon Baxter, to name just a few — and the great legacy they had left, first stories about the greatest aircraft ever and the remarkable people who designed and built and flew them. Flying was first in writing about the Piper Cub, the Douglas DC-3, the Beech Staggerwing, the North American P-51 Mustang, the Bell X-1, the Cessna 172 and so many, many more. It chronicled the exploits of explorers, entrepreneurs, dreamers and doers, the people up to their elbows in what was and is arguably the greatest human endeavor, the exploration of the sky and the stars.
As I stood there paused in the doorway to the Flying offices that day, I was, in a word, awestruck.
I remain so today.
By Pilots for Pilots
Of course, the physical offices of the magazine, the cubicles, computers, rolling chairs, coffee machines and postage meters, are to some degree irrelevant. Flying has been produced in several places over the years, from its longtime home in New York City to its current one, Winter Park, Florida. But the place where this magazine comes to life is the cockpit of an airplane.
Since early on, Flying has been a magazine about aviation written for pilots by pilots. As much as a nonpilot might understand about flying, there's something about the actual physical act of taking the controls, about being in charge of moving the machine around in the sky, that changes everything about the way one looks at the world. There's simply no substitute for getting up in the air, for the change in perspective that it brings.
There are at least a few different ways to approach flying, and they are all good in their own way. Back in 1995 I was a low-time VFR pilot. Right away Mac encouraged me to get my instrument ticket. It would, he said, change the way I fly and the way I think about flying. As usual, he was right on the money. Within a year of arriving at the magazine, I had my instrument rating and I was flying up, down and all around the East Coast, often despite weather that would have previously kept me from even driving to the airport. And I did start thinking about flying differently. It instilled in me a kind of confidence that was lacking before. I'm pretty sure Mac knew that would happen too.
A while later I tacked on a commercial certificate and a seaplane rating and, a few years later, a multiengine ticket. There will be more. One of the greatest things about flying is that there's always more to learn. The greatest pilots I know, legends, say exactly that.
Now, many people think that the best part of this job is the chance to fly an amazing variety of airplanes. They're right.
Some of my favorites have been remarkably simple machines that I flew with remarkably accomplished pilots: the J-3 Cub on straight floats with no electrical system in which I got my seaplane ticket at Jack Brown's years ago with examiner and floatplane guru John Brown; the Robinson R22 in which John King and I flew along the bluffs of the San Diego coast at sunset; the gorgeous Stearman in which Mike Dale and I barnstormed around the lakes of central Florida years ago; the Extra 200 in which Patty Wagstaff helped me learn some basic aerobatics; the CGS Hawk ultralight I flew into a little grass strip in Lakeland, Florida, with EAA hall-of-famer Chuck Slusarczyk; and the Bristol bomber I flew with the late World War I Museum owner and replica collector Frank Ryder. I've got stories I could tell.
My job here at Flying has also given me the opportunity to fly increasingly complex and capable airplanes, including many turboprops and business jets. I've flown Caravans, King Airs, Meridians, Merlins, Citations, Falcons, Phenoms, Gulfstreams and Hawkers. I'd be lying if I said I didn't love the smell of kerosene.