Dick Karl has done it all. After a career as a top cancer surgeon, he switched lanes to become a professional jet pilot. Once he’d done that for long enough, as a first officer and then a captain flying Cessna CJ3s for JetSuite, he bought a jet of his own. He’s been a Flying magazine columnist for more than two decades and has owned a succession of personal airplanes to cause severe hangar envy among his many readers, but he always manages to remain humble and grounded, aware, as he often says, that he is a very lucky man.
A pilot certainly needs at least a little luck to reach the impressive milestone of 50 years of accident-free flying, but obviously skill and constant vigilance in the air play the bigger role when we’re talking about five decades of continuous safe flight. Friends of Dick’s submitted his long and varied pilot history to the FAA’s Orlando FSDO, the prerequisite for having bestowed on an aviator the coveted Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award recognizing 50 years of acting as pilot-in-command without a serious mishap.
Those friends were Rob and Kathy Haines. Kathy is longtime Flying columnist Len Morgan’s daughter, and Rob is currently bidding number four at Southwest Airlines. Without Dick’s foreknowledge, they worked with Robert Jex, an FAA Safety Inspector at the Orlando FSDO, to verify Dick’s logbook entries and confirm his safe flying history.
With the award in hand, Rob and Kathy invited Dick and his wife Cathy out for drinks at a steak house in Vero Beach, Florida. Cathy was in on the ruse, but Dick was oblivious.
“I walked in and at first thought, this was some sort of FAA thing that happened to be going on in a banquet room,” Dick tells us. “I didn’t notice the martinis or the canapés. Then Jex loomed out of the darkness and announced he was from the FAA and I thought I had a violation for something. Then it became clear this was an award ceremony for me. My 737 sim partner from 10 years ago drove down from Knoxville, many JetSuite people flew in, the CEO of WestJet and his wife came. It was quite a show. I missed most of it because I was so dumbfounded. Somebody said I went from shock to stupor.”
Dick’s long progression in aviation goes back to when he began taking flying lessons as a young medical school student in the 1960s. He bought his first airplane, a Cessna P210, in 1982 and soon moved up to a pressurized Cessna 340 and then to a Piper Cheyenne twin turboprop, inviting Flying readers with him into the cockpit through his many columns through the years.
Dick always longed to fly jets–and not just to fly a jet, but also to own one. After 1,500 hours at the controls of the CJ3 flying for JetSuite and as a charter pilot before that, he felt he was ready to make the leap. He bought a sleek and fast Beech Premier I, but it wasn’t long before a bird strike one day on the climb out from Tampa and subsequent discovery of a bent wing spar put that plane out to pasture.
Dick took the check he received from the insurance company and bought a used Cessna CJ1, a much slower airplane with perhaps less ramp appeal, but it’s turned out to be a great match of pilot and machine, he says. The pairing will continue for a long time to come, we’re sure.