Examining Decades of Accumulated Aviation-Related Treasures

Come into Dick Karl’s house. He has a lot of airplane stuff in here. Philippe Lechien

"Hey, can you hand me a ballpoint pen?”

“You’ll like this one,” says Cathy, my wife. Sure enough, she’s right. The pen says “Kaiser Air,” complete with phone number and Arinc frequency. I just love these pens, worth little in terms of construction cost, but worth a lot to me. This one is white with stylish green lettering and reminds me immediately of last week’s flights to the West Coast, especially the ILS to Runway 32 at Santa Rosa, California (KSTS), called Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport. The approach fixes include LUSEE and PIGPN.

I’ve swiped a lot of pens from a lot of places. I just love seeing where I’ve been and thinking about what I was doing. I have a pen that says “Jet Clean” that I got somewhere while flying Part 135 for JetSuite. We must have had an airplane detailed by this company after an especially riotous (for the pax) flight.

I remember smelling the refurbished airplane and seeing the invoice with two pens, one for each pilot, nestled on the throttles when we opened the airplane up the next day.

One of my all-time favorites is a pen I got at Higher Power Aviation when I got my Boeing 737 type rating. I never got a job flying that Boeing, but I kept the pen on the autopilot control panel in our Cheyenne. It said “Jet Crew” in bold letters. It reminded me of my forays into the jet world and the really terrific folks who taught that class.

Pens aren’t the only memorabilia that I hold dear. I’ve got keychains. For the past 32 years, my car key (my current car still requires a key in the ignition; it’s 14 years old) has been attached to a soft red rubber fob, reminding me of the excellent maintenance provided to several of my airplanes over several decades at Aircraft Engineering in Bartow, Florida. I don’t need to look at it to know their phone number though. I know that by heart.

The keychain that sits in the place of honor — the ashtray — is one given to me by Jim Mitchell, of Elliott Jets. He sold me our Premier 1 and was kind enough to include the shiny, heavy metal oblong weight with leather inset that says “Beechcraft” with the keys. Ever since I bought a Beech Musketeer while in the Army in 1972 I’ve wanted to get back to Beech quality — and now I am.

I own my share of shirts. Many golf shirts have been given to me by airline friends. They say “Delta” and “Southwest,” among others, but my friends think I’m in better shape than I am — they are all too small. We wore golf shirts at JetSuite, and I loved being in that uniform, especially while parading through an airline terminal. I felt like I was an impostor, but nobody seemed to care.

I haven’t worn those shirts since I retired though. That would feel really fake.

For years, Flying magazine sent me a golf shirt before Oshkosh's AirVenture. I love being part of that pack, but I never wear those shirts except when at a Flying gig. I would feel like a showoff.

Well, then, come into our house. We have a lot of airplane stuff in here. Cathy will be the first to admit that marrying cuts down on available wall space for airplane pictures. Even an understanding partner is not going to go with all airplanes, everywhere, all the time. The picture of the Constellation in Qantas colors is in the attic. Same for the Eastern Air Lines framed captain’s wings. My small black-and-white photo of Janis Joplin barely made the cut — it can be seen if you know where it is and lean far enough.

But a lot of great aviation art has made it to the public spaces. Our foyer has a photo of Keith Richards and Ron Wood in a Navajo looking just like Cathy and our dog and I do in our Cheyenne. These pictures are side by side and have prompted guests to ask if I ever flew the Rolling Stones (no). There’s a great painting of a 747, all dirtied-up, with huge leading-edge devices deployed.

Come into my “study” to see the really great stuff.

I use the word study loosely — very little, if any, studying goes on in here. On one wall there are three iconic Russell Munson photographs. When I first met this famous aviation photographer I told him how much I admired the DC-3 in American Airlines colors taken from above and the two Beech D-18 shots that glisten with reflected sun on the props and the lush landscape below. Not long after that, signed copies arrived without comment in the mail.

Though I have a number of really nice gifts given to me when I was visiting various medical institutions (mostly clocks, pen sets, plaques, crystal and the occasional piece of furniture) it is the aviation stuff that stirs my soul. Three handheld radios sit on my desk, ready for action. Four bottles of water with cool FBO names on them are there, ready to be taken to the airplane. I better check the batteries on those handhelds.

Come into the dining room. Accurate and expensive models of our Cessna 340 and Piper Cheyenne are on a credenza behind the dining room table. In the book cases you will find a DC-3 model in Eastern livery, a DC-8 painted with Braniff’s Calder colors, an Eastern 727-200 in the paint scheme that was extant when the airline folded and a model of the space shuttle Challenger, given to me by a surgical patient who had worked on the actual Challenger long before the accident.

The prize spots are in the family room. There sit three models that would make any man weep. There is an exact replica of 454WN, the Southwest 737-700 that was delivered on March 29, 2004. I was in the right seat on the takeoff as we went from Boeing Field to Phoenix — you can see the trip and the names of the three captains who shepherded me that day on the name plate. They gifted me this model.

Next to it is the Cessna CJ3 in JetSuite colors, with that arresting red stripe right down the middle of the airplane. This was the airplane, and the tail number, of my captain-upgrade check ride.

More dear friends with more powerful gifts.

And then there is this: a model in minute detail, down to the pitot tubes and antennas on the top of our new airplane, 323CM.

You ask why I love these things so. I’m past a point in life where I need or want anything. If you took me to Tiffany’s or to Dick’s Sporting Goods there is nothing I need or want.

I have been very lucky in life, and these treasures take me into the air, and back in time, when I look at them; I’ve got more.

Dick Karl
Dick KarlAuthor
Dick Karl is a cancer surgeon who appreciates the beauty and science involved in both surgery and flying. Dick’s monthly Gear Up celebrates the human side of flying. He writes about his enthusiasm for both the machines and the people who fly and maintain them.

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