Richard L. “Dick” Collins, a prolific aviation journalist whose career spanned 60 years, nearly half of it on the masthead of Flying magazine including more than a decade in the 1970s through the late 1980s as editor-in-chief, died on Sunday at his home in suburban Maryland. He was 84.
Born on November 28, 1933, Collins wrote his first aviation article in 1947 when he was just 13 years old, for Air Facts, his father Leighton Collins’ magazine. He joined the staff of that publication full time in 1958 after serving for a time in the U.S. Army and as chief pilot for Ben M. Hogan Co., a highway construction company based in Little Rock, Arkansas.
That first article was Collins’ personal account of piloting an Ercoupe, at the time a relatively new light general aviation airplane. He would go on to earn his pilot’s license a few short years later, stirring an inexhaustible enthusiasm for flying that continued for the next 57 years as he amassed 20,000 hours in the air, many of them famously at the controls of his Cessna P210, which he wrote about often in the pages of Flying. He voluntarily hung up his wings for good at age 74, but continued to author blog posts for Air Facts Journal, an online publication he helped create in 2011.
Collins joined the staff of Flying in 1968, rising to become its 10th editor-in-chief in 1977 and remaining with the magazine until 1988. He then spent two years as editor-in-chief and publisher of AOPA Pilot, the magazine of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. He returned to Flying as editor-at-large with a cover blurb on the November 1993 issue proclaiming “Richard Collins Is Back On Top.” It was a play on the title of his “On Top” column, in which he ruminated on the safety issues of the day in his folksy, plain-spoken style, never shying away from controversy or the chance to make his audience think more deeply about their own flying.
Through his career, he wrote thousands of magazine articles and columns, authored numerous books on weather flying, air traffic control and flight safety, created educational videos and penned occasional touching personal stories about his wife Ann Slocomb Collins, who died in 2012, and their three children.
One of Collins’ favorite topics to write about was weather, a subject for which he also relished gaining first-hand knowledge at the controls of his 210. When he gave up flying in 2007, he said he still felt on top of his game, “but limiting flights to good weather took all the challenge and fun out of my flying. To me, dealing with inclement weather in light airplanes is one of the most interesting things that a pilot can do.”