Nothing Beats Reuniting With Old Pilot Friends

A destination wedding provides a chance to reconnect with people with shared experiences.

Ever wonder what has happened to the pilots you’ve met along the way? Do you keep in touch with your first flight instructor? Have you made aviation a career and left people behind with whom you shared intimate spaces and maybe even intimate thoughts?

These circumstances can occur in anybody’s life. Many high school friends, college mates, even graduate school buddies tend to disappear into our wakes as we move on, grow up, start families and then, one day, find ourselves wondering about those old friends. In my own life, those friends and acquaintances were made over several years of medical school and surgical residency.  The experiences we shared made for some late nights and soul-bearing discussions. 

For professional pilots, there is nothing like a type rating to make for a close relationship. You study together, you practice in the cockpit trainer together, you eat together, and you fly sim sessions together. You are joined at the hip. Then, off you go; given that you and your sim partner will both be FOs, you may never fly together again. 

Then there is the intimacy of flying with other pilots for a living. The road tends to make for relationships that are unlike those made by other mortals. The same hotels, the same dinners and breakfasts, the hours spent just inches from each other. 

So, what if somebody decided to put on an elaborate pilot reunion in a luxury resort and they paid for the fabulous food and copious adult beverages? Wouldn’t that be something?

Well, it just happened.  Andy got married.

Andy started pumping gas at the local FBO while he was in high school. Flying is all he ever wanted to do. Ultimately, ratings in hand, Andy got picked up by a local Part 135 company and started as a SIC on a Lear 31A. He was a good pilot and a willing worker and soon was promoted to captain. He flew with Rob on the Lear 45. He met Tracy, who worked for the company. He wasn’t the only pilot to notice this beautiful, smart, young woman; but he’s the one who won her hand. 

I met Andy as a green FO on the Lear 31. It was a part-time, weekend gig for me. Andy was a generous instructor. He had a friend who also flew the Lear: Jason. Jason was the first person to ever put me in the left seat of a jet. Had I been younger, I would have named all my children Jason. 

Andy and Jason have remained friends and their fortunes have matched their skills. Jason is now a captain at JetBlue. Andy went to JetSuite on the Cessna CJ3. There he was kind enough to “walk my resume” into the chief pilot. At age 68, I became a full-time, properly employed, jet pilot. This was a lifelong dream, and it was all thanks to Andy.

As the night wore on, a sense of exhilarating satisfaction took hold. These are my people.

At JetSuite, check airman Greg conducted my initial operating experience. Greg taught me a lot about energy management and advance planning, not to mention restaurant intel. Dan was a check airman there, too. Meanwhile, Andy left JetSuite and became a Boeing 767 pilot for Atlas. Recently, he got every aviator’s top choice job: piloting Boeing 747s for a worldwide cargo carrier that features first class equipment and great pay. Andy’s old partner at the 135 company, Rob, has become a Global captain for FlexJet. Dan flies for Southwest. Everybody’s doing great, moving up.

Guess what? Andy married Tracy in April and invited Rob and Dan and Jason and Greg and me and our wives and significant others to the wedding at The Inn on Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. 

Oh, what a party. While I was telling a story about a lesson learned from Greg during a wintry night approach to Teterboro, New Jersey (KTEB), it was clear that everybody had been there and done that. “That ILS 6, circle to land Runway 1 when the wind is out of the west is a test,” said Rob.  There were knowing nods all around. Someone mentioned that a similar predicament claimed a Learjet a few ago.

We talked about a runway excursion at Essex, New Jersey (KCDW). A CJ3 had attempted to land in a vicious crosswind. I remember doing just that with Andy. As we approached the airport, the ASOS kept shifting the howling wind direction ever so slightly and we kept changing our runway choice. I held on with baited breath as Andy nailed the landing.

Andy regaled us with stories of flying around the world on a monthly basis. Greg—now also a 747 captain at Atlas—had just arrived from Sydney, Australia, with certain local party gifts. 

As the night wore on, a sense of exhilarating satisfaction took hold. These are my people. They grew up in aviation together. They started pumping gas and now fly airplanes with takeoff weights that come close to a million pounds. They have seen some late nights and some early mornings. While aloft, they have shielded their eyes at sunsets and sunrises.  They are bound together by a love of the sky. 

Andy’s father told me, “It’s all he ever wanted to do.” That is pretty much true for all of us.  


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