Going Direct: Awestruck

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.

And, as you probably know, I love the technology. I am, at heart, a technology writer, which in some fields must be a dull pursuit. It's not at Flying. Here we have the terrific fortune to write about the most exciting technology both on the planet and slightly above. And if you think that we've taken aviation technology as far as we're going to take it, well, I hope to show you just how wrong you are.

Over the past 15 years, I've been on the front lines to witness some wild developments. I was among the first journalists to fly the Cirrus SR20 with its whole-airplane recovery parachute system, the first to report on transitioning to Avidyne's Entegra flat-panel displays, one of the first to fly with and write about in-cockpit satellite weather and to fly the turbodiesel-powered Diamond TwinStar. And I got the chance to fly and photograph any number of new models, including the Lancair Columbia, Cessna Mustang, Cirrus SR22 and Diamond DA40, and a few experimentals, including the Lockwood Air Cam and Thunder Mustang, and some LSAs as well, including the pioneering Flight Designs CT, the wonderful Legend Cub and the thoroughly modern, carbon-fiber Remos GX.

While my logbook is filled with cool models, I am, the truth be told, an average, everyday pilot, one very much like most of our readers. I've got thousands of hours of total time, and while a good chunk of that time has been in many, many different models, the largest chunk has been in airplanes I fly to go somewhere, to do a story, to attend a show, to test some new gear or to spend a long weekend away with the family. Much of that time, as you might know, has been in late-model, composite-construction technologically advanced airplanes, mostly the Cirrus SR22.

I currently fly an SR22 G3 Turbo out of Austin Bergstrom International Airport here in the capital of Texas, and I'll be staying here in my new role on the magazine. Austin, as those of you familiar with the city know, is a great place to live and, like just about every other part of this country, a great place to fly. I plan to be doing a lot more of both.

Just like many of our readers, I fly in the system, filing IFR and often flying in actual instrument conditions. Instrument flying is, in fact, one of the most rewarding things I've done in my life.

Then again, one of the most rewarding things I've done in my life is to fly jets. And one of the most rewarding things I've done in my life is to fly taildraggers. And warbirds. Well, you get the idea.

Smart Changes
The overarching mission of the magazine hasn't changed and won't. From weather wisdom to risk management advice, we'll strive to give you the best articles on how to fly more safely. We'll present in-depth product reviews, from handheld GPS navigators to intercontinental business jets. You'll get a regular earful from our remarkable corps of columnists, and we'll feature occasional stories on older airplanes that are just too cool not to cover. We'll cover training, offering advice to pilots just learning to fly, and we'll look at the latest cutting-edge technologies, examining not only how they work but also what they mean to you.

There are some changes you'll be seeing that I hope will make Flying a better magazine. Look for better photography, more graphical content, expanded coverage of training, light aviation and helicopter flying, as well as continued close coverage of the turbine end of the market, where some remarkable technologies are emerging that will someday be in airplanes from Cirrus and Cessna and Piper.

Look for expanded coverage on flyingmag.com, with videos, more news, more photo galleries, more opinion and even more user-generated content.

We'll also continue to develop new ways to deliver Flying to you. You can already get the magazine through Zinio on your computer or iPad, and we're now launching Flying on the iPad in the iTunes store, with bonus content, possibly including video, photo galleries and expanded commentary.

Challenges and Opportunities
There are no two ways about it: Our industry faces some tough challenges in many segments. This stubborn downturn has cost sales and, hence, jobs in many sectors of the economy, but it's hard to find one that's been harder hit than private aviation. Wichita, Kansas, is not a happy place right now. While this recession seems as though it will never end, even the most cursory look at our history indicates that it will end, and before very long too.

The bottom line is, we believe in flying. There is simply nothing like it. There are almost no limits to what it can do or where it can take you, and that's true from the lightest sport airplane to the most capable business jet. If it seems as though we're at some kind of dead end in the story of flying, it is only because we haven't applied our collective imaginations effectively enough. The history of aviation is a very short one, and in that time technological and cultural developments have redefined what we do and how we do it again and again. Want proof? Just take a look at the past 83 years of Flying. Airplanes are still around, and so are we.

Over the past week I've been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from my many friends in the aviation industry. I've gotten literally hundreds of e-mails, phone calls, text messages and Facebook comments, nearly every single one of them wishing me, and the magazine, well. Thanks to all of you.

Many of those well-wishers also included a little commentary in their notes. They said directly, "Congratulations, Robert. Now you've got your work cut out for you."

I wouldn't want it any other way.

Because, truly, despite it all, despite our history, our hall-of-fame lineup of present and former writers, our great photographers and lots more, the best part about Flying has always been and will continue to be our readers, who never cease to amaze me with their accomplishments, their knowledge and their willingness to help out other pilots. Without our readers, after all, there would be no need for the magazine in the first place. We won't forget that fact for a second.

We would love to hear from you, so tell us what you think. Have ideas, complaints, questions? We'd love to hear them. You can e-mail us any time at edit@flyingmag.com. Thanks for reading.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Get the latest FLYING stories delivered directly to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter