Remembering Remote Air Medical's Stan Brock

We won't see his likes again.

Stan Brock in front of Remote Area Medical plane
Hundreds paid tribute to Stan Brock at his memorial service.Courtesy Remote Area Medical

Thirty-some years ago, when the FAA was actually paying me to go to Griffin, Georgia, and fly Bob McSwiggan’s DC-3, I heard about this larger-than-life guy named Stan Brock. To hear people talk, he was Ernie Gann, Indiana Jones and Mother Teresa wrapped up into one. A famous, handsome, adventurous Brit living like a monk, giving up considerable fame and fortune to help the indigenous Wapishana tribe in southern Guyana? C’mon! But I’d learn Stan was the real deal and his brainchild — Remote Area Medical — was flying relief missions in a DC-3 owned by my friend Mike Hogan, on loan to Stan for just that. Nearly 30 years later, it (and other airplanes) are still on loan to RAM.

Later, when I slithered (yeah, with a few scars) from under the slime of the Dark Side, Stan asked me to qualify as a check airman and do his Part 125 six-month checks in the DC-3. So, for years I’d take the 180 to Knoxville Downtown Island Airport (KDKX), fly with Stan and give and take check rides with Gene Christian — two check airmen are necessary so that both remain “current.” Late one night I sat with Stan in RAM headquarters, an old, run-down schoolhouse near the airport which served as Stan’s home.

This still-vibrant, handsome, 70-something Brit slept on the floor of his office, showered with a cold-water hose in the courtyard and ran miles every day. We were burning the midnight oil because FAA inspector Larry Enlow would come the next day to observe the operation. And Stan, like most Brits I’ve known, was a stickler for paperwork.

“Why this, Stan?” I asked. “You started out managing a huge [thousands of acres] ranch in southern Guyana, then you were ‘discovered’ by and became famous on Mutual of Omaha’s ‘Wild Kingdom’ series, you made movies, you wrote a book [All the Cowboys were Indians] .…”

He was very quiet for a few minutes — had I offended him? — then said, “I wasn’t as good to the Indians as I might have been; I want to help them.”

That was good enough for me — who looks with a jaundiced eye on faith-based groups who rake in charitable contributions but pay themselves big bucks to “do good.”

My small contribution was my time and meager talent ... and my sister paid for the fuel in the 180.

So RAM has been flying missions into poor urban areas and disaster sites here and abroad for more than 30 years … treating a staggering three quarters of a million people. Its primary (and, to me, most wonderful) focus involves weekend clinics in remote towns in Appalachia where hundreds of needy people stream in for dental, medical and vision care — all provided by volunteer lay people, doctors, dentists and nurses.

But Stan’s heart was always in Guyana, where RAM bases a Cessna 206 in Lethem — near his old ranch.

Well, my "charitable" DC-3 gig ended when RAM embarked on putting the airplane under Part 91 because the complex and restrictive Part 125 certificate wasn't appropriate for its operations. But, in the process, the feds discovered that N982Z had been flying for years with the wrong data plate. Amazing, huh, that it ever clawed its way into the air?

Is coming up with a legal replacement data plate on an 80-year-old airplane a big deal? You bet.

Boeing was the only source because Douglas had been absorbed into its Commercial Airplane Division in 1997. But thanks to a relationship with Glen Moss (son of the legendary Frank Moss), RAM secured the legal replacement for N982Z.

Then a guy named John Kater, who I’m pretty sure is the Angel Raphael disguised as IA and a pilot, appeared. With Ron Tallent and some volunteers, N982Z would soon be ready to “slip the surly bonds.”

When Stan called last summer and asked if I’d come to Knoxville to fly, I was beyond delighted.

“Say when, Stan, and I’ll be there.”

Frank Moss, a hero of mine whom I’d never actually met, and I were current and we made the first flight in late summer. By then — sadly — Stan was terminally ill and in hospice care at the new RAM headquarters. I was blessed to sit with him, hold his still-strong hands and talk about his beloved airplane. And I was able to put my arms around and cry with Karen Wilson, Stan’s rather formidable right-hand who pretty much ran the operation for so many years.

A few weeks later, he was slipping in and out of a coma but Frank and I (and Knoxville Approach) made very sure he heard his airplane fly. The RAM caregivers said Stan smiled as we roared overhead. Within a few days, he passed.

The funeral was private, but a memorial, attended by hundreds of people, was held in September at Knoxville’s Civic Center. It’s about a mile off the east end of DKX’s Runway 23 and we planned to circle over as people were arriving.

The weather was down … way down. And as the afternoon went on it got worse. If any two people on God’s good earth could make this happen, it was Frank and I but, hell, we couldn’t even see the taxiway from the terminal ramp. So it was disappointing, but it was also funny; like Stan was reminding us that the DC-3 was to be flown for RAM missions … period!

While I’d heard of Kater in “big airplane freight world,” I met him only last fall after he became RAM’s flight department manager. A small group of old freight dogs (and I) came to Knoxville late last fall to qualify as pilots and crew for RAM’s missions.

Those of us already type-rated got recurrent; a few, such as Tom Hogan (Mike Hogan's cousin), got SIC type ratings. Frank did the ground school (sorry, I still don't understand schematics) and I brought a box of airline and freight-operator manuals. Truth is, every DC-3 operator in history used modified versions of one DC-3/C-47 operating manual. Format and numbers are slightly different … but it's the same manual.

I can’t tell you what a joy it was to sit around the hangar and share stories with these guys.

Tales told by Frank, Kater, Tallent, Lee Mason, Ed Rusch and Ron Pearson, who’ve spent lifetimes flying freight all over the world, in all kinds of airplanes and with incredible challenges. Stories that get funnier and scarier and wilder with time.

I only wish Stan had been there.