The 1960s were a time when young people growing up during those years were pretty skeptical of authority. The motto I remember was: “Never trust anyone over 30.” I never figured out if that actually made sense, not even after I passed through my 30s and beyond. What I did learn for sure as I aged was that once you’re out of high school or college and looking at 30, or 40 and beyond, making friends becomes much more difficult. Past 30, we’ve usually established our spot in the workforce and joined some community we find an affinity with educationally, religiously, financially, recreationally and, perhaps, politically. The debate is still on as to whether social media has actually made connecting with people any better or any easier. I certainly don’t think it’s improved the quality of relationships that often thrive only through a text, or with e-mail.
When I think of making friends, though, I’m not thinking of simple acquaintances, the people you see at work, the supermarket or at your kid’s day care center. To me, a real friend is someone you come to know better after a courtship of sorts—days, sometimes months of what seem at first like casual interactions, but that eventually grow closer and deeper almost without you knowing it. If you’re lucky, the good friends you make as an adult are men and women you can trust with the tiniest of life secrets—maybe a childhood dream or goal—as well as the really big ones.
Knowing Brad “Launchpad” Marzari was one of those good-friend events in my life. We lost him on the 4th of July in the crash of his beloved Focke-Wulf FWP-149D near Killeen, Texas, as he was on the way back from proudly displaying the bird at a local show further south in New Braunfels. The airplane was destroyed. Launchpad was the only person aboard. For once I had very little to say after receiving the news.
The sketchy facts we have so far indicate the engine on Brad’s airplane coughed and quit as he neared Killeen. He managed to get off a couple of Mayday calls on 121.5. My friend Max Trescott, an electrical engineer and host of the Aviation News Talk podcast began digging through some of FlightAware data and was able to pinpoint the site of the crash…just a few hundred feet short of an extensive residential subdivision. Max also reviewed the speed and altitude data nearly up to the moment of impact. That’s when he realized the FW had slowed to near stall speed. Max told me, “It looked like Brad thought he could glide past the homes and still make Runway 1 at Killeen. But by then he was nearly out of altitude. I think he pushed the nose of the airplane down and crashed it in the open field rather than risk coming down on someone’s home.”
Brad and I actually met at an NBAA convention, perhaps 10 years ago before I worked for Flying. We happened to be standing next to each other at one of those spectacular OEM exhibits the convention is known for and he noticed my journalist nametag. At about 6′ 4″ with a huge handlebar mustache, Brad towered over me, and he asked if I was that same guy from Jetwhine, the blog I’ve been writing since 2006. I nodded, and faster than any quick-draw expert I’ve ever seen in the movies, he pulled a handful of German chocolates from his bag and said, “Hi. I’m Brad Marzari.” That was it. I thought for sure he was going to try and sell me something, but no. The chocolates were just Brad’s way of saying, “I come in peace and to simply enjoy new aviation experiences.”
He began telling me about his private pilot adventures, his long history of working as a contractor for the US Army in Germany—hence his love for fine chocolates—and began asking all kinds of industry questions. He also turned out to be an Airplane Geeks listener—a podcast I co-hosted from 2008 to 2018 before joining the editorial staff at Flying, and a rabid reader of most of the other aviation publications. Brad was just curious about all things aviation. Very quickly an hour had passed, and we said our goodbyes, but not before he grabbed one of my cards. And that’s how it began. Over the years, Brad shared stories of his flying adventures as a private pilot and his dream to one-day buy an airplane I’d never heard of, a single-engine Focke-Wulf FWP-149D. But that’s all in the past now.
Thinking back since the 4th of July, I realized my relationship with Brad actually deepened through social media over the succeeding years, when he began adding short audio clips to the podcast as a reporter-at-large during his travels around the country to a variety of air shows and conventions. Each episode finished up pretty much the same way: “This is Launchpad Marzari signing off…frequency change approved, good day.”
I began running into Brad nearly everywhere it seemed, at EAA AirVenture, Sun n’ Fun, other conventions…you name it. I suspected that his relationship to the people at Pipistrel as a sort of product ambassador at large helped make much of the travel possible. For certain Launchpad facilitated my recent connections to Andy Chan at Right Rudder Aviation and Tine Tomazic, one of the designers of the Pipistrel Panthera, when I needed to fly one of those birds and write a feature for Flying that ran in our June+July 2021 issue. Brad was a guy who was always around to help when you asked.
After I left The Airplane Geeks, Launchpad stayed in touch, usually by phone. He’d often ring me at the oddest hours with some of the strangest questions about how the industry actually worked. Despite how wacky some of those questions sounded at the time, we’d often laugh and then find the answers once I realized he was a diligent aviation student. When the answers were more simplistic, I realized Brad didn’t have an arrogant bone in his body and we’d laugh some more, usually with him saying, “Well duh!” I also learned he was a passionate supporter of the EAA’s Young Eagles program.
Brad’s loss also made me realize I actually have more close friends than I even realized, many I’d met though social media. As a podcast co-host and with Launchpad acting as a reporter at large for the Airplane Geeks, I’d also come to be friends with the other guys surrounding the show. There were the two Maxs—Flight and Trescott, David Vanderhoof, Brian Coleman, Dan Webb, Court Miller and of course Micah Engber up in Maine, a fellow I began referring to as “Our Maine Man.” Micah was also a close friend of Launchpad’s, and through him some of us learned about one of Brad’s early heroic adventures at the University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo. After a stint in the US Army, Brad, in the spring of 1983 was living at Belmont Residence Hall attending school when a fire began. Launchpad was credited with running in and out of the dorm to help save dozens of students.
My unsolicited advice after Brad’s loss is to cherish the people who are right in front of your face, like those airplane geeky people many of us interact with more often than we might realize. Give them a call, or a tweet, or a text and say, “Been thinking about you,” or “What have you been up to anyway?” Because once they’re gone, all your grief and good intentions won’t bring them back.
As a final good bye to my friend, I give you the final signoff from my buddy Launchpad Marzari. We’ll all miss you buddy.
—Your pal, Rob