A Great Teacher Passes

By Robert Mark on January 11th, 2007

I just learned that an old friend passed away recently. His name was William K. Kershner, an author and a pilot. Most of all Bill Kershner was a superb teacher, a job for which I have the ultimate respect.

While I didn’t actually know Mr. Kershner personally, I felt as though I had because Bill was the author of a series of aviation training manuals that date back to the late 1950s, books that launched the flying careers of tens of thousands of aviators over four decades, me included. I remember the titles as if I’d only finished reading them last weekend … The Student Pilots Manual, the Commercial Pilots Manual, the Instrument Pilots Manual and the Flight Instructors Manual. There were probably more.

I flew my first airplane, a 7FC Tri-Champ, the nosewheel version of the venerable tailwheel Champ in 1966. And at the Univeristy of Illinois Institute of Aviation, Kershner’s books were required reading although at the time, I could not imagine getting past the Student Pilot version, much less working my way up the ladder to the others.

Years later when I became a flight instructor myself, my first student – in fact all of my students – were given copies of of Bill Kershner’s Student Pilot Manual to set the tone for what was to follow along the way to their first pilot certificate.

What I recall about Kershner’s books were page after page of insightful educational experiences, teachable moments we’d probably call them today. And there were plenty, from the four forces that produce lift to how not to get lost while learning the ins and outs of VOR navigation.

Certainly Kershner had a talent for being able to explain the physics of how airplanes regularly defy gravity in terms almost anyone could comprehend, even me. 

But he also managed through his writings to hold tight over the years to a knack for teaching, but never talking down to students although the depth of his knowledge was obviously vast. Bill Kershner knew how to teach and make people feel like they’d just had a cup of coffee with a regular guy, a neighbor who just happened to understand airplanes and aviation and was willing to stay with you until the lightbulb went off in your head.

The one thing I’ll always remember about the knowledge Bill Kershner shared were the incredibly powerful, yet simple illustrations draw by his own hand. They seemed to add the perfect final touch to the learning experience that told anyone who read his books that they could learn to fly.

Those books will live on long into the future.

Teachers of his caliber are few indeed today.

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