Taking Measure of a Life in Aviation

By Scott Spangler on November 26th, 2012

Beyond the kids, one of the pleasures of substitute teaching at Omro High School is talking with its principal, Brett Steffen. Infected in adulthood, he’s got a chronic case of aviation passion. I like it when he stops by during my student-free planning period because our airplane conversations are almost always thought provoking.

In the course of a conversation just before the Thanksgiving break, logbook tallies of total flight time and the number of different aircraft makes and models flown came up in some context now forgotten. Although he didn’t say it, I got the feeling that as a new pilot still building these aviation measurements, that he felt not quite equal to those with more experience. But he shouldn’t feel that way, nor should any pilot at any stage of their life in aviation.

What matters more to me is participation, and sharing what we’ve learned with others who share our interest in flight. The numbers in my logbook are inconsequential to the scores of aviators and enthusiasts who have taken the time to inspire, to influence, to teach, to reteach, to mentor, and to share the educational moments of their lives and, in the process, to change the course of my life.

MHSEach year at this time, I give silent thanks to each of them, starting with my father, a World War II naval aviator who inspired my endless interest in flight. He’s four years gone now, and he stopped flying shortly after I was born, but his aircraft identification manuals taught me to read, and the stories he told to answer my questions gave life to sky borne dreams.

When I learned to fly at Eagle Aviation in Long Beach, California, in 1976, my father didn’t think it a wise investment. He changed his mind after the stepfather of a student at Missouri Military Academy, a TWA pilot named Dave Gwinn, introduced me to another pilot he’d met at the Kansas City Hangar of Quiet Birdmen. Gary Worden, with his partners Melissa Murphy and Dave Ewald, was starting a magazine called, at first, Student Pilot. Hired as its founding editor, we renamed it Flight Training.

Like all pilots, my hands-on aviation started with a flight instructor, Kim Middleton. He was the first of many fine teachers of flight, including Tom Wilroth, Kerry Rowan, Caroline Kalman, and her father-in-law, Lajos, who conducted exhaustive checkrides that I always looked forward to because they were tests that taught.

In person and over the phone, many others took the time to expand my knowledge, aviation and otherwise. And to Bernie Geir, Bill Kershner, Duane Cole, Ken Scott, Amy Laboda, Greg Laslo, Tony LeVier, and countless others. In the process, a few, like Hal Shevers, Jack Olcott, and Rob Mark by their example taught me how to be a better person. My thanks for their wisdom, past, present, and for those still with us, future.

clip_image001In many cases I’ve learned about flying by watching others do it. Coming immediately to mind are Loren Doughty, Stu Horn, Brian Wiggins, Harry DeLong, Harrison Ford, Ted Setzer, and Ed Kolano.

Some of those named here may be familiar to you, and others not. My purpose here is not to name drop but to share a sample of the people who are in large measure responsible for my aviation life. And as we give thanks, it’s my hope that you, too, will look beyond logbook tallies to the people by which you can measure your life in aviation. Give thanks for what they have taught you and share what you have learned with others at every opportunity. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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5 Responses to “Taking Measure of a Life in Aviation”

  1. Travis B Says:

    I can not express how accurate you are about flight time. I know several pilots that have close to double my flight time, but by the way they boast it seems that they have times that rival those of an airline captain.

    It really is not about quantity, rather quality. Unforunately, the airlines/ FAA does not see it that way and make it challenging to apply for a new job now due to Colgan 3407. I have gone up with friends before and while I was not flying, I was able to pick up on some little things (such as a new way to scan the instruments, hearing new ways to talk to ATC, and even making my Situational Awareness better by being relaxed and finding landpoints) just by being in the backseat. I can’t log that as flight time, but those hours of experience help make my “low” time equal the “high” time of my colleagues.

  2. B.M. DeVandry Says:

    Well put Sir!

  3. Hal Shevers Says:


    You got it backwards. It’s people like you who have made me a better man. You are very kind.

  4. Ray Ronan Says:

    I have to agree with Travis wholeheartedly. Although flight hours do count, the scope of experience in the cockpit is much more important than the time spent in it. A dilution of experience in the cockpit can only lead to less informed decisions when the moment demands nothing less than a life saving action. So that said, many thanks to those who have helped not only me, but all those who take part in this theater in the sky and pass on their hard earned knowledge out of love of aviation.

  5. redplane Says:

    Every pilot should have a mentor pilots, the one’s who “do” rather than “say”

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