Measuring Aviation Rewards: A Personal Hall of Fame

By Scott Spangler on November 2nd, 2015

NAHA-73Gathering with my aeronautical peers, I rarely participate in conversations in which they compare their cumulative and recent aviation rewards in terms of certificates and ratings earned, total hours logged, or most recent aircraft flown. While I share in the joy of their accomplishments—and sometimes envy them—I measure my aviation rewards by a different standard.

Like my peers, I share their overwhelming passion for flight. But making the most of available opportunity, circumstance, and individual interest, I’ve grown into an erudite aviator. The aviation rewards that I relish is association with others who have shared their more extensive knowledge and experience with me, and the opportunity to share what they have taught me with others.

Every aviator, I’m sure, has enshrined these notable individuals in his or her personal hall of fame. Mine was founded with the flight instructors who patiently conveyed the aeronautical knowledge and stick-and-rudder skills that realized my aviation dreams. Their names, Kim Middleton, Kerry Rowan, and Caroline Kalman, are unknown to most, but that does not diminish their contribution to those of us who were their students.

In select circles of aviation, some of my personal enshrinees are better known, like Loren Doughty and David Borrows, who demystified the complexity of helicopter flight by talking me through my first hand attempts at it. Dave Gwinn, Terry Blake, and Hal Shevers taught me different aspects of the business of aviation, and dedicated FAAers, who I’m sure wish to preserve their anonymity, took me behind the curtain of terminal and en route air traffic control, flight standards, and the nuances of flight test and aircraft certification.

In my mind there is a wing reserved for those who fostered my opportunities as an aviation word merchant. Gary Worden, Melissa Murphy, Dave Ewald, Pat Luebke, Jack Olcott, and Rob Mark not only taught me by example, they endured my trials and tribulations as I worked to achieve our common successes. Without them, I would not have been able to learn from so many others.

One benefit of qualitative aviation rewards is that they arise as surprises. Perusing the aviators enshrined at the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, I was surprised at how many of them I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to interrogate. A few of them, such as Paul Poberezny, one of aviation’s true pioneers who founded the Experimental Aircraft Association in the year of my birth, became friends over time.

Paul and I first met one summer weekend in 1978 in Hales Corners, a recently discharged naval veteran researching the possibility of building an airplane that accommodated my atypical anthropometrics. We became remembered acquaintances during my tenure at Flight Training, and we became friends shortly after I joined the EAA workforce.

Beyond the hands-on aircraft building skills he taught me at the Aeroplane Factory, my most cherished lessons came in the afternoons spent in his backyard office. Recognizing a kindred spirit, by answering my many questions he shared the knowledge he’d gained from others, most delivered on the run as he retrieved letters to and from with that individual from his vast files that encompassed the entirety of his aviation life (an unmined goldmine for any aviation historian).

Equally valuable were the tangible assets, from framed photos to a double-bass harmonica resting in its stand. Without out a word Paul ripped out a tune on the upper and lower reeds that would have earned him a spot on the Ed Sullivan Show if not all things aviation had consumed his every waking moment.

Among my premier aviation rewards was not gushing when I answered the Flight Training phone one afternoon and the voice introduced himself as Tony LeVier and asked if I had time to discuss a program he’d developed to make general aviators safer pilots. The program’s specifics save for its acronym—SAFE—has escaped immediate recall.

Having read since childhood about his exploits as an air racer and Lockheed test pilot, there were so many questions I wanted to ask but didn’t because I’m a professional listener. This first encounter with a true aviation celebrity taught me an important, unexpected lesson. Regardless of their notoriety, all of those enshrined in my personal hall of fame share a common trait: What mattered most to them was not what they had already accomplished but what they are striving to achieve today and tomorrow, and they were eager to share it with anyone who expressed genuine interest in it. Guided by their example, I share it at every opportunity.  – Scott Spangler, Editor


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One Response to “Measuring Aviation Rewards: A Personal Hall of Fame”

  1. Ed Watson Says:

    As one connected with the EAA’s Young Eagles program I fully understand and applaud you in your quest for aviation education of ‘the masses’. Keep up the good work.

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