Hasta la Vista Mike

By Robert Mark on March 11th, 2021

Click above to Listen – Run time 4:27

(Podcast Text)

I think it was Mark Twain who cynically spoke about “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics” to explain how easily lists of numbers can be manipulated to tell some pretty extraordinary stories. And let’s face it … lists of numbers can be pretty dry, unless you can add some context.

Take the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re someone who trusts numbers, they show the virus has claimed 2 and a half million lives around the world … more than half a million in the US.

How do you even get our hands around that? Do you know 2 and a half million people, or even a half million? I sure as hell don’t.

Sometimes it takes just a single person for those numbers to make sense. At least that worked for me when I learned recently my friend Mike Collins had passed away.

At 59 he was AOPA Pilot’s Technical Editor and Director of Business Operations. COVID snatched him away after a couple of really awful weeks in the hospital.

Mike was a guy I was proud to call a friend. Not a close buddy, buddy kind of friend, but one of the regular dozen journalists I run into at aviation events.

Mike was the kind of guy, who’d pick me out of the crowd with a simple “Hey Rob,” before a quick catch-up session.

He was an extraordinary photographer and adventurer, like when he sat right seat in Mike Laver’s MU-2 for a trip around the world. In over 30 or 40 hours of flying, he never missed feeding photos and videos back to the AOPA mothership, for the rest of us to enjoy.

AOPA Pilot’s Editor-in-chief Tom Haines said, “If you’ve ever held a copy of AOPA Pilot or Flight Training magazine in your hands, over the past 29 years, you’ve benefited from the work of Mike.”

In a look back at Mike’s career, Haines said he learned the biz as a newspaper guy in North Carolina before becoming editor of the Southern Aviator. Tom said, “I knew I could toss any assignment Mike’s way and he’d figure out how to bring back a terrific story—almost always with a human angle to it.” I also loved Mike’s incredible knack for translating techno babble into great stories.

Early on he learned how to match his impressive video skills with the newest drone platforms. He was also an early podcaster and even a beermaker. Now why doesn’t that surprise me? Mike once said, “Photojournalism is all about storytelling. And aviation is full of great stories just waiting to be told.”

Here’s one Mike moment I remember. I was writing a story for AOPA Pilot some years ago about checking out in the L-39 jet. The magazine sent Mike to Chicago to handle the photos while I flew the jet. We arranged to use a restored SNJ with a back seat aimed rearward as Mike’s photo platform.

There was just one problem. The flight came together in the middle of January, so Mike was dressed like he was headed for the north pole. Think about the wind chill with an OAT of 10 F and a 135 mph.

In tight formation for the air-to-airs, I could see the fur on his big parka flapping wildly in the breeze, so I squeezed the mic button, “Hey Mike. You keeping warm over there?” He responded with “I’m freezing my butt off,” then silence.

After we landed the L-39 I was feeling really guilty having spent a couple of hours in a nice warm cockpit while Mike was freezing in the SNJ. “Are you starting to defrost Mike?” I said as I approached the big yellow bird. He didn’t even flinch. “Oh sure,” … “that was a blast. Let’s go do it again.” That was Mike. Check out “Flying a Real Jet to Make Like Maverick” at AOPA.org and you’ll see some of the awesome photos Mike shot.

Mike Collins left behind his wife Janette Prince, as well as two daughters and a son.

For the full scoop on Mike’s career, click on “Saying Goodbye” at AOPA.org. You’ll also find a list of organizations where you can make a donation in Mike’s honor.

We’re all going to miss you Mike.

From Chicago, I’m Rob Mark for Jetwhine and the Airplane Geeks.

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