Let me start by saying I’m not one to get “star struck”. Throughout my life I’ve met many famous people (actors, musicians, politicians) under different circumstances. Although I’ve always thought it was “cool”, it never really had any significance in my life. Until yesterday.
In the hotel lobby of my Tucson overnight, while waiting for the morning shuttle to bring us to the airport, I overheard a older gentleman and his wife discussing what they should do that day? The CA I was flying with had gone to the Desert Museum (one of the destinations being considered by the couple) the day before and said it was fantastic. Wanting to be a good samaritan, I approached the couple to give them my CA’s recommendation when the gentleman looked up from his tourist map. As quickly as I recognized his face, I immediately discounted it thinking “there’s no way”, until I saw his nametag, Chuck Yeager-ACE. HOLY SHMOLLY!!!
Let me come clean on something here, I’m an aviation nerd. I’ve dreamed of flight ever since I was a child, when I began reading my father’s Time/Life Encyclopedia of Aviation and Space. The most vivid image in my head is that of the Bell X-1, the bright orange, futuristic craft that was the first to break the sound barrier. Flown by a 24yo Chuck Yeager.
For those of you not that familiar General Yeager, some of his career highlights are: he joined the Air Force as an enlisted man having never attended college, working his way from mechanic to pilot to General, in WWII he became an Ace in a single day, first man to break the speed of sound, awarded countless medals and commendations incl the Silver and Bronze stars. The movie “The Right Stuff” is basically about HIM (I could go on but a simple websearch will do him more justice than I can do here). Let me also say that frequently during my CRM classes you will often hear me rant “I’m no Chuck Yeager…, you don’t have to be Chuck Yeager…, even if this guy was Chuck Yeager…”.
Anyway, there he was and I was blown away. I approached him, apologized for the intrusion and told him what an honor and priviledge it was to meet him, he introduced his wife (who had just gotten her PPL recently). What happened next, I could not have imagined. He began talking to ME about flying! He asked who I worked for and what I flew. He then told me where he’d been and what he flew. He gave me his opinion on recent aviation events, and asked what were mine. General Chuck Yeager, arguably the greatest pilot ever, was talking to FO Adam Feldman as a fellow pilot, dare I say as a peer? (shhhh, honestly I can’t, but he didn’t seem to know that).
Put aside the fact that the man is 86, still has 20/10 vision (he told me quite proudly), still flys his own G-4 and is invited on a regular basis to fly anything and everything there is to fly (from the Airbus 380 to the newest F-whatever), the man still loves to fly. The greatest single thing I gained from this experience is that after all this time, he never lost any of his passion for aviation. And neither have I.
Last week my company sent me to the Caribbean for a Charter trip. I had never flown in the Caribbean and was really excited. When I told some of me fellow pilots they didn’t share my enthusiasm and told me I was silly, “flying is flying, it’s the same bs”. Call me a nerd, call me silly, hell, call me a fool, but Chuck Yeager thought it was pretty neat, and man that’s good enough for me.
Have I mentioned I FRIGGIN’ LOVE MY JOB. (reprint from 6/6/09)