Alone, Unarmed and Unafraid: Colorado Aviation Legend Bob Mock Passes Away

Alone, Unarmed and Unafraid: Colorado Aviation Legend Bob Mock Passes Away
As the director of the Aviation and Aerospace Science Department at the Metropolitan State College of Denver, Col. Robert Mock took the program to incredible heights. His accomplishments included creating the World Indoor Airport.

As the director of the Aviation and Aerospace Science Department at the Metropolitan State College of Denver, Col. Robert Mock took the program to incredible heights. His accomplishments included creating the World Indoor Airport.

By Jeff Price

If Col. Robert K. Mock had only done three tours in Vietnam, a tour in Korea and ejected twice from an airplane before commanding ROTC Detachment 105 at University of Colorado at Boulder, his legendary status would have been firmly secured. However, after finishing his prestigious career as a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, he went on to improve on his legendary status by working in the world of aviation education.

As the director of the Aviation and Aerospace Science Department at the Metropolitan State College of Denver, Mock took the program to incredible heights, creating the World Indoor Airport, a state-of-the-art flight simulator laboratory that will continue to provide students with top-level flight education for years to come.

The Metro State professor passed away on June 15, 2008, from complications developed after a car accident two days earlier. The unfortunate tragedy took the man students called “Mr. Metro State,” known for his dedication to the students.

Dedication to students

“The first time I met Bob was in the late ’80s, just after he was appointed chair of the department of aerospace science,” said Jeff Forrest, the current department chair. “I was currently in the oil and gas industry, and considering earning a second degree in aerospace science.

“Bob spent hours helping me that day we first met. And that is how I will always remember him—spending endless hours advising students. To say that he was ‘student centered’ is an understatement—Bob was all about students.”

MSCD alumnus TJ Lahey, who today works for Avjobs Inc., echoes these sentiments.

“Mr. Mock had a huge influence on me during my time at Metro,” he said. “He helped me in countless ways while contributing to my speedy graduation and good grades. His wisdom, guidance and mentoring—and even his stories—gave me the motivation to complete the task at hand and excel in all efforts. He emphasized that ‘Knowledge is Power,’ and ‘Never give up.’ He felt that it was his responsibility to nurture the individual dreams of everyone who aspired to be involved in the field of aviation.”

Tim Nave repeated a favorite quote from Mock: “No matter how difficult things become, just stay the course and circumnavigate the problems, and if that doesn’t work—simply run over them or shoot them down.” Nave is another of Mock’s students who has gone on to great success in aviation. He currently works at Jeppesen.

According to Forrest, Mock is credited with creating MSCD’s most successful advising session for new students. The new student orientation for the aviation department started in 2001 and is in its seventh consecutive year. It was Mock’s vision to create a program that would provide a solid foundation, similar to what the Air Force Academy cadets receive in terms of getting on the right track. He shepherded the program and built it so that today, it captures the majority of incoming freshman and transfer students. Mock had just turned over the helm of the program to another instructor at the end of the spring semester.

A longtime friend of Mock’s, professor Bill Greener, a former Air Force pilot himself and former chair of the aerospace department, commented on Mock’s dedication to his students.

“As a professor and dean, he was always deeply concerned about his students,” he said. “He could be relied on to take the time to counsel them and mentor the students in a timely manner. The students loved him.”

World Indoor Airport

While the student orientation is one of Mock’s significant contributions at Metro State, the most visible and arguably the most beneficial contribution is the development of the World Indoor Airport. When Mock retired from the Air Force in 1987, leaving Detachment 105 at CU Boulder to take over as chair of Metro’s aerospace department, he saw the need for a significant update within the flight training facilities.

Mock managed to secure more than $1.3 million in funding for the flight simulator laboratory, considered one of the best facilities for flight training in the industry—and one of the largest grants ever for Metro State. The World Indoor Airport combines numerous flight simulators with an air traffic control simulator. The lab has allowed Metro State to stay among the top five colleges for aviation undergraduate programs.

Mock brought not only national recognition to Metro State, but also a tremendous amount of money in grant funding. In addition to getting the money to build the World Indoor Airport, he worked with numerous foundations and government organizations, including the Kohlman Industries, the Coors Foundation and the FAA, to secure hundreds of thousands of grant dollars for the college. In 2000, he worked with the Daniels Corporation to secure a half million dollars in grant funding.

Early career

Mock started his flying career in 1957, commissioned as a second lieutenant through the U.S. Air Force ROTC program. He served first as a weather forecaster, and then went on to fly the F/RF-4 and the F-102, combining for a total of 4,300 hours in jet fighter aircraft. In 1972, he was shot down, ejected and landed, while still in his ejection seat. His plane went down over Northern Laos; he and his weapon systems officer managed to evade the enemy until Air America operatives, deep in the triple canopy jungle, picked them up.

As a test pilot, Mock also had to eject from a jet another time when he had a weapon systems malfunction, thus earning him another unwanted second entry into the “Caterpillar Club,” so named for military aviators that have to “hit the silk” by parachuting out of an airplane.

Mock negotiated the defense treaty between the United States and the Philippines, earning him the Philippine Legion of Honor. He was a 1978 Distinguished Graduate of the Air War college and also earned the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with one Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster and the Air Medal with ten Oak Leaf Clusters. During his career with the Air Force, he also worked on the predecessor to the first satellite during the Cold War with Russia. Called the Vanguard Project, it’s now in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

Metro State

Upon coming to Metro State in 1987, Mock quickly began making his mark in the aviation education industry. He received numerous awards from the University Aviation Association and served as president of the UAA from 1991-1992. He also served as a trustee for the Council on Aviation Accreditation and served in other leadership roles, including chapter president and board of directors for the Silver Wings Fraternity and flight captain for the Order of Daedalians. In 2004, Mock received the prestigious Shades of Blue Ed Dwight Jr. award for contributions to area youth in hope of guiding them every step of the way into the aviation and aerospace industry, and in 2005 Metro State honored him with the Distinguished Service Award for Faculty.

By 1991, Mock had earned early tenure at Metro State. In 1996, he coordinated the Around the World Record Breaking Event. The WIA was the designated command center to assist Bill Daniels in his record-breaking, around-the-world flight in a Lear 35. Metro students replicated Daniels’ actions through a simulator configured to match the Lear’s performance.

In 1996, Mock took over as interim dean; in 1997, he became the permanent dean of the school of professional studies at Metro State. He served as dean until July 2001, when he returned to working closer to the students he loved, teaching in the aerospace department.

He frequently took students to the National Business Aviation Association annual meetings, providing them the opportunity for employment within the world of corporate aviation. Mock also enjoyed going to the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, France, and to AirVenture, EAA’s annual fly-in in Oshkosh, Wis. In his later years with Metro State, he started throwing his support to the American Astronautical Society and Women in Aviation. There was hardly an aviation group that Mock wasn’t involved with; the National Intercollegiate Flying Association, the Ninety-Nines, the Civil Air Patrol, Shades of Blue and Alpha Eta Rho all received his support.

It wasn’t just the students that mentored and advised, but also his fellow faculty members and administrative staff.

“There was no one better at advising students or who cared more about them than Mock,” said Forrest, who credits Mock with changing the direction of his career. “He hired a great many of us who teach here and helped us all tremendously, both professionally and academically.

Babette André, an adjunct instructor at Metro State, recalled being hired by Mock in the early ’90s.

“He was an advocate of women in aviation and sought to have the aerospace science department reflect that women have a significant role in aviation education,” she said. “He was the sparkplug that made the department shine.”

According to Mike Daciek, who blogged about Mock and his experiences during the Vietnam War, Mock led two lives—a mild-mannered college professor and a courageous Air Force fighter pilot who once flew “alone, unarmed and unafraid” (the recce pilots’ motto) as a reconnaissance pilot over the skies of Vietnam. (For the full story about Mock’s experience being shot down in Laos, visit

Mock played as hard as he worked. He loved to fly, ski, garden, read and especially travel with his wife, Gail. The only continent they missed was Antarctica. He was also an advocate of wellness, and shared his knowledge in his wife’s wellness business; Juice Plus+ was an integral part of his life.

“His greatest pleasure was as a mentor to students, faculty, friends and family. There was no one better suited,” Gail said. “He told you what you needed to know, not what you wanted to hear. Many who followed his advice have become outstanding members of their communities.”

Mock was born on Nov. 17, 1935, in Glens Falls, N.Y. He earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and a masters degree in systems management from the University of Southern California. He also completed the graduate meteorology program at the University of Wisconsin.

Author’s personal note

When I met Robert K. Mock, I was a young college student. I had joined Air Force ROTC and a wiry colonel challenged anyone in the building to match him in terms of physical fitness. Few took the ever-fit colonel up on the challenge. It would be three years later that he would again come into my life—he as the department chair of the aerospace department and me as the head of an aviation fraternity at Metro.

He laid out his expectations of our student group in no uncertain terms and demanded a high standard from his students—earning him a tremendous amount of respect with both students and faculty.

At the time, we were using flight simulator equipment that was five or more years behind the times. Within a few years, his vision of a World Indoor Airport became a reality that I would write about in this publication and twice more in Plane & Pilot magazine. It wasn’t enough for him that he created the WIA, but that he kept it ahead of the times.

He helped guide my aviation career and even paved the way for my return to Metro, but this time as a professor. Our offices were right next to each other, and I was honored that after once being his student, I would one day be his colleague.

Mike Daciek and William Greener contributed to this article. Mock’s memorial service was held at Ft. Logan National Cemetery on July 25. In lieu of flowers, the family has set up the Robert Mock Scholarship Fund. Please make donations to: MSCD Foundation, P. O. Box 17971, Denver, CO 80217-9812, and note Co. Robert K. Mock Scholarship Fund on the memo line. Your donations will keep alive the memory of a man who, on the afternoon of June 15, departed for his next adventure alone, unarmed and unafraid.