Read My Lips

Read My Lips

By Jerry Lips0412001_1.jpg

If you don’t read Cliff Robertson’s column in this issue, you will really miss out. I guarantee it will hit the sweet spot of your spirit. But before you read Cliff’s few hundred words, you should know about an experience I had a few weeks ago in Las Vegas at the NBAA convention. I was pushing Cliff through the big hall in a wheel chair (he has since had surgery on a ruptured disc, and I might report his physical therapy has him back on his feet and healing nicely). We had just passed the Bose booth in the center convention hall where Chris Miller stepped out in the aisle to say hi to his friend, Cliff, when suddenly a good-looking young man in his mid to late twenties approached Cliff. He was neatly dressed in civilian clothes, but it seemed obvious he was military.

His approach to Cliff was unusual, not timid, but with some reverence, and without any hesitation, the young man said, “I just want to say something to you, Mr. Robertson, that is very important. I will say it quick.” Cliff raised his hand and asked me to stop pushing the wheelchair. Clay Lacy and Charlie Johnson were walking with us and we all stopped and listened as the young man said, “Mr. Robertson, I didn’t really think I’d ever have this opportunity to personally tell you this, but I just want you to know that when I was 14 years old, I joined the ranks of the Young Eagles, and you introduced me to flight. It was a day that changed my life. I have only dreamed that I would some day have the opportunity to personally thank you for creating such blessings in my life. You’re responsible for me attending the Air Force Academy and becoming an F-16 pilot. I just want you to know, I’m married, have two children, and it all started the day you took me up and let me fly your airplane. Thank You, Mr. Robertson!”

Michael Chowdry entered this country as a young orphan. After a Minnesota family sponsored his University of Minnesota education, he wasted little time, building the third largest air cargo company and largest fleet of 747s in the world.

Michael Chowdry was the entrepreneur’s entrepreneur. He was famous for piloting his own personal Boeing 737, making cold calls on customers as far away as Asia and Europe. He became highly sought after as a motivational speaker, talking about entrepreneurship and expressing gratitude for living in a country that offers the best opportunities in the world.

When Chowdry’s company, Atlas Air, placed a huge order with Airbus, the Wall Street Journal sent their aeronautical editor, Jeff Cole, to Colorado to interview him. Chowdry invited the writer to go flying with him in his L-39 fighter/trainer. The tragedy at Colorado’s Front Range Airport that Saturday morning cost America a most remarkable aviation writer and the country’s most extraordinary aviation entrepreneur.

The prestigious Michael A. Chowdry Aviation Entrepreneur of the Year award for 2004 has been awarded to Joe Clark, founder and CEO of Aviation Partners.

People seem surprised that our whole family works together in our aviation publishing business. Maybe it seems natural to us because we’ve been flying together since the kids were infants. Laurie and I found one of our biggest challenges when the kids were very young was surviving the 12-hour drive to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. With the purchase of our Seneca II, we shaved off nearly 10 hours driving time from the Suburban.

During the next 11 years, Seneca three-one-six-two-niner made countless trips to Canton, S.D. We would buzz the house and Grandpa would arrive at the airport about the time we were unloading the plane. Sometimes a call ahead to the town mayor and family friend, Jack Fox, was necessary to get the snow cleared from the runway in time for our landing. Within a couple of days of our arrival, cabin fever and wanderlust would take the little plane to the Twin Cities for shopping or the little German town, New Ulm, Minn., for authentic German sausages or just sightseeing pleasure flights for some of the relatives. It was so exciting to bring our “family’s magic sleigh” home for Christmas; not only could we arrive refreshed, go when and where we wanted, but the plane could be dispatched to pick up others.

The cabin of the little twin was overfilled with excitement, colorfully wrapped packages, and the children’s anticipation seeing their cousins. There are so many memories, flying together as a family. Between Christmas and New Years, we had a tradition of going to Mexico, and many flights were memories in the making. Like once when we were crossing the rugged Rockies in Mexico, and we ran into weather so severe that all we could do is tighten our seat belts as tight as we could stand, and pray that the wings would withstand the tremendous torque of the prolonged turbulence. As we cleared the storm, the smooth air and morning daylight seemed to simultaneously welcome us at our destination and a new bond with our faithful machine. Trying to skirt or outrun thunderstorms, or the cabin heater going out at 15 degrees below zero, or trying to communicate with controllers somewhere south of Texas that kept saying, “We are speaking English.” Leaving downtown Saint Paul Airport in a driving ground blizzard, and within a few minutes, breaking out on top into beautiful, warm sunshine. Chasing a most beautiful sunset ending a glorious afternoon flight. It was a family experience, making family memories.

Our son, Paul, the oldest, started out in the right seat, and by age 12, was handling take offs. On his 16th birthday, I went up in the old Centennial tower to watch him solo. The controller said, “Wait a minute! I thought you said your son was going to solo. That’s a multiengine airplane.” Well, Paul had several hundred hours by that time, and over 500 with instrument and commercial ratings at age 18.

If the little ones got a little too rowdy, Mom would simply tap on Paul’s shoulder and give him a special thumbs-up signal and a few minutes later, Paul’s request to ascend to a higher altitude would achieve the desired effect.

Although we sold the family airplane years ago, our family is still on board together, experiencing new challenges and arriving at new destinations.

Holiday greetings from our aviation family to our family of aviation communities.