Coach Mikki and Friends

Taking Flight: Stories of Youngest Flight Instructors, Arctic Sailor - Capt. Russ Roberts - S4E2

January 20, 2024 Coach Mikki Season 4 Episode 2
Coach Mikki and Friends
Taking Flight: Stories of Youngest Flight Instructors, Arctic Sailor - Capt. Russ Roberts - S4E2
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When Captain Russ Roberts took his first airborne loop at age three, little did he know he'd spiral into the youngest flight instructor in the U.S., navigating through aviation regulations with the finesse of a seasoned pilot. Our latest episode takes flight with Russ as he recounts the tapestry of aviators who've influenced him, from his father's piloting pursuits to the legendary airline captains of his youth. His tales weave a fabric of camaraderie, mentorship, and the pure exhilaration of flight that is sure to lift the spirits of aviation enthusiasts and dreamers alike.

Venture northward with us as Russ shares his transformative tale, from a third-grade reading struggler to a sailor carving a path through the icy veins of the Northwest Passage.
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Speaker 1:

Hey, I'm Coach Mickey and I'm so glad that you've joined us, and if this is your first time joining us, come on in and make yourself comfortable. For those of you that joined us on a regular basis, I'm so glad that you do, and I look forward to hearing from each and every one of you. And thank you so much for reaching out to my guests. They love hearing from you and thank you for supporting them, and today, as usual, as you guys know, I love to find guests that have got an interesting story, that are fun, full of adventure, and I have been looking forward to having on this guest today. So I'm just going to tell you a little bit about him, like we always do. We'll just jump right in. Captain Ross Roberts. He is the author of Unlearning to Fly Navigating Turbulence and Bliss of Growing Up in the Sky. He flew the Atlantic alone in a single engine plane, sailed the Northwest Passage. He's the youngest licensed flight instructor in the United States and he shared a VW bug with a moose and blew up his back, so welcome.

Speaker 2:

Captain Ross.

Speaker 1:

Roberts, how are you?

Speaker 2:

Very well, thank you. It's nice to be with you, mickey and I hope that you're.

Speaker 1:

We're just going to jump right in. First of all, I want to talk about becoming the youngest licensed flight instructor and, as my guests have heard my circle of friends, as I call them they know that I'm a pilot helicopter, but I love having on pilots because we have such great experiences. So I really want to hear your story right from the beginning.

Speaker 2:

When I found out you were a pilot, I knew this was going to be an easy conversation, because, no matter where you go, if you're with a pilot, you instantly have something to talk about.

Speaker 1:

This is true, this is true, so let's just start. Well, you have been around planes since my gosh, since the beginning of your life, so let's just jump in right with that.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I've always wanted to be an airline pilot Since before I could remember. As a matter of fact, the first memory I have on Earth is doing a loop in an Aranca champ when I was three years old with my father. So the first memory I have on this planet is being upside down in an airplane, and so airplanes have been just a thread that has woven my life together. Never since I can remember I wanted to be an airline pilot. So, long story short, I wound up getting my private license on my 17th birthday, and between the time I was 17 and then 18, being able to get my commercial license, I discovered a loophole in the federal aviation regulations.

Speaker 2:

They talked a lot about having the flight experience to be a commercial pilot, but they didn't talk about age when it came to getting a flight instructor certificate. So I took the written test and I made an appointment at the FAA and went down and oh so you want to get your CFI today. Yeah, that's right, ok, well, you looked at the paperwork and said well, everything looks great, but wait a minute, how old are you? I said I'm 17. Well, you know you have to be 18 to get a CFI. I said well, that's what I thought too, but can we look at the regulations a little closer?

Speaker 2:

Oh no, you have to be 18. Ok, we'll take a look. And they found that there was no stipulation that you had to be 18 years old to get a CFI, a certified flight instructor certificate. So we took the test and he sent the paperwork off to the FAA headquarters in Oklahoma City and said well, I know this is going to get kicked back, but they couldn't find a regulation either. So I wound up being a CFI at 17 years old.

Speaker 1:

I love it. That's great. Now, where were you, where were you located when you first started to fly?

Speaker 2:

When I first actually started to fly, I was in Orange County, virginia. My parents had taken over the operation of the Orange County Airport. Perfect for me, and so I began flying, taking lessons from my father, who was a CFI. I started taking lessons at 14 with him, so that's where I actually started flying.

Speaker 1:

So you've been around this your whole life and it's just because that's just been your whole lifestyle to be able to my whole life.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, in my book I start out at the very beginning talking about my father was a mechanic for capital airlines, which was later absorbed into United Airlines. So he was a mechanic at Washington National Airport. We lived in northern Virginia at the time and he wanted to be an airline pilot too. He wanted to be an airline pilot almost as much as I did. So he was hanging around getting his licenses and he was learning to fly Beacon Field, just outside Alexandria, and he was hanging around with all the airline pilots he could find. So they became fixtures at our house and for me that was like living on Mount Olympus, living with the gods parties. I remember Bob Smerno, for example, a capital airlines pilot, and Captain Al, a capital captain at our house. A lot of the parties. Some of those are described in the book. Yeah, I've been around airplanes and pilots my whole life, so these guys kind of set the tone for me early, gave me direction.

Speaker 1:

Interesting group of guys to be hanging around. But, as we know, though, when you get around other airline pilots, there's always a story, there's always information. You just have a lot. There's a camaraderie. There's a camaraderie about pilots. Being up in the air is just an incredible adventure in itself. So having that opportunity as young as you did, and then becoming a flight instructor, had to have been such an incredible, not only accomplishment, but just a gift in everything that you've done throughout your life. Having that start.

Speaker 2:

It was a gift and you were talking on one of your episodes with Nick Spark or the episode about Ponchal Barnes, and you were both talking about that Halloween. Around pilots there's always a story, and he pointed out rightly that oftentimes I think he was talking about Chuck Yeager and the air show pilot of my memory.

Speaker 1:

I don't remember his name either. You're good.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it'll come up about 10 minutes later when we're on to something. Yeah, how, sometimes when you're with the pilots, they can't If you say, hey, tell me about, oh, I don't remember. It's these stories, that sort of just rise up out of the ether, that are so precious, and if you're not with them, if you're not in company with them, these stories will never be heard because they're not going to write them down. These are just things that happen, but the stories can be amazing. I remember we had a restaurant at our airport in Virginia and we'd sit around the launch counter and I'd get the guys to tell me about their flights. We'd use salt and pepper shakers as the terrain in our hands, as airplanes, and I'd make these guys go through every detail of the flight that they were describing what was the weather, what was the engine doing, what had you feel? So we were dissecting the flights and it's just such a rich place for especially a young person.

Speaker 1:

So what's one of your favorite stories? I mean because you've got a lot of flight hours and you must have a couple Like what's the ones that stick out in your mind that just seems so dear to you.

Speaker 2:

Well, there are so many. Well, the one I start the book with is one that sticks with me. I was very. That means delivering a single-engine Cessna Cardinal to Europe. It was my first solo transatlantic trip. I was wondering why I was out there in the first place. I launched out of we I always say we, it's me in the airplane Launched out of Pennsylvania and flipped a Goose Bay Labrador and from there I was going to fly nonstop to Iceland Get more fuel. We had ferry tanks on the airplane with the extra tanks, so I had about 24 hours of fuel on the airplane, which is an extraordinary fuel of.

Speaker 2:

I took off off out of Goose Bay and everything was fine. For a while. The weather forecast was okay, but then the clouds that were supposed to be layered became one mass and I found myself lying in the clouds below freezing. So naturally, the airplanes wings began to ice up, and this is this is a nice fix. I tried to climb to a different altitude to find clear air, and that didn't work. Got up to the airplanes maximum altitude. It would no longer climb. It was so heavy. Well, the only thing we can do is go down and maybe find some warmer air down below.

Speaker 2:

So about that time, as I was descending, I got into the worst turbulence I've had experienced before or since the airplane was. I describe it as being in a terrier smouth. It was just being thrown around violently my head, even though I was in the shoulder harness and seat belt, and my head was banging against the ceiling and my shoulders up against the door. That was really tough and I was wondering. You know, put faith in the engineers and mechanics who built the airplane that they had done the work and sure enough, nothing broke and the airplane survived and so did I. And it was funny because as we got below the cloud layer I realized the turbulence was gone and the airplane was fine and I was fine.

Speaker 2:

But what had happened during that turbulence is that we had a they call it a wet compass. It's just a normal compass that is on top of the instrument panel and it's it floats in a bath of liquid to keep it damp. It's motions dampen. So as we were in the turbulence, the compass card the thing that tells you what direction you're going Jumped up off of its peg and wedged itself in the corner, no longer to move, which proved to be a bit of a problem because earlier I had lost my directional gyro, effectively lost it. It was not functioning properly either. So here I was in the middle of the Labrador C, at least three or four hundred miles away from land, with no way to tell what direction I was going. So that was an interesting situation. Below the clouds, like that too, I couldn't see the sun, I couldn't get a bearing on the sun, no land to look at. So that was just. That was an interesting, interesting fix, but obviously things work out. I'm talking to you.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, it's amazing because there's other things that you learn. As a pilot and even for myself as a skydiver. I've had situations where everything else is you don't have it available anymore and you have to go to the most Well, I don't want to say primitive, but think about it. People have used the sun, the wind and other elements to be able to get your direction and for you to come out of something like that. I think the scariest thing is the frozen wings, because that you have no idea and especially then put turbulence on top of it. Yeah, that's pretty exciting, yeah.

Speaker 2:

I mean, you just use what you have, don't you? You just you, just you know you don't have this anymore. What do we have? What do we have left? Let's use this. This should work and it worked out fine. I was able to get a bearing off of a radio station somewhere. I don't know where it was initially and, okay, well, the direction finding needle on the radio is pointing. I'll just maintain that bearing and it worked out, you know, eventually I got the Greenland and of course it's more detailed quite a bit in the book but got the Greenland, was able to fix the compass and went on my way, that's a heck of a solo.

Speaker 1:

I mean it really is for a solo trip, my gosh. I mean good for you.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, the weird thing is, you know, I was 25 years old and I was immortal, you know, at that age, and I wound up doing nine more of those solo transatlantic trips after that.

Speaker 1:

That's awesome. Speaking of navigating, I want to talk about you sailing the Northwest Passage. I had an opportunity to listen to some of your video that you sent me through that YouTube when you were speaking at that museum and I caught part of the story. But I'd like to touch on that a little bit because you've lived such a life of adventure and going from the air to sea. I think a lot of those crossover when it comes to navigating. But yeah, I would like to hear that story.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, you know, alan Alda, on his great podcast about communication science, always asks a question as listeners at the end what is the book that most influenced you and your life? And for me, I thought about that it was Thor Hirdals a Kantiki across the Pacific by raft. I've always been interested in sailing and, of course, airplanes since the very beginning, but once I saw Gregory Peck in Moby Dick and then watched to watch the documentary of a Kantiki, the ocean and sailing in particular just held me, held me tight. And I remember being in the third grade and I was having trouble reading. I couldn't read. I had. I think there were seven different teachers in first grade, which didn't help us. It didn't help the continuity in the reading department, but for whatever reason, by the time I got to third grade I was just not reading. I was faking it and I thought I was faking it.

Speaker 2:

We went to the library one day, and it's about a week or two after I'd seen the documentary Kantiki. I found the book in the library and Mrs Brims made was my teacher and she said Russell, don't you want to check out a book with more pictures than it? I said no, I really want this book. She said that's a mighty big, thick book. I'm not in the library and was looking over her half glasses at me and knowing that Russell couldn't read that book either, I said no, this is the. This is the book I want to take home this weekend and you know it has pictures. Than that there were photographs in the middle. It has some pictures and they kind of shook their head and Russell went home with that book and I literally slept with it. It just meant so much to me to have this, this book, you know, this hired, all telling the story and written these words down. It was nice to see the documentary but to have this book, you know, I just and I have to say that's the book that had most, had the most effect on me.

Speaker 2:

So anyway, the sailing thing started there and the Northwest passage. You know, of course I'd read all the stories about Amundsen and and John Franklin and all the early explorers in the West for the Northwest passage. Well, I was off work, I was on leave for some time and was cruising around sort of shopping for a sailboat myself and ran across Captain Eric Forsyth's website and he was seeking to try the Northwest passage for himself and he needed a crew. So I email him. I said you know I can, I can hand reef and steer you know I'd like to come with you, at least for, you know, a part of your trip. I can give you a couple of months. And he said, well, come on up and meet me.

Speaker 2:

English fellow, he was a engineer, electrical engineer. It worked at the Brookhaven National Laboratory up in New York. But he said, yeah, come on up and maybe we're having a party, a going away party, and you can see the boat. Let me know what you think. So I did, I drove up, he showed me the boat, met some of his friends. After about five minutes of this he said, well, are you coming with us? I said, well, yeah, sure, I can give you, like I said, a couple of months. So it was about three weeks later I met up with him in Greenland to tackle the Northwest Passage over the ice choked waters of the Canadian Arctic.

Speaker 1:

What was that like? That had to have been an experience.

Speaker 2:

It was cold. We had joined the boat in July 2009 in Greenland and Eric and I became experts on how to read ice charts and predict where icebergs might be. But it was cold. It was about maximum 40 degrees Fahrenheit, four Celsius, and we spent most of our time out on deck looking for ice. I was on board for seven weeks and wearing practically all the clothes I brought. My pervading memory of that trip was the cold and how tired we got. But yeah, it was an adventure. I mean, you look at a globe, you think, man, that's way up there. Practically at one point we were only 900 miles from the North Pole in a 42 foot fiberglass pleasure craft. So yeah, it was an interesting experience. The cold Eric did have a furnace on board, but it had the heat of like a Christmas tree pole.

Speaker 2:

There wasn't a whole lot of BTUs coming out of that baby.

Speaker 1:

Did you get? An opportunity to stop and meet any of the Inuit people while you were traveling.

Speaker 2:

Yes, one of the things that we were experiencing in the summer of 2009 in Baffin Bay. We started in Nook. In Greenland it used to be called Godhab. The Inuit word for the town is Nook and UUK. That's where I joined the boat and, incidentally, that's also where I had landed in that Cessna Cardinal to fix the compass. It was like the kind of a full circle coming around. So this time I was going to be leaving Nook in a fiberglass sailboat.

Speaker 2:

Anyway, we took off and we were noticing there just wasn't a whole lot of wind, only about 90 percent of the time. We were having to motor, burning diesel fuel. So up the we were going to go nonstop to resolute in the middle of the Canadian archipelago, but we realized we weren't going to have the fuel to do that. So the nice thing about that we were able to visit two of the Greenland towns way up north. We stopped at Sissimuit and got fuel, and then we essentially motored on up to Pernovik, which was our last fuel stop in Greenland, and then shot straight across the northern part of Baffin Bay into the heart of the Northwest Passage in Lancaster Sound. So, yeah, dodging ice and learning how to predict where it might be.

Speaker 1:

But it was, it was an exercise in fuel management, for sure. Well, from the stories you're telling me, it seems like you always have this experience with ice. Have you ever gone or sailed anyplace warmer?

Speaker 2:

You know, I think that might be the first time that I've realized that. Yeah, over the Arctic, like that, and the little airplanes on the sailboat yeah, it was a story of ice, wasn't it? That's so funny, yeah. Well, for some reason I found myself in the northern latitudes a lot. I had talked to you just a few minutes ago about Orange County Airport in Virginia and then my dad working for Capital Airlines in northern Virginia. But between northern Virginia and back in Orange County my folks decided to move to Alaska. So in 1960, they hauled my sister and I and our mother my parents hauled the two kids up the Alaska Highway in a Volkswagen Bug to resettle in Alaska. My dad thought that the wilds of northern United States might hold more promise for a flying job, so that's where he went on an open prayer and we wound up spending seven years there. So maybe that's where my maybe there's something that got embedded in me and I kind of was craving the northern latitudes after that.

Speaker 1:

Who knows, I love Alaska. Alaska is beautiful and I have to give credit to Alaska and Bush pilots because I've seen some of those guys and gals land in some pretty crazy areas, especially some of the glacier pilots or all the Bush pilots. I've had an opportunity. I go up to Alaska quite often and I love it up there.

Speaker 1:

There's just something about it. You either love Alaska or you don't understand it. And Alaska just kind of gets in your soul and there's just a part of Alaska that's just amazing the people, the culture, just the wildlife, like you said. Which leads me to this next question, because I got to hear the story of how you shared a VW bug with a moose and I'm sure that was in the Alaska aspect of your life.

Speaker 2:

It was. My father went there to build flying time in hopes of then getting an airline job somewhere back in the lower 48. So while in Alaska he became a Bush pilot Flying in the 80s. There are planes like that, some supercubs, out in the bush. He never flew on floats. You know there's so many Bush pilots who are float plane pilots. My dad was always a land-based pilot. But well, the moose story.

Speaker 2:

We traveled to Alaska in 19, I think it was 1959, volkswagen bug. Everything we owned was on top of the bug. Oh, he got to Alaska and initially there was no job no good job for him in Anchorage. So we resettled almost right away in Fairbanks. So one weekend there was no flying going on and my dad decided it was be a great time to take the kids up to the Arctic Circle, to go up to Circle Hot Springs and see what that was all about.

Speaker 2:

Neither of my parents realized at the time that Circle Hot Springs was actually 65 miles south of the Arctic Circle, so the kids weren't going to get to the actual line anyway. But never mind, off we went. I think it was about 100 miles from Fairbanks to Circle Hot Springs on a gravel highway. So apparently, from my point of view, the only thing they packed for the day trip was a cooler of sodas and beer and maybe a few sandwiches. So we took off about three quarters of the way up there, I was flying my hand out the open window of the car. Have you ever done that, mickey, when you're a kid? You stuck your hand out the window of the car and you flew it.

Speaker 1:

Yes, I still do, did you?

Speaker 2:

ever do that you can. As a kid I discovered what flaps were for. I bend my hand a certain way and I can make my hand fly. Anyway, that's what I was doing. I'm my hand out the window, not paying much attention on the car. I noticed my airspeed was reducing on my hand and the car was slowing down. My dad had shut the engine off and put a neutral and just kind of glided to a stop. And then he reached around and, from underneath my feet, took his 300 H&H Magnum rifle out and slowly opened the door. And then I looked out the front window and there was this big bullmose standing right in the middle of the highway. Suddenly it was dead quiet in the car. So he took a beat on it from behind the door and, bam, the moose looked kind of surprised, crumpled right in the middle of the highway. So now here we were.

Speaker 2:

I think it was two o'clock in the afternoon fall, so sundown was coming soon, fairly soon. He had 1,000 pounds of moose in the middle of the road. Like I said, there was no preparation for this day trip that I could see, but he had his rifle. Next thing I know he opened up the front of the buggy nuts, where the storage edge, where the trunk is, on those things he took out a knife, he took out an axe, he took out a saw and he commenced to butcher the moose in the middle of the highway. That went on for hours. And he also had this queen, you know, that's plastic sheeting, you know. So he's able to wrap the meat up as he butchered it. He'd wrap the meat up and bisqueen and stack it up. Oh, it became nighttime and it got really dark. So he positioned my mother in between the front lights of the bug, said okay, honey, if here's the shotgun, if you hear a bear coming up on me, shoot it. She hadn't touched a gun in years and I was going to worry that she would get excited and maybe shoot my dad. And it was an interesting situation. Sure enough, a little while later there was a rustling in the bushes. Everybody thought there was a grizzly coming and all of a sudden a great horned owl flew over top of us and wanted a little bit of the moose. Fortunately, my mother didn't have to apply remarks and ship that evening.

Speaker 2:

Eventually we got everything packed up. My dad had everything packed pretty well, except for the hindquarters, the rear legs of the moose. There was no more room. He had been packing the bug. The passenger compartment, the rack on the roof, had moose wrapped up in it. No hindquarters Couldn't fit them anywhere.

Speaker 2:

Fortuitously, the only vehicle of the entire day came rumbling by with a guy with a flat bed truck. He stopped. He says you folks need any help. Dad says I don't want to leave these hindquarters behind you. Could you throw them on the back of the truck? Here's my address. Come by in the morning and pick them up in fare banks. It seems there's always help when you need it. Meanwhile we're ready to go.

Speaker 2:

Dad said well, let's drive on by. He said what about the rack? What about the antlers? Not going to leave those behind? I started crying. I said you know, hunter can leave the moose antlers behind. He said we just don't have room for them. My mom looked at him and next thing I know the ax, the sauce, coming back out of the bug. He's whacking away at the antlers and got them and stuck them somewhere, tied them onto the bug. From then on I had moose antlers over the door of the house. I can remember that day. It was wonderful. But in the bug you know, my sister and I sitting on wrapped up packages of bloody moose and you can imagine the smell. That was horrendous. Our little head, you know, we weren't that tall but our heads were banging against the ceiling because there was that much moose we were using for seats. My dad was from time to time, was rather unusual. So that's the story of the moose making.

Speaker 1:

It's interesting. Well, you know, and again for my circle of friends that listen, if you have not been to Alaska or if you're not hunters, you have to understand that in that area everything is used, everything I mean because it gets so difficult in a lot of areas of Alaska. And I was asking you about the Inuit because I had an opportunity to go to Barrow Alaska.

Speaker 1:

And when I was up in Barrow. They, as a culture and as a community, they use everything. I mean because they're at the top of the world. They're right at the end of the. Is it the Baltic Sea?

Speaker 2:

It's up there Is it that one, the Beaufort Sea, yeah.

Speaker 1:

And so they're, but they I mean between the furs and the meat, and they use everything for fuel. So I like the fact that at least your dad had a. He knew what to do. And then I'm sure you're probably reading moose for the rest of the year, because that's a lot of meat.

Speaker 2:

Moose and caribou. You know we acquired a caribou also and yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely, they use everything. That's one thing. When I when on the Northwest Passage, on the, as Eric called it, the Yacht Fiona, when we got to Resolute, it, as I described in that in the talk that you saw, it looked like Resolute was built on a, in a gravel pit with a dump. I mean, the whole town looked like that. Just everything. You know never can tell when you might have to use this whole bit of a snow machine or washing machine. You know everything is saved. You never know when you might find a nut or a bolt or a fan belt or so they keep everything and it looks terrible. And the whole town smelled like.

Speaker 2:

I finally realized it sounded like a. It smelled like a open graveyard for mice. You know that dead mouse smell. Well, the whole town smelled like that because they had seals that were being used for dog food. They had bear hides they had. They even had some whale parts there and she just left out to kind of rot and but it so it acquired this interesting aroma. My mother pointed out years before we're in Fairbanks. So she said, yeah, the place looks awful, but then when it snows, you know, in the winter time it's dark and it's also everything's covered in three feet of snow. So in winter time it all becomes quite beautiful. Have you been there in winter?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I've never been in the winter. I've been to Fairbanks, I've been up to Fairbanks. I usually go during the shoulder months, so I'll go, like in May or sometimes August. You know they're still getting snow, but the yeah, it's like I said, it's a different lifestyle because it's not like here, it's not like in the United States where you are I mean down here in the lower 48, where you're like okay, you know I can just run over here and get this. There's miles, sometimes hundreds of miles, especially between Anchorage and Fairbanks. You take, was it the Parks Highway? There's nothing there you might get. Maybe Taquitna is there and you got a couple little towns, but you're not going to Home Depot, you're not going to the grocery store. It's a different lifestyle.

Speaker 1:

So I can understand why, if you've got something, you're going to hang on to it and, you know, utilize it, but didn't know what we do is Pilots, though. I mean, we've always got things that we might be able to do, that we might need, because you just never know. You know you always have some kind of bag, you know that you're taking with you, because you just never know what kind of situation you're going to be in, like you said that's exactly right.

Speaker 2:

When the old airline pilot, bob Smerno I mentioned earlier came up to visit us from Virginia, he rolled into Fairbanks one day, went out to the airport and rented a Cessna 172 to take just a short ride around so he could see the get the lay of the land. He'd only been airborne in 10 minutes. He landed and said I got to get some equipment. So you know, he went to the hardware store and they had everything he needed, you know, a tent, an axe, made sure he had a gun with. He realized right off the bat if he went down in the 1960s Alaska there was a chance he'd just be lost and there were every year up there at that time there were Pilots who had got never to be seen again. I don't know if you have you ever heard of Ben Ilesen, carl Ben Ilesen. He was an early pioneer. I think he was the first real bush pilot in Alaska, pioneered airmail service up there. Fascinating story came up from Minnesota. He was a school teacher. He landed his airplane in the ballpark there in Fairbanks and started an air service and he had.

Speaker 2:

There's so many stories. There's a wonderful book you might enjoy. Gene Potter wrote it. It's called the Flying North and it's all the stories of the early bush pilots Ben Ilesen, noel Ween, people like that, archie Trammell, guys that really pioneered and that was. I mean, that was the 1930s. By the 1960s when my father was flying there. Things have progressed quite a bit, but even 1960, there were only two VOR stations in the whole state, one in Fairbanks and one in Anchorage. That's the for then the modern VHF Omni range navigation station. There were only two in the whole state. There was no such thing as GPS note. There was no such thing as Loran or Loran C. I mean, it was basically just dead reckoning and pilotage and weather forecasts were low. It was still the wild west even in the latest 1960. Did you do any flying yourself up there?

Speaker 1:

I had an opportunity to fly a float plane, so we were out, I've got land up there and the only way my land is very remote and the only way to see my land is you have to actually hire a bush pilot and you go out there. And we flew, we put in the coordinates and flew over and just happened to be we were flying in and he said, hey, you want to make a pit stop? And we stopped at a friend he's one of his friends house totally off the grid, landed on her lake and stopped there, had lunch, she had this amazing garden, and then she goes. He said you want to fly?

Speaker 1:

And I'm like, yeah, we're going to airplane I had an opportunity to fly back and fly back to Anchorage and actually know back to it's on the Kenai Peninsula. I was on the Kenai Peninsula because my land's in Nkiski, which is a little bit down from so, let's see, I'm trying to think of so Kenai's a little bit south of Anchorage but it's off the cook inlet, yeah.

Speaker 2:

Prince William Sound is to the east. I think, yeah, beautiful, that's one of the most beautiful parts of the whole state. Gorgeous, what kind of airplane was it?

Speaker 1:

You know what I don't remember. I don't remember it was so many years ago I don't. I remember it just because, like I said, my thing's helicopters and because I started with fixed wing but then I went on to helicopters A lot of. But, like anything that gets me in the air, I'll do it, I'll fly it.

Speaker 2:

Tell me about that.

Speaker 1:

I didn't land it or anything. He just let me fly while we were up.

Speaker 2:

Unless you're a Vietnam pilot, you know getting into helicopters is kind of unusual. Tell me about that.

Speaker 1:

Oh my gosh, so I had. So I live here in Southern California and from across where I live is Catalina Island, and there's two ways to get to Catalina. One is to either go by boat, which is about an hour and a half, or two you can get a helicopter and take it at a long beach. And I just said, you know, I'm going to do the helicopter. That'd be really fun, it's quicker, it's faster and it'd be kind of fun. So I just hopped in and so, because I'm so light and if you know anything about planes and helicopters, you have to distribute the weight correctly, because so I'm lay, I was up front and they had everybody else in the back. There was a lot of people in the back and I remember looking and I was watching and I was so excited to watch. You know how he was working, you know the cyclic and the collective and I was watching the pedals and I'm just. I was like so excited that by the time I got to Catalina, all I wanted to do was go back and take my son out of fly helicopter, and so I did my thing at Catalina, came back. We actually took the boat back, came back. That way I went right down to Oceanside.

Speaker 1:

I actually was in Carlsbad and there's a place called Palomar Airport and met a helicopter pilot that was there. He's from Germany, he was a flight instructor. He was just trying to launch his business and I said, hey, I'll make a deal with you. My background is marketing and advertising. And he was trying to think. I said you know, I didn't have the money then to learn how to fly because it was expensive to take lessons. And I said I'll make a deal with you If you will teach me how to fly, I'll market your business. And that's what we did and we traded off.

Speaker 1:

We kind of bartered and he did. He taught me how to fly. I learned to do a Robbie.

Speaker 2:

Wow, and that's it. What kind of helicopter did you start out in?

Speaker 1:

Robbie, it was a just yeah.

Speaker 2:

R-22, the- 22.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I was in a 22, robbie 22.

Speaker 1:

And I loved it. And to be honest with you, I'm gonna tell you, russ, for me I have problems with my ears and so for me I wanna always be stable, because I don't like anything that's this twisty tourney. So I give you credit for somebody who can actually do the loops and all that. And the first thing I learned how to do was hover. And he's like I've never seen anybody get hovering down, because he'd take me out to this field and I was just and I was learning how to hover and he was little, on the crazy side, but that's what I loved about him because it made me a much better pilot. He's like okay, I want you to. You're in this empty parking lot. He goes, stay on the lines on the parking lot. You know, going in, you're here, you are just above the ground and you're learning how to hover and land on uneven areas and I just, you know, as you can tell, I love it.

Speaker 1:

I just I love flying it was such an incredible experience and unfortunately he moved on to other things and I had moved away. But, like I said, there's something about being in the air that you just have to. It's just in your soul, you, just, you just becomes part of, like you said, the plane. You said we, yes, because you become part of that equipment and it's not, it just becomes part of you. You know, whether you're flying an airplane, whether you're flying a helicopter, you're just, it's just you, and that you know that other entity of you in the sky.

Speaker 2:

That's exactly right. Whether that's an R-22, whether that's a Cessna Cardinal, whether that's an Airbus A330, same thing you become part, you become one, and I think that's where that whole we thing comes with. You know, if it's just you and the aircraft, it's still we, isn't it?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I agree, I agree. Hey, we got a little bit of time, but because I mentioned it in the intro, I've got to hear the story that you blew up your backyard.

Speaker 2:

Oh, that's another. That's another of my father's stories, oh, okay.

Speaker 1:

I want to hear about you, because what are you doing now? What's going? What are you doing at this time? And I know you're traveling and you're doing a lot of speaking engagements, but if people want to connect with you and, of course, as everybody knows, all your information will be embedded into the podcast you guys have an opportunity to reach out and get you know, find his book online and on Amazon and then also. But what's going on with you? What are you doing?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, everything's on the website. There there's a link. Big folks can send messages. What have you? So, yeah, what's happening? I retired from the airline four years ago and so I'm retired airline captain now and hanging out mainly in the Pacific Northwest. I'm here in my house in Central Highlands of Mexico right now, so, doing that, I still have. You'll have airplanes. I have a little amphibian, a C-Ray. Incidentally, you remember Richard Bach? The author wrote Jonathan Livingston Segal. You recall that.

Speaker 1:

Yes, that was one of my favorite books. I love that book.

Speaker 2:

Well, richard owned this airplane that I have now and he wrote a book about the very machine. It's called Travels with Puff. He named the airplane Puff and in the book, of course being Richard, you know the airplane spoke to him and this kind of thing. I have to say that since I've had the airplane for almost three years now, it's never spoken to me. But there you go. You never can tell. Anyway, I have that airplane and also in the book I described, in Alaska my father bought a Luscombe aircraft, a little two-seater, which he subsequently erected, and the last I saw I thought it was my airplane being five, six years old, the last I saw of my airplane. It left on the back of a flatbed truck in the cloud of dust down Gradel Avenue and Fairbanks.

Speaker 2:

Well, as I was writing the book, I was curious whatever happened to the airplane. I was able to find it. It was still on the FAA registry and I contacted the owner. I said oh, what's the story with the airplane? Long story short, he said it's in a hangar. It came with the property I bought. If you want it, you can have it. So it didn't take me more than a week I went up and picked up the remains of the airplane and now that's being restored in Missouri. We should have it. Oh, we should have it finished. They're in the next six months or so, so two little airplanes that are occupying my time and traveling around, like you said, doing the Mexico thing now, which is kind of fun, and that's what I'm doing now writing the next book, writing the sequel to the first one.

Speaker 1:

I love it. I love it. That is awesome. Well, I have had so much fun with you being here with me and I love your stories. I love people that have taken their passion and do so much with it in their life, and you definitely know how to live a life of adventure, and one of the things I was drawn to you was the fact that some people say, oh, I wish I did or I would like to, but you just took what you had and what you wanted in your passion. You said this is what I'm going to do and I'm going to do it, and you can look back on your life and still keep going forward with your life, doing so many wonderful, adventurous things, and that's what it's all about, right.

Speaker 2:

Well, yeah, I like to say I'm not an adventurer, I don't seek out adventure. What I like to do, I kind of see myself as a collector of stories, a collector of experiences.

Speaker 1:

It's your adventure, though, it's your life, it's your adventure and the stories that you have to tell, and for what you've done, I mean from flying to sailing, I mean that is that does take a lot of. I mean, for lack of better words, it takes a lot of. I don't want to say courage, because, but you just have to want to do it, you just have to have that.

Speaker 2:

Curiosity, curiosity. Yeah, For me that's it. It's just what lies over the next, next to what lies over that horizon? That's it. I'm just curious, want to know what's next.

Speaker 1:

Well, thank you so much for being with us and again, I will put in all the links into not only to the podcast but also here on the YouTube, so you'll see them down below. And then this is your first time coming in, please. If you'd like to hear more of my guests, or if you have a suggestion for a guest, please let me know. You have all the ways to contact me. You can go to Coach Mickey and Friends and that'll give you also some of our other podcast guests. But is there anything else you'd like to add before we wrap it up?

Speaker 2:

Well, I just wanted to say it was a real pleasure being here with you. I wish we had more time to tell more airplane stories. I'm going to have you back. That can go on forever, right? Yeah, yeah, I really enjoyed my time with you, mickey. Thank you.

Speaker 1:

Same here. Thank you, I definitely want to have you back when you have your next book. All right, you guys, thank you so much for being with us, and I will look forward to seeing you next time. Until then, most oh, that's on this side Most courageous thing you can do is be yourself. Until then, I will see you. Bye.

Captain Ross Roberts
Memories of Reading and Arctic Adventures
Alaska's Aviation History and Remote Living' Simplified Title
Aviation Adventures and Passionate Pursuits
Parting Words and Future Plans