Capt. W. Patrick Gordon, M.Sc.
March 1994

Being a little too long in the tooth, and not naturally predisposed toward hero worship anyway, I still enjoy admiring people who have achieved a degree of success in their chosen callings. As a result, I sometimes find myself putting these folks on a pedestal and am disappointed when they slip.

Living half a world away from my aviation “roots,” it often takes weeks and sometimes several months, for some of the trade magazines to filter in through the mail. Consequently, it’s like trying to stay abreast of the current aviation news across a mountain valley and you know you’ve missed the original call. You just make do with the fading echoes. Voyager was one of the few general aviation projects that was covered worldwide. What a kick it was to watch the film clips of that majestic journey on local Saudi television and hear the announcer’s comments. I couldn’t understand anything except the occasional word “Voyager,” but I knew she was still on the way. BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation and VOA, the Voice of America, kept us up to date with their hourly news broadcasts. On her landing back at Edwards, we cheered as we listened on the HF radio in the cockpit of our Gulfstream IIB. Fortunately, we were on the ground waiting for passengers. A landing at that time, with misty eyes, would have been embarrassing at least, dangerous at most.

It is the printed comments that came drifting in afterward that slightly taint the flavor of this beau geste. According to magazine articles that I now see, Chuck Yeager has sniffed at the high technology of Voyager. Supposedly, in his opinion, it’s not “high tech” at all. Even worse, Dick Rutan is quoted as saying that the only worthwhile flying is as test pilot or in combat. All other flying should be left to bus drivers. I am disappointed in Chuck and insulted by Dick. I feel like a sap when I look at my lovely picture of Voyager, autographed by Dick and Jeana. I generated the twelve dollar donation for this picture as a corporate/VIP pilot.

My only hope is that, in both cases, perhaps something was lost somewhere between the interview and its publication. Chuck, is it really so tough to say “nice work,” to others getting a share of public attention? And Dick, I really must congratulate you on the scope of your insult. You’ve offended nearly every phase of piloting there is, and bus drivers as well.

There is an ego problem throughout the aviation industry. Egos are a part of all of us. Our estimate of our self-worth is the basis for our ego; the protective screen we present to the world around us. We, in the aviation business, must be right in our professional decisions. Our lives and the lives of our passengers depend on it. When we’re wrong, without a lot of luck, we are often dead wrong. A possible result of making numerous correct decisions is creeping arrogance. 

Our industry is made up of insular segments containing individuals who believe, or project the belief, that they are the chosen few. There are military trained pilots who think that civilians trained pilots are inferior. Some civilian trained pilots think all military pilots are hot-shot fighter jockeys who can never convert to VIP transport. Some airline pilots think their big iron has precedence over anything else in the sky, while some corporate/VIP types think the airline pilots are bus drivers.

Some mechanics think pilots are illiterate clods. “Gad, they can’t even write up a maintenance defect? How can they possibly fly this thing?” How many pilots rant and rave at the questionable parentage of mechanics whose reply to their written defect is, “Ground checks ok.”

When you broaden your scope of observations, it gets downright scary. We can include fixed wing pilots feelings toward helicopter pilots and vice versa, the FAA, ATC, accounting departments, secretaries, line personnel and our own families.

The bottom line, guys and gals, is that there is plenty of room for all of us in this business and we all need each other. We all fill a slot that is important in its own way. If you feel that what you do is the most wonderful think in the world, it’s your right to say so. Hell, I think I’ve got the greatest flying job in the world. Probably neither Chuck nor Dick would touch it with a ten foot pole.

We constantly preach the benefits of cockpit coordination, so perhaps it’s time we carry this idea a little further. How about a movement for industrywide coordination and recognition of worth whenever it’s found. Why not try to look good on our own merit and not by putting the other guy down?