Do you remember where you were when you earned your pilot’s license? How about exactly where you were standing when you decided to become a pilot?
It was the Spring of 1965, on a Friday afternoon. I was in junior high school. Atwell Junior High in Oak Cliff, a suburb of Dallas. I lived three blocks from school and walked home most days.
I had a few “Flying” magazines scattered around the house, but the aviation bug had not really infected me yet. My local airport, Redbird (now Dallas Executive) was about three miles from home. Right off the end of runway 31 was Oak Cliff Country Club, site of the PGA tour event.
Headed home and probably daydreaming, I heard a small rumble in the distance. It quickly grew to a whine, then a thunderous roar seeming to shake everything around me. The only thing I could see was a small spec on the horizon. Within seconds, I could make out the silhouette of an airplane. It was a Jet Commander, taking off from Redbird. And it wasn’t climbing. Instead, it accelerated to about 300 knots and leveled at 200 feet, strafing the golf course and me as it made a sweeping left turn to the north.
It was so close I could see the pilot in the left seat and the tail number.
N 1 A P
It was Arnold Palmer. He had “missed the cut” in the tournament and wanted to say “so long” to his golfing buddies in his own special way. Those CJ610 turbo jets were screaming and belching fire and I was in awe.
I stood there frozen as he slowly climbed into the afternoon sky. At that very moment, I decided I didn’t want to be a great golfer like Arnold Palmer.
At that moment, I decided I wanted to be a great pilot like Arnold Palmer.
I didn’t have the honor to meet him until forty-nine years later, at the Citation Jet Pilots Hall of Honor Ceremony, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. As I finished my story to three hundred guests, Arnie slowly took the stage.
Grinning from ear to ear, he said, “Yeah, I think I remember that day. It’s a good thing the FAA wasn’t around.”
Arnie, you are the reason I became a pilot. Thank you for changing my life.
We will all miss you.