Monday, February 8, 2016

Water Cannons In The Mist

Water Cannons in the Mist could be the title of a jazz fusion album---or a protest song from the 1970's. . .  It's not (I checked with Google.)  It is, however, the title I have chosen for this image, swiped from a United Airlines flight operations video, of my good friend, Jerry York, pulling in to gate E20 at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas at 7:05 am on December 22, 2015.  This was Jerry's last flight as an airline pilot; he turned 65 in January.  The water cannon salute caps a thirty year career that began in 1984 flying Beech 99's at Sunbird Airlines.  Yes, that is a Boeing 777 emerging from the mist; United Airlines Flight 252 from Honolulu, Hawaii.  Not a bad way to end a career!

Jerry is the first of the old crowd (from the FBO) to go the distance.  We met in 1983 when I was a new hire flight instructor/charter pilot at Thurston Aviation in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Jerry was the ramp service manager.  He was also a private pilot, working on his ratings, hoping to eventually land a flying job.  At our first meeting, he said:  "Man, I am glad to see you!  We needed another flight instructor around here."  Jerry was a quick study.  I signed him off to take his Commercial Pilot check ride before the year was out.  In less than twelve months he was flying for Sunbird Airlines.  Two years later he was a new hire Boeing 727 Second Officer at Continental Airlines.  United Airlines merged with Continental Airlines in 2010. It's nice when a plan works out!

Future airline pilot, Jerry York, Charlotte, NC, 1983.

Sunbird Airlines Beech 99.

"Wide Body York," Tel Aviv, 2010.  Photo by Larry Brown

Passenger copy of Jerry's Salute Letter. 

The Last Waltz

That other career. .

There is a scene in a movie, I believe it was The Blue Max, where a soldier is standing in a trench, knee deep in mud.  Overhead, a couple of airplanes are dogfighting.  Thinking there has to be a better way to fight a war---maybe no less dangerous, but certainly less miserable---the soldier asks to be transferred to the air corps. . .

Over the years I have made a conscious effort to ask the people I fly with what got them started in aviation.  For many, myself included, flying was just something they always dreamed of doing.  For a lot of folks, flying was the family business---mom and dad were pilots, their brother or sister went to the Air Force Academy, that kind of stuff.   A couple of guys actually had experiences similar to the guy in The Blue Max!  Two were professional musicians.  One was a 737-800 captain that played guitar on tour with the Rolling Stones in the late 1960's (he said it was interesting.)  The other was Jerry York.  Here's how Jerry describes the tale:

"I soloed in 1971 at Rowan County airport in Salisbury, North Carolina.  My instructor was Bob Pruitt.  I still have my shirt tail! 

I went to UNC Wilmington for two and a half years and then moved to Florida to play music with a friend of mine.  (He became a pilot too---Piedmont, then USAir.)  I met Peggy there and we were married in January 1975.  I got a call from a music group from LA to play on the road for a few months.  After that I went back to Florida and worked on the line at a FBO.

In early 1976 we moved to North Carolina.  Shortly after the move I got another call from LA---to play bass for a sister duo act.  After that group disbanded I got a call from Seals & Crofts management to play bass for their opening act.  I did two tours in 1977.

I walked away from the music business because it was hard on the family being gone for weeks at a time.

After music we moved back to North Carolina and I went to work at Cannon Mills and attended Belmont Textile school for a degree in textile manufacturing---being in a small North Carolina town, the cotton mill was where the money was.  I got disillusioned with the mill work and got a job working on the line at Thurston Aviation in 1981.  I got all of my ratings there with you and John Ingram as my instructors.

In 1984, with 400 hours total time, Don Norton asked me to come to Sunbird.  I started out on the Beech 99 which I really loved flying.  Then we got the Shorts 330---and I finally got 1500 hours and upgraded. 

In 1987 I got hired at Continental.  It was crazy for sure!"

In the airline business timing is everything.  I went to work for Eastern Airlines in November 1985.  During the next twelve years I worked for seven different airlines---and survived one strike, two furloughs, and two bankruptcies.  If I had the chance to do it over again I probably wouldn't change a thing.  Jerry followed me to the majors in 1987---and kept a steady paycheck for 28 years.  I know he wouldn't change a thing!  Congratulations Jerry!  Enjoy your retirement---feel free to use Water Cannons In The Mist as the title of your next album.

On bass (left) with Deardorff & Joseph, 1977.

Tour Limo, 1977

Still jamming!

"China Clipper calling Manila. . ."