Addressing the Aerospace Shortage – My Passion

  • It’s hard for me to write about a subject that I’m passionate about. After writing a passage or two, I tend to let my emotions take over and what was meant to be a convincing article turns into a passionate plea, almost like I’m begging.  The tone overrides the substance and I know that the reader can quickly become lost.  This series, regarding the shortage of aerospace professionals, represents my passion. I think that we as a nation can really address this shortage while offering hope to many who never considered this occupation.


  • When I was a little boy growing up in Alaska, I dreamed of being a pilot. I could always look up and see planes wherever I went, whether it was the walk to school in the morning or the ride I would take on weekdays to the local airport just to peer through the fence and see planes. Alaska was a bit different, given there were only three highways in the state. To reach our capital city, Juneau, and the majority of the villages in the state, one had to fly or take a boat. (By the way, that was almost 55 years ago and guess what? It’s still the same today. Alaska still has three highways Hwy 1,2 and 3 and to reach our third largest city, Juneau one needs to fly or take a boat).


  • I recall when I was just 5 my mom took my sister and I on a trip from Anchorage to visit her parents in Savannah, GA. Now one must remember, that was in the mid 60’s and there were no direct flights from Anchorage to Atlanta, as a matter of fact, no commercial plane manufactured during that time could fly that far without stopping for gas. What I remember about the flight, that ultimately took five stops to travel from Anchorage to Savannah, GA; was not the layover nor the candy I filled up on, but the speckled-haired pilot that greeted me in Anchorage as he boarded his plane, a Boeing 707-320C headed to Seattle. A pilot who said hello to a few of us and bent down to my level roughed up my hair a bit and said, “one day you are going to be a pilot.” He then gave me some metal Northwest Orient Pilot Wings and walked on. This was 1965 in Alaska. Yes, in 1965, in Anchorage, AK, a white pilot, with a little gray in his hair, probably a Korean or WWII veteran, picked me and my family out of a crowd at the gate at the Anchorage airport to talk with. It was clear that our race did not bother him. It is clear to me now that he was the reason I wanted to fly and become a pilot.


  • Fast forward, after soloing on my 16th birthday and getting my private license at 17, along with my seaplane rating a few months later, I knew I was going to fly for a living. I knew I would be the captain on a jet flying from Anchorage to Seattle. During my senior year of high school, I applied for scholarships to the service academies and ROTC. Having a dad who served in WWII as a Naval Officer and a Grandfather in the Army Reserves in 1919, there was no way I was not going to serve and given my Mom was a cashier in a grocery store and my Dad ran a warehouse, I was determined to pay my own way through college.  What I didn’t know was that at the time, with the amount of Vietnam Pilots still in the military and the downsizing, the military standard for vision was 20/20, uncorrected. My vision was much worse and as a result, I failed every single flight physical offered. It was simple, every examining physician said I was healthy, but my eyes were too bad to fly for any service and to caveat that, they even told me I would never meet the commercial airline standards. Wow. So, I’m 17, grades are great, I’ve applied to the academies, and I can’t fly for anyone. Fast forward, I went to West Point, received a degree in Engineering specializing in mechanical engineering, selected the Infantry as a Branch and served 26 years among the best individuals in the world. I made lasting friendships and after a few years I settled on the fact I would never fly commercially, but that still did not hamper my love for aviation. As a matter of fact, when I bought my first plane at 23, it was the result of trading in my 1982 280 ZX with the famed T-top for a Nissan truck with no air conditioning. Yes, I lived in Kanas, but I wanted to fly. Fast forward 40 years later, I still have a truck, albeit this one does have AC and I still have a plane. So that is my passion story, I love aviation and I love the community it represents. I know there are people of all races and sexes in this field and whether they fly a Piper Pacer or Airbus 320, when you enter the aerospace field, be it Oshkosh, Sun n Fun, or the local FBO, there is a sense of equality and acceptance only replicated by our military. Maybe that was why that white airline captain reached out in 1965 to an African American 5-year-old boy to give him a set of metal wings at the Anchorage airport. If he only knew what he caused me to do and how he kept me on track, just imagine how many times he, and many other likeminded pilots, inspired the next generation?


  • For those of you who are professional flight attendants, technicians, pilots in this field, please don’t underestimate your reach, your influence. I know, at times the job sucks. I cannot imagine being ready to greet passengers at 5:00 a.m. with a smile, yet alone fly a plane at night on the 4th leg of a long trip approaching the end of a crew day. I also can’t imagine being a technician working a plane when the temperature outside is 25 degrees Fahrenheit in the dark with a flashlight and you can’t wear gloves because the compartment you need to reach is too small. Just know, you are appreciated, and I know you love this profession.


  • What I intent to write about over the next year is how we, the aerospace family of professionals,  have a duty to build the bench so that we can together share our love of aerospace.  Together, along with the military, airlines, business, local government, OEMs, we will work to expose this wonderful opportunity to those who did not know it existed. Together, we can and will make a difference by putting a dent in the aerospace profession shortage looming over our heads. This introduction was about passion, my passion. The next discussion will be the perfect storm we are all in, followed a few weeks later by how together, connecting the dots of our national problems with the shortage of aviation professionals, we can make this “Perfect Storm,” the Perfect Opportunity.” So, lets all take a seat at the family table of aerospace professionals and strive to meet our nations demands to fill the shortages through  the know-how of the best of the best leaders that all of you represent.