BORN TO FLY by Arv Schultz

BORN TO FLY by Arv Schultz
BORN TO FLY by Arv Schultz

BORN TO FLY  by Arv Schutz

Born to fly, is an expression linked to the exceptional skills some aviators possess and demonstrate. As luck would have it, not only was William D. “Billy” Walker born to fly, he was almost born on an airplane, while enroute from Denver, Colorado to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Frances Emily Walker went into labor while riding as a passenger in a C-45 piloted by her husband, W. Dillard “Pic” Walker. Fortunately for all concerned however, they made it to the hospital in Cheyenne for Billy’s on-time arrival just five minutes later, on September 30, 1941. Thus began an aviation career that many would envy.

Pilots frequently make statements about having aviation in their blood; Billy has it in his genes. His father, Pic, started flying in a long-winged Alexander Eaglerock, just 21 years after the Wright Brothers first powered flight. Among his many aviation accomplishments Pic was instrumental in founding Summit Airways, a predecessor to Challenger Airlines which through mergers with Arizona Airways and Monarch Airlines became Frontier Airlines.

PIC & FRANCES WALKER (circa 1937) with their 40 HP Piper Cub

Not to be outdone by her aviator husband, Billy’s mother, Frances, became the first woman to learn to fly in Wyoming in the 1930s. She gave it up, however, when she became pregnant with Billy, being a little too large to get into the cockpit of a Luscombe 8A.

                                                                         Luscombe 8A

Billy’s dad became the first Beech dealer west of the Mississippi, and as a result Billy flew in many beautiful airplanes at an early age: Staggerwing C17 and D-17 along with D-18s and later, one of the first Model 35 Bonanzas. Pic also operated a Cessna Airmaster, AT-50 Bobcat, Waco YMF cabin instrument trainer and a small fleet of the Waco UPF-7s. For a time he had a Fairchild 24 with the same Warner Scarab radial as the Airmaster. Over time he also operated several surplus DC-3s acquired from United Airlines as well as some military surplus C-47s.

                                                         Beech Model 17 – Army Air Corps YC-43

Pic Walker with new Model 18 Beechcraft                                                                                        Beechcraft factory Wichita Kansas circa1940.  Billy’s almost birthplace!


/\ Pic Walker Cessna UC-78

Ed Newberg’s Cessna “Bobcat”

OUCH! Who left the mag switch ON?


Cessna Airmaster

Pic Walker took these elder ladies for their first flight in the C-34 Airmaster circa 1935.  The lady with the hat came west via wagon train as a small child.  Her ‘company’ lost a total of twelve people.  Seven were killed by indians.   She wanted to fly over the old Oregon/Overland Trail.  Wagon ruts are visible yet today!


/\ Waco YKS-7

/\  Beechcraft Model 35 Bonanza

\/  Douglas DC-3 

Former United DC-3A then owned and operated by Pic Walker and Ralph Johnson as Plains Aerial Surveys.  Pic sold the airplane to Fram Oil Corporation.  Aspen Airways bought the aircraft and operated from Denver to Aspen, Colorado on a scheduled airline operation for several years.

Although he may not have actually flown all of his father’s airplanes, Billy did fly as a passenger in most of them, which exposed him early on to the nuts and bolts of aviation. Considering the complexity of aviation activities his family was involved in, Billy was faced with a pretty tough act to follow, but as Frank Sinatra described in his song “My Way”, Billy did it his way, exceeding his father’s fondest expectations.

Billy began flying at a very early age and actually soloed himself at age 14. His recollection of that flight was, “it wasn’t really a solo as I took two buddies who had egged me on for a quick flight in my dad’s Cessna 180. I legally soloed on my 16th birthday, obtained my private at 17 and commercial-instrument at 18. Harold Owenby was the local CAA inspector in Phoenix at the time.”

Captain Ralph S. Johnson, Pic Walker’s best friend, acquired two Fairchild C-82s and one Chase C-122, surplus aircraft out of the Davis Monthan bone-yard. These airplanes were used on a U.S. Agriculture contract, spraying Aldrin chemicals on the grasshopper infestations in Wyoming, Texas, and New Mexico. Billy tagged along, and early one afternoon Ralph mentioned to him that he could use a co-pilot, and asked would you like to be it? A moment after overcoming his surprise and excitement, and without hesitation, his answer was YES! Ralph immediately introduced him to the cockpit of “Aldrin Annie,’ the Chase C-122. At the ripe old age of 17, armed with a Private Pilot Certificate, ASEL, Billy was flying co-pilot on a large twin engine airplane.

/\ Fairchild C-82

/\   Chase C-122 “Aldrin Annie”

Following his graduation from high school, Billy enrolled at Arizona State University (ASU) in the college of Aeronautical Engineering Technology. While a student at ASU he landed a job flying copilot for the Del Webb Corporation on a 680 E Aero Commander. “I was invited to fly the airplane only when empty. So, I mostly handled bags, fueling, and wiping down the oil streaks post-flight. One day when we had Mr. Webb himself on board, I was introduced to him and stuck my hand out to shake his, he looked at me like I was a fresh turd and just turned away. Then he stretched out on the couch with his stocking feet propped up by my head. He must have done considerable walking that day as I can still smell his feet! Building multi-engine time was a good thing, but flying for someone like that wasn’t. So, in a nice way, I suggested that I would have to forego the opportunity. Billy next flew for Carruth Laboratories flying a Cessna 180.

/\  Cessna 180

Most of us have heard the story about the old antique airplane that was abandoned and forgotten in the corner of some farmer’s barn, and we wished that we could get our hands on it. Billy heard about a 1941 Luscombe that had been discovered in a farmer’s barn in Espanola, New Mexico, and he bought it. He and his roommate were flown back to Espanola by a friend to pick up the airplane.

After removing the airplane from the farmer’s barn, where it had been stored for over 15 years, it was towed to the nearby airfield to be re-assembled. Following a cosmetic clean up from all the bird droppings and dust that had accumulated the Luscombe was ready to be flown, or so they thought. After some run-ups and a ‘high speed taxi, Billy took off for a test flight around the airport. Just after becoming airborne, the engine quit! Fortunately he was able to land and stop on the remaining runway. The cause of the engine failure was some zinc chromate having flaked off from inside the fuel tank clogging the fuel strainer. After correcting the problem, he was off for another test flight. This time all worked well. So, he and his roommate, Billy Joe Worrell, a former Chicago Bear 265-pound center, climbed on board for the flight back to Phoenix. San Juan Pueblo airport is 5790′ MSL, but the little Luscombe augured its way up into the sky nonetheless. After the initial problem with the fuel strainer, the plan was to make several stops. This turned out to be a good thing. Maybe… After landing at Grants, N.M., to check the airplane over, fill it with petrol, clean the strainer, it was off again. At about 100′ the engine quit for the second time! With the nose pointed down they landed with too little runway left. Next they were off the end of the runway, bouncing over smooth albeit large river rocks, and stopping just inches from the fence.

With help from some of the local folks that had just been entertained, the airplane was back on the runway. The screen was cleaned again and the airplane was ready to go. Billy beckoned to his friend Billy Joe to get on board, but Billy Joe declined, and happily rode back in a Cessna 170B, never again to fly with Billy.

After finally taking off there were no further problems enroute to DVT. “I brought my dad out to see my first airplane. As he looked he said, ‘that is one of my old Luscombe’s’! No kidding!’ We looked in the old log books and saw where he had bought it 20 years before.”

“One day after flying the Luscombe into the Sanders duster strip at the southern edge of Guadalupe, I introduced myself to Mr. Sanders and explained that I was hopeful of parking my airplane there as it was close to ASU where I was a student. “He gruffly replied, ‘…this is a duster strip, not an FBO. We aren’t set up for that.’ I said that I just couldn’t afford to park at Sky Harbor and that they required a radio. I said ‘Deer Valley was just too far and couldn’t we work something out?’ I said that I would never let my flying interfere with his duster operation. Then, he said that I could leave it there a couple of days until I found something.”

“A day or so later, I was over tinkering with the airplane when Mr. Sanders came over. Next thing I knew he’d nudged me out of the way and fixed the problem. I left the airplane there for a year or so. Every time I came out it had gas in it and he never charged me a dime. His gruff nature was a cover-up! I later ‘inherited’ the hangar. It now sits at Terry Emig’s place in Casa Grande waiting to be resurrected?

Boys will be boys. “Along with a couple of fraternity brothers, I enlisted in the Navy ‘Naviator’ program which was short-lived,” said Billy. “It was a cross between the AOC and Navcad program. I ended up washing out due to a medical adversity before getting my Wings of Gold.”

After leaving ASU in 1964, Billy became director of marketing for Teton National Insurance Company. “They provided me with a company car, an expense account, and the use of an airplane to travel where automobile travel wasn’t feasible. This was a really great opportunity, but after a short time, I felt that aviation was where my heart belonged.”

Billy opted to get into airplane sales and started selling new Piper airplanes. A year or so later he was recruited to sell new and used Mooneys.

“In 1967, my good friend Dave Kaplan was trying to coax me to the airlines. He had gone with Frontier Airlines as a DC-3 co-pilot a few months prior to his convincing me that it would be a good move for me as well. Quickly, I was back to $400 per month – the starting pay at Frontier in June of 1967.”

/\   Billy and Dave in N-536JB over the North Atlantic

Photo by Captain J. David Hyde 2006

“Sadly, my roommate and friend, Don Bringle, was killed in the crash of a Mooney Executive. I had to take care of Don’s arrangements and get his remains to Montrose, Colorado, where he was from. This forestalled my class date with Frontier and I learned a bit about seniority with this…about 30 numbers worth! I was with Frontier from 1967 past the airline’s demise in 1986. My Frontier experience was beyond interesting, it was wonderful.”

While flying for Frontier, Billy continued buying and selling airplanes. He and another Frontier pilot formed a company called World Air Sales, Inc. Over the years he bought, flew, and sold some 250 airplanes.

While passing through the lobby of a hotel in Salt Lake one evening, he ran into a Frontier stew by the name of Cheryl Ann Lotz who was based in Dallas, but in Salt Lake on a layover.  “I asked her if she’d like to go for an airplane ride. I explained that a friend needed a ride to a ranch in Wyoming, about an hour’s flight or so from Salt Lake City.” She agreed to go. Billy took off with his friend in the right seat, and Cheryl on board in the back. After raising the gear he glanced back and there was Cheryl sound asleep! The next 40 years were no different: Gear-up, Cheryl’s asleep!

/\  Mooney M-22 ‘Mustang’

Billy owned a Douglas A- 26C (DC-B26), a new Mooney Mark 21 and a new Mooney M-22 “Mustang. “When Cheryl and I decided to marry, she said I could stay, but the A-26 would have to go, so I sold it to the late Charlie Reader of Twin Falls. Denny Leonard, a friend and mechanic for the A-26, offered to fly his Bonanza from Salt Lake to Twin Falls to provide me with return transportation to Salt Lake following the delivery of the A-26. Cheryl accompanied Denny and they took off ahead of me. I was talking to them on a hand-held transceiver while in flight and as I approached his 6 o’clock I said, ‘Look Up!’ Cheryl took a photo of me as I rolled over the top of the Bonanza.”

/\   Douglas A-26C N-91354 

Billy and Cheryl were married on April 8, 1971, not long after their marriage things began slowing in the industry. Frontier was cutting back and some of the junior folks were getting furlough notices. “While passing through Denver one day, I saw a notice from Frontier Operations Ed O’Neil stating that Convair captains were needed in SE Asia. I became intrigued…”

Pilots who worked in the airline industry, at some time in their career, have more than likely been faced with the prospect of being furloughed – a nice way of saying, laid off. Loosing one’s job, no matter when that occurs can be devastating, take it from one who knows.

In the early 1970s furloughs were running rampant in an industry that can take credit for unceremoniously inventing the word. Having a high seniority number (high is bad, low is good) more than likely resulted in that pilot pounding the pavement looking for work Having a high number however, was better then not having a number at all. Many that were furloughed eventually were recalled.

O’Neil’s letter intrigued him for he had been offered a flying job by H.H. “Red” Dawson of Air America in 1967, but turned it down to take the job with Frontier.

Facing the prospect of eventually being furloughed Billy was  inspired with the possibility of continuing his flying career in S.E. Asia, so he placed a call to the number listed on the notice. It turned out to be a private home of someone in Mena, Arkansas. A woman answered, and said she didn’t know anything about this flying stuff, but would give his name and number to her husband and have him return the call. On his return home Billy told his wife about the job possibility. Both felt nothing would come of it, but at 3:00 a.m. the next morning the phone rang. It was Jim Zeigler and Cliff Neville calling from Phnom Penh, Cambodia wanting to know how soon he could get there. Accepting this position meant these two newlyweds would be embarking on an adventure they would never forget.   It turned out to be an Air America operation, but under another name, “Tri-9.”

“Both Cheryl and I had to obtain leaves of absence from Frontier (and of our senses as well) and acquire passports. I needed a first class medical, pass an ATP written, train and receive ATP certification along with a Convair 440 type rating as well as all of the other incidentals associated with moving to a foreign country.” And all of this had to be accomplished like yesterday.”

“The next morning, I called our VP of Operations, Ed O’neil and explained that I had responded to the South East Asia job posting and was requesting a leave of absence from Frontier to take the job. He told me that would be no problem and that Frontier would give me an ATP and type rating in the Convair.”

“A quickie weekend ground school in Denver provided me with the knowledge to pass the ATP written. Then I got a simulator session and an airplane flight check in the CV-580.”

“Looking back, the most amazing thing is that twenty two days after receiving that 3:00 a.m. phone call we reported to operations at Phnom Penh, Cambodia. After a flight check with a Cambodian DCA (FAA) inspector I was made legal by his issuing me a Cambodian ATP with all the proper ratings and authorizations.”

“Living in Phnom Penh was a far cry from the expectations I had of a war zone. The flying was great and the aircraft performance capability got us up and out of the ground fire outside the airport perimeters easily. The C-131’s (CV-440s) we flew had just come off the flight line at Finnair and were immaculate. We flew regular passengers within Camboida. Flights originated in Phnom Penh at Pochentong Airbase and went to either Battambang to the NW on the Thai border or to Kompongsom (Sihanoukville) to the SW on the Gulf of Siam. Later we flew flights to Bangkok and to Siern Reap taking Khmer soldiers into the fighting near the Temples of Angkor Wat. I would fly missions to other interesting places and told to forget about it…”

/\   Convair C-131 (CV-440) N-99TZ

“Early in 1972 things were relatively quiet in Phnom Penh and we felt reasonably secure in our day-to-day activities. Then suddenly out of the clear blue on March 22nd around 2 a.m., an unexpected vicious attack by the North Vietnamese Army commandos and Khmer Rouge occurred, lasting nearly two hours.”

“Some 80 Russian 122mm rockets, 40mm rockets, mortars and other munitions landed around the city. More than 30 of which landed around the airport. This attack killed 75 and wounded 112 civilians. One of our Convair’s suffered a couple of shrapnel punctures that night.”

“We were evacuated from our villa to the US military compound by our US Army friends. This was at a time when the US government reported that there were no US military personnel in Cambodia. Happily, this report was very inaccurate. Another report with questionable veracity was when the Russian Ambassador in Phnom Penh made the statement that Russia was NOT supplying arms to the communist forces in Cambodia. This was the first of many rocket attacks to come.”

“A day or so later we determined where a foul smell was coming from. On the gate posts along our street there were several heads (human) which were becoming ripe and attracting flies. These had belonged to some of the NVA commandos who attacked the nearby radio station killing several individuals including the Khmer colonel, his French wife, and their two children along with an unborn baby. Evidence indicated they made the colonel watch while these atrocities were committed to his family before killing him too. Apparently, there is a belief over there that if you kill an enemy, and separate his head from his body, his spirit is forever haunted and cannot find Heaven. Hence, the gate post ornaments!”

“One day I walked over to the side of the taxiway to get rid of my morning coffee, right there, sticking out of the sand in front of me was a Russian 122 MM rocket.  I could plainly see the “CCCP” on the side along with other identification. Apparently, when it hit the sand, it didn’t blow up. I hesitated touching the thing not knowing if it was still live and dangerous. So, I had one of the Army folks who knew munitions, Sgt. Percy  Bums, look at the rocket After Percy said it was safe, we pulled it out of the sand and had our photo taken with it. I presented it to US Air Force Lt Col. Mark Berent who at the time was the Air Attaché in Cambodia. He in turn gave it to Marshall Lon Nol, the Cambodia premier. Later at a state dinner, with various nations’ ambassadors present Marshall Lon Nd had the 122 rocket placed on the Russian ambassador’s plate prior to making him “Persona non Gratis” in Cambodia.”


“Some 30 years later, following an air show at Luke AFB, Col. Roger Parrish USAF (ret), and I were invited by the 306th Fighter Group for a cold one at the Officers Club. While there we noticed three other fellows talking nearby. One, with his back to me, had a “Phuque Jane Fonda” patch on his flight suit. I mentioned to, Roger that we need those for our flight suits and went over to inquire where this fellow got his. As I got close, I recognized his voice, it was Col. Mark Berent. He hadn’t changed much over the years, but I had. I was 20 pounds heavier, what little hair left was grey, and I now sported a grey beard. I stuck my hand out and said “I haven’t shaken hands with you since Phnom Perth in 1972!” Berent replied”…who the heck are you?” It didn’t take him long to put things together and we were fast renewing an old friendship.”

“At one point Col. Berent ran the air war in Cambodia. He has since authored five books on the SE Asia Air War. These factual accounts are based on real events with fictional characters and cover different operations like “Linebacker” and “Steel Tiger.”

“I see Mark on occasion and recently had dinner with him. Afterwards, as we went out to jump in our cars, Mark said “I have a present for you.” He reached in the back of his SUV and handed me an old relic, the spent 122 mm rocket he had kept for nearly 30 years. Apparently, Mark recovered it after the infamous state affair. As Paul Harvey would say:”…and now you know the rest of the story.

“After leaving S.E. Asia, unscathed, Billy returned to fly with Frontier Airlines. “I flew everything from the DC-3 and DHC-6 to the Convair, Boeing and MD-80. During my career at Frontier, I had a few mechanical issues and a few engine shutdowns, but my flight into Jackson Hole on June 6, 1979, takes the cake.

“Our Convair 580 left Denver on a blustery June 6th with a full passenger load, and a crew of three. Our first stop was West Yellowstone, (WYS) Montana where we landed without incident the next leg to Jackson Hole (JAC) was scheduled as a 26-minute flight and first officer Jeff Benger was flying. At Flight Level one eight zero we encountered some unusual weather for this time of the year (JUNE). It was snowing heavily with strong winds and rime ice building. Of course none of this weather was in the forecast.”

“When we leveled off our compressor failed illuminating a red warning light. We disconnected the compressor, which resulted in losing our pressurization. Upon descent to our minimum enroute altitude (MEA) of 11,300 feet, we found ourselves smack-dab in a raging snowstorm. It was a wet snow and we were picking up moderate rime ice. It was then that we discovered the de-icing and anti-icing systems were not working on the left side. A mechanic on board the jump seat was of no help. Nothing he tried (resetting circuit breakers) worked to correct the problem. So, the ice build-up on the left side continued. By the time we landed, the mechanic’s smiles had turned somber and his eyes were glazed over. He took the bus back to Denver vowing never to fly again!  True!!

“We checked the weather and JAC was the best option plus they had an instrument landing system (ILS). Frontiers propeller driven airplanes did not have autopilots. None! As many as 21 landings a day were scheduled at one point and all were hand flown.

“We flew an easterly heading from WYS to JAC until past the northern tip of the Teton Range; where we picked up the JAC localizer and tracked it inbound on Runway 18. As we intercepted the ILS our fire-warning bell sounded, accompanied by a very bright red light in the #3 zone. There was no way to ascertain if a fire existed until later.

“The number two engine was shut down and we checked to see that the prop feathered. This is hugely important in the 580 with four wide high-drag propeller blades.  The fire bottle was discharged; hopefully, extinguishing the fire, if there was one.

“Hmmmm! Now we are single engine in a fully loaded airplane with a clean wing on the right side and ice build-up on the left. To acerbate the consternation for our passengers, the left prop kept tossing chunks of ice against the fuselage, which had to be disconcerting with the loud smacking sounds.”

“We declared an emergency with ATC, and I briefed the passengers. I called JAC station to let them know where we were and to get a weather update. Oh, oh! We were informed that the weather in JAC was coming down below minimums. There was two inches of slush on the runway and the wind was gusting off our left at 20-22 knots. Sally Douglas, our flight attendant called to say her cabin was ready and the passengers had been briefed.  Sally remained calm, cool and professional.”

“Down the chute (ILS approach) we came knowing there was but one chance to make the runway.  No way we could go-around.  We had to land!

Our luck changed and we saw the runway as we crossed the approach end just 50′ above. The emergency truck operator said there was no evidence of fire, so they followed us to the gate.

“After the maintenance crew evaluated the problems we experienced, it was determined that the anti-ice valves were stuck and needed service as did the compressor which had run out of lubricating oil.

“As for the fire bottles failure, a small pin that was supposed to pop up and turn on the supply light was corroded just enough to prevent their operation. If I had asked Sally, I would have known that the fire bottles did, in fact, fire. The two shotgun shells to activate the bottles below deck located under her seat scared the bejesus out of her when they fired! Then she went back to her normal calm and cool demeanor. Looking back, given the same set of circumstances, I would have done it that way again.  …except I would have warned Sally!”

Frontier, in its day, was a wonderful little airline. All of we employees were proud to have played a role in its success. They had an excellent maintenance record with few incidents in their 40 year history with only one passenger fatality. Deregulation changed all that, and in 1986 the little airline that was too tough to die, ran out of steam and became a part of airline history.

The demise of Frontier Airlines is a story in and of itself. Billy indicated, “for me, the best thing to come out of the Frontier experience was meeting and marrying my life partner and soul-mate.”

Moving on “In 1988, I was invited to lunch with the late Captain Boyd Stevens and Captain Ardell Arfsten. Boyd was the Director of Training and Ardell the Manager of Simulator Training for America West. Boyd had been Director of Training at Frontier and Ardell it’s last Vice President of Flight Operations. They asked if I would be interested in joining the America West Training Program. I agreed and stayed for eleven years, ending up as the manager of Airbus 319/320/321 training. I was also a check airman and APD (FAA designated examiner) there.”

“During this time, I became acquainted with some new friends both human and aircraft. I was invited to join the Lafayette Escadrille d’Arizona squadron of WWI Nieuport 17’s. Roger Parrish was the Director of Training at America West at that time. He had recently bought the parts of Nieuport #3. He tricked me into buying the parts for Nieuport #2 saying that with the squadron pitching in, it would only take a couple of weeks to get it flyable. Thirteen months later, December 24, 1998, Nieuport #2 “El Duce” went aloft.

It was my first flight in a Nieuport and “El Duce’s”first trip aloft as well. Downwind the engine quit I was able to get it running again, but concerned that it may quit again, I kept things high and fast on approach. At 300 feet AGL it quit again.

/\   El Duce

“Luck does play a part in the scheme of things. “El Duce” somehow landed itself and I was able to coast up to the large group of friends all waiting there with their long handled marshmallow sticks. Quickly, I snapped loose my harness and stood up commenting “Any questions” as though it had been skill and cunning rather than dipping once again into my luck bucket

“The little Nieuport is 87% scale and handles well in flight. On the ground it’s a different story. I have never flown a more challenging aircraft. It should have a nose gear as the tail keeps trying to be the front of the airplane!

“Our squadron did volunteer missing man fly-overs for Veterans Day, Memorial Day and special events to honor those who have made the supreme sacrifice for our country.”

  /\   Lafayette Escadrille d’Arizona

Two intrepid airmen, Dale and Brian Churchill, pilots with US Airways, owned a North American T-6 and their dad, Captain Dick Churchill (NWA Ret), owned one as well. After Dick Flew West, Dale and Brian offered Billy the opportunity to fly their dad’s airplane. It took less than a nano-second for him to accept. “For several years flying the Churchill’s T-6’s has been both an honor and a privilege. For those who have flown this marvelous airplane, it is a great flying machine. For those who haven’t, trust me, it is a GREAT flying machine.”

/\   Billy and Ralph Johnson in the Churchill T-6

Another flying machine, a 1950 Bellanca 14-19 modified with a Continental 10-470, was added to the stable. The “Cardboard Connie” is as fast as many light twins. It handles like a dream. You can dirty it up and slow to 40 knots indicated and rock the wings. Then lower the nose, add power, clean’er up and it indicates 165 knots very quickly. Giuseppe M.Bellanca didn’t like rivets and he designed a very clean and smooth wing. “Dr. Mike Braegger and Jim Thorne, two of my Nieuport squadron mates, are also partners in the Bellanca.”

/\  N-6RJ

“My pal, Larry Perkins, helped convert an old DC-3, mini-guns and all, into a replica AC-47 Gunship called “Puff the Magic Dragon. Having started my airline career in the DC-3 I was still having an affair with this venerable jewel of the skies more than 40 years later. It is a great old airplane.”

/\   Photo by Cheryl Walker 

“I joined JetBlue as part of the start-up team in 1999 and became the senior pilot in the first class as well as the first check airman and FAA APD. The FAA’s onerous Age 60 Rule forced me from my cherished left seat on September 29, 2001. JetBlue apparently didn’t want me loose on the streets and kept me on board as the senior test pilot. I performed some additional duties administering type ratings until a couple of years ago, when I focused on the test flying and new aircraft deliveries.”

“October 1, 2006, was my 4th (Frontier, America West and JetBlue twice) and final retirement. My JetBlue experience has been, in a word, memorable. It has been fun and exciting being part of a new airline and seeing it grow quickly into becoming a major air carrier. It was with a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye when I deplaned JetBlue October 1st 2006.”


Currently Billy is flying a World War II Navy N2S-3 primary trainer.  Billy restored the airplane over this past year (2010).   It won 1st Place at the CopperState fly-in at Casa Grande in October and since then two more first place awards along with Best of Show at the Midland, Texas airshow in 2011

/\   Photo by Moose Peterson

He sold the airplane to the Commemorative Air Force where he is a colonel.  He still flies  this wonderful old airplane on a regular basis.  He plans on flying the other CAF aircraft as well from their base at Falcon Field, Mesa, Arizona.

/\   The Ghost Ship N-29XF

Along with several of his fellow flying buddies, who also fly Stearman’s, they fly four ship and sometimes six ship formations while performing at airshows, Military observances, and anything patriotic.

Billy is an author as well!  He wrote Fly the Wing and is now busy writing it’s fourth edition.  He’s written numerous stories that have been published in several different magazines.














Lookin’ back Billy say’s, “I have few regrets. Amazingly, my luck bucket isn’t empty yet…Grandkids, fly rod, and antique airplanes still beckon!”



  1. I retired from US Airways in 2007 (age 60) but flew Hercs and DC-8s for Transamerica 77-86. Then PSA 86-88. then we were bought by US Airways. Flew for the Marines active and reserve 1970-92. A-4s, Hercs and Helos. When overseas with the Marines I often few into Tainan, Taiwan where air america had a repair facility next to Air Asia where were had repairs done on our Hercs. In the 60s I was going to Utah State University and ended up in Jackson Hole alot. My roomate for a while was Charlie Craighead whose family is well known in the jackson area (Moose)so I used to stay at their ranch. Rich Sugden is a friend of mine up here in the Sandpoint Idaho area

  2. Thanks Todd! Rich Sugden is a long time friend. I nominated Rich for the Wyoming Aviation Hall of Fame and missed his induction due to an onerous snow storm. I Knew the craighead family. The late great artist, Dick Bressler, stayed at their place. Also, former Teton County Sheriff, Bob Zimmer, is a close friend & fishin’ & huntin’ buddy…

    Hope to meet you someday. If you are in the Phoenix area, give a shout. first one’s on me!

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