Remembering Pilot Friends

By:      Norm Goyer

Ron Caraway with his beloved 1954 Cessna 180. Ron and this aircraft provided excellent camera plane duties for many years and several magazines.

Ron Caraway with his beloved 1954 Cessna 180. Ron and this aircraft provided excellent camera plane duties for many years and several magazines.

In my 60 plus years of flying I have met and been influenced by many great pilots and instructors, some were a little way out but I learned from each one. My thanks.

Two days ago one of best instructors and formation pilots I have ever flown with died of a heart attack, it tore the large pilot community of the High Desert apart. Ron Caraway had succumbed to a massive heart attack. He was in his early 70s, he was too young to die. His position in life cannot be filled by anyone. Ron was unique. Ron was the test pilot to go to when you finished your new homebuilt. He was the pilot to go to if you had a student who had special problems, Ron could and did salvage many students for a life of flying. Ron and friend Diane flew to Alaska recently in Ron’s C-180, Ron ferried a Mooney to Austria. Ron flew the wing walker in the Silver Wings aerobatic team. Ron built or has helped build many outstanding homebuilts and was currently helping a local man build a Murphy Moose, Ron was friend to everyone. What a loss for aviation and humanity, Ron is gone. My world will never be the same.

My first instructor, Henry, who soloed me in a tattered J-3 Cub in 6.5 hours. Why? He was too drunk to fly. He staggered out of the airplane, lay down on the grass and fell asleep. I figured “Why not?” I opened the throttle and took off and did three landings and take offs until I got bored and managed not to bend the Piper or dent my head. My log book now read 6.5 hours. Old Henry was never completely sober, but he did know how to fly the airplane and how to pass on his knowledge. He even taught me to do spins at about 5 hours. I could even recover on a point provided that it was a wide point. This kindly old instructor taught me confidence in myself and also how to teach myself how to fly many maneuvers right to the edge. I have always believed that it was Henry who put the fun into flying for me.

Bob Gardner and I often flew formation in early morning missions of mischief in Western Massachusetts in our Texans, similar to these two military aircraft.

Bob Gardner and I often flew formation in early morning missions of mischief in Western Massachusetts in our Texans, similar to these two military aircraft.

I also have to acknowledge the influence Robert Gardner of Northampton, Massachusetts had on my warbird flying. I hadn’t flown an SNJ since Navy training days and I really didn’t feel totally confident. Gardner was severely deaf and had a heavy speech defect. He did not use the radio but checked me out in his AT-6D by shaking the stick when he wanted control, then he did the maneuver and then I got it back. My Navy instructors were good, but it was Gardner who really mated me with the Texan. It became a part of me. I purchased two of my own and spent the next three or four years terrorizing Western Massachusetts in early morning strafing raids and stupid forays under the Calvin Coolidge Bridge, sometimes in formation with Gardner. This man could fly any aircraft, a truly natural pilot.

Roger Atwood taught me to love sea plane flying. He would often fly local fishermen and hunters into Canada with his Sea Bee.

Roger Atwood taught me to love sea plane flying. He would often fly local fishermen and hunters into Canada with his Sea Bee.

I have to give a tremendous amount of credit to Roger Atwood who has been my close flying friend for over 50 years. I learned seaplane flying and glider flying from Roger and he introduced me to his Cessna 195 in which he flew with Dottie to Cuba and back. Roger came out to California for several summers to help me sell aircraft and also doubled as a backup instructor, my pilots and crew loved Roger. It was Roger who polished my flying and instilled a love of seaplane flying and was responsible for my very own Cessna 195. Roger was still flying at 89 when he passed on sitting in front of his TV watching FOX. Way to go Roger.

One day a pretty blonde girl driving a camouflaged Toyota Jeep, complete with a Japanese rising sun on the door, appeared at my office. Hi, I am Cindy and I am a recovering alcoholic, an artist, a concert musician and a damn good instructor. I also hold a current world’s record for upside down flying distance in a Decathlon. Now that spiel caught my attention. I ended up hiring Cindy, let her stay in a small house on the property. She was very popular with our young students and lady pilots. I loaned her money for her Engineer’s FAA ticket and for some time in a DC-3. She paid back every penny. She applied and got a job flying copilot for Western Airlines. She always loved aerobatics and called me one day to say she was competing at El Mirage on Sunday. I loaded friends into my turbo Arrow and flew to the contest. We were watching Cindy perform when she entered a spin too low, we were all pilots and knew there was no way she could pull out. The crash shook the ground, we were shocked. A very accomplished young lady was no longer with us. Why, Cindy, why?

Cindy modified a Bellanca Decathlon so she could set a world's record of upside down long distance flying.

Cindy modified a Bellanca Decathlon so she could set a world's record of upside down long distance flying.

One of very worse aspects of growing old, and at 85 I am old, is the loss of family and friends. You wonder why them and not you, why are you still around? All of the folks I wrote about and remembered are not unique, a similar scenario is happening at airports around the world. There are no better friends than a pilot friend. Pilots stick by you, they are true friends, forever. After Tina died Ron came over and told me that he was a phone call away, anything I needed, he would help me out. I am sure that you as a pilot have similar friends and how much you love and respect them. Here’s to all the Rons in this world. You have made the earth a better place. Norm Goyer

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