Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Life Begins At 40

A lot of words have flowed across this page in the past four decades

As of June of this year, I’ve been cranking out this column for 40 years! These are words I never thought I’d hear coming out of my mouth. And, no, I’m not some bent-over old scribe with four teeth and drool on my shirt. At least, I don’t think I am. I just got an early start (more or less). Actually, I got an early and weird start in the magazine business.

A problem with what I’m about to write is that I’ve written something like it in the same context before—no less than 10 (nor more than 20) years ago on the occasion of a previous “Grassroots” anniversary. And although to some people 10 years sounds like a long time, it’s really not. You can print a C-172 pilot report every three years and no one will say anything, but you have to be careful about repeating yourself in other contexts. I once used the lead paragraph out of my first Fieseler Storch (look it up) pirep to introduce a second similar report, and readers practically handed me my head: “How dare you reuse words that you…yada, yada.” The catch is that the two articles appeared 26 (that’s “twenty-six”) years apart in different magazines! So I do repeat myself, and to some degree, this is going to be one of those times.

I say I got a weird start in the magazine business because the very first thing I ever published was the precursor to Grassroots, but it was initially titled “Instructor’s Side” (for a year or so, then “Student’s Corner” for another two years). Through a fortuitous meeting with Robert Cumberford, who’s now the design editor for Automobile magazine and a close friend, I got an introduction to the editor of Air Progress, who invited me out to lunch. I walked out of that lunch with an assignment for a monthly column. That was late 1968, and I was just out of graduate school. Just like that, without paying five minutes of the dues I had always heard you had to pay before getting published in a magazine, I was an aviation columnist—I haven’t looked back since. What I’ve done, however, is look around a lot during the journey, especially now that I’m talking about numbers like 40 years.


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