Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 3, 2013

10 Best Pilots

The ability to make an airplane do the impossible is what separates the best from the rest

Best Bush Pilot
We think multiple wins of the Valdez short-field contest in most categories, coupled with 27,000 hours of dedicated, hard-core bush flying, qualifies Paul Klaus as the best, or at least one of the best, bush pilots. Although he has flown some of the wildly modified Cub clones in the contest, his everyday airplane is a super-light 160 hp Super Cub.

"The key," says Claus, who wasn't yet 24 hours old when his father and mother bundled him into a Super Cub and flew him back to their Alaska homestead, "is precision. You have to be able to consistently put the airplane right on the spot where you want it, at a minimum speed and that, in turn, means making every move as precisely as you can."

Left: Paul Klaus has logged 27,000 hours of backcountry flying. Right: Jessica Cox has learned to fly with her feet.

Best At Overcoming Obstacles
If you want to feel like an underachiever, all you have to do is Google "Jessica Cox." Born without arms, the wildly personable 30 year old has learned to use her bare feet as most people use their hands. Among many other things, she has two black belts in tae kwon do, drives an unmodified car with an unrestricted license, types 25 words a minute on a regular keyboard, has a degree in psychology and received her LSA pilot license in 2008, flying a '46 Ercoupe. So, the next time you think you can't learn to fly, think again.

Dick Rutan made the first non-refueled nonstop flight around the world with Jeana Yeager.
Best At Flying Long Distances
Of course, it was Charles Lindbergh who first truly defined long-distance aviation: Flying solo across the Atlantic is now commonplace. In fact, Max Conrad made a habit of flying his Comanche around the world and making ridiculously long hops. However, it was Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager who broke one of the very last remaining records in aviation by making the first non-refueled nonstop flight around the world in the Rutan Voyager. The year was 1986, and it took them nine days in the air. Then, in 2005, Steve Fossett did the same thing solo in another Rutan Design, the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer. He accomplished the task in two days, 19 hours. Both flights covered 25,000 +/- miles, which is definitely considered "long" distance.

Best at Logging Flight Time
Remember how proud you were to break 500 hours? Then 1,000 hours, a number many private pilots never reach? The late John "Ed" Long, Jr. (1915-1999) is in the Guinness Book of World Records as having logged an unbelievable 65,000 hours, with much of it being under 200 feet while inspecting power lines. That amount of time is the equivalent of seven years in the air, 24 hours a day. But, building that amount of time didn't happen quickly: He started flying in 1933 when he was 17 years old, and he died in 1999 at 83 years of age.

Best At Surviving: Oldest Pilot
Although the oldest surviving participant in anything is constantly changing and hard to verify, it's a known fact that in 2007, when the well-known and well-liked Capt. John Miller died, he had been flying his 1969 Bonanza up until he was 102 years old. Inasmuch as he started flying when he was 18, that means he had been flying for 84 years. That's a little hard to get your head around, isn't it? But, anyone who lived in the Northeast in the last 50 years knew Capt. Miller and his history, which included flying everything from gyrocopters to airliners.

"Best" Can Be A Mind-Set
It's unlikely that any of us will ever be in any book of records. However, if we continually try to narrow our margins and be as precise in our flying as we possibly can, at least, as the slogan says, "We'll be as good as we can be." And that's the "best" in anyone's language.

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