A typical sailplane grid, with the planes lined up, ready to fly.


A podcast with “KC” (Killer Chic) Campbell this week got me thinking about the power of story.

Stories are our past, present and possibly our future. They engage and amuse us. They can even keep us safe if we are wise enough to heed their warnings. For Kim, stories of flying an A-10 in manual reversion accompanied her from the point where a missile struck her plane, to her home runway where she managed to land safely.

Of the many stories in my life, the ones from flying are the ones that stick with me most. Stories from the pilots that came before me become part of my flying repertoire.  Those are the stories that keep me safe.

Stories were told around the picnic tables next to the main hangar after a day in the air. Over beer and barbecue we regaled each other with the details of the days flights.

Where did you go today? What did you find? Like the ancient ritual of gathering around the fire, the picnic tables alongside the main hangar became the Mecca for beer inspired tales.  Every story had a kernel of truth that someday might save your butt.


A day in the air


From those stories, I know that the fledgling orchards on the hillside below will rip my plane to shreds should I try to land there. I know that there is an anomaly, an east west mountain range near Heber, Utah that might disorient me if I were to naturally think it ran from north to south. I know that a convergence line forms down near Mono Lake when the warm moist air mass from the LA basin mingles with the cooler, dryer air of the high desert and that the instability generated can give me the lift needed to make the jump over to the White Mountains.

In the days before GPS, navigation was an art and a skill. It was easy to get lost or disoriented in a sailplane. So it was that one day that Howard, who was an editor for Forbes Magazine at the time, flew into P-40. P-40 is the prohibited airspace over Camp David. Flying in P-40 is a serious no-no for any pilot wanting to keep their license.

Howard was at the White House one evening for an event. Two large, burly secret service agents, one on either side of him, grasped his arms and led him to a nearby hallway. They opened a manilla envelope. And in it was a picture of Howard in his sailplane. The image was so clear, you could read the altimeter. It was obviously taken from space.

The agents strongly suggested he stay out of P-40. Howard agreed. As a result, at the start of each contest, Howard tells his story.

So it is I know NOT to fly into P-40. Ever. Not even accidentally. I make a careful detour around the entire area.

Stories were the currency of our evening get togethers after the planes had been bedded down for the night. We laughed, but we listened carefully. Every story had a kernel of truth that someday might save your butt.

We all have stories in our lives. Do we heed them? Do we understand the message they convey? And do we take their precious lessons to heart?

This week I published a talk with Kim “KC” Campbell, a retired A-10 pilot. And she has more than a few stories to tell. From missiles over Baghdad to debriefs on the ground, KC has life lessons for all of us. You can listen to Kim’s story here.


KC Campbell

KC with her damaged A-10 after landing without hydraulics following a mission over Baghdad