In honor of Aviation Day, we are featuring one of our Veteran pilots, James Truxel, who has served as an active pilot since 1953, when he joined the Air Force during the Korean War, as an Early Warning Radar Operator.
James still flies today.
Over the past 30 years, James has flown many Search and Rescue missions with the Virginia Wing Civil Air Patrol as a Command Pilot. He is currently a member of the QB (Quite Birdman) and UFOS (United Flying Octogenarians).
We had the pleasure of speaking to James about his aviation adventures, which he started 68 years ago.
How many years have you been flying for?
I had my training first flight on May 17, 1952 and been flying ever since. Grass strip in Greensburg Pa. N1834E. Aeronca Champ 7AC. I located this aircraft years ago, met the owner and flew it for a couple years till he sold it.
How did you get into aviation? What made you decide to get an aviation license?
I was raised on a farm and always looking at planes as they flew by. I started drawing pictures of the P-40 Flying Tiger, then made balsa models. I knew then that I wanted to learn to fly.
Do you still fly? What kind of plane?
Yes! I fly an average of 2-3 times a month. After being part owner in several planes, I rent now. Cessna 172, Cessna 182, Piper Archer and just sold my share in an Ercoupe.
Tell us about your most memorable adventure/flight.
In 1969 I flew my non pilot wife and 2 kids, Son age 5 and Daughter age 10 from Leesburg, Va ( KJYO ) to California in a Cessna 182. I Wanted my kids to see the USA and we stopped along the way to just tour places of interest. Daughter wanted a Mexican sombrero so landed at El Paso and into Mexico for her hat - still has it
What was it like serving in the air force during the Korean war? What was your role?
I was training in the Air Force to go to Korea as an Early Warning Radar Operator. As my training and the war were winding down, I was sent to Otis AFB in Mass for deployment to Spain. At that time there were concerns of a possible Homeland threat on the East Coast. I was sent to a small Radar Facility near Ocean City NJ as an Air Defense Identification Specialist. My duties were to spot all aircrafts approaching the US and identify them as friend or foe. I worked with the CAA (now FAA) using their flight plan info as well as their code words as a means of identification. If there was a question, we would scramble aircraft, usually the F-94C and F-86 aircrafts out of Dover or McGuire AFB. On their return after intercepts we usually asked the pilots for an "antenna" check. Based on their fuel we usually got them as our small radar site was located in the middle of nowhere. Saw some fantastic buzz jobs with smiling pilot faces. Only the mosquitoes were bothered. Because of my working with the CAA/FAA I received an offer to go to work for them after my discharge - which I did and retired in 1989 as an ATC Supervisor.
What is the most valuable lesson you learned in all your years of flying?
Always be prepared for the unexpected and always be ready to learn more. To this day I read as much as possible on aviation articles and new piloting aids to make the flight safer as well as enjoyable. Part of my preflight briefing is "if the engine quits on takeoff PUSH the nose DOWN." Too many pilots pull the nose up and stall. Additionally, if below 800 - 1000 ft AGL after takeoff, the emergency landing will be straight ahead or within 30 degrees either side of nose. If above those altitudes may try to return to airport but insuring a no stall spin attitude.
Favorite thing about being a pilot?
FREEDOM! All the problems are down there and for a brief moment you are FREE.
What is the most important thing to remember when operating an aircraft?
The aircraft is mechanical and everything mechanical can break. Always be aware of your limitations as well as the aircrafts.
What is a common myth about flying?
Not safe - especially smaller aircrafts. In the Civil Air Patrol we give orientation flights to our Cadets. I always made it a point when pre flighting to include the Parents to ease their concerns. I also instructed other "O" ride pilots that there will be no steep turns or unusual attitudes that would cause concern. When turbulence was forecast we would cancel the flight and explain why. No need to get a potential pilot air sick on the first flights.
What part of the world have you not yet been to that is on your bucket list?
Actually at my age of 86 I have been blessed to do many things on my bucket list but a flight to Alaska would cap it off.
What are your 5 essential items when in flight?
1. Aircraft and passenger safety, 2.
2. Aircraft performance,
3. Constant scan for other aircraft
4. My mental/physical condition and
5. Future weather concerns
How is flying as a career different from flying for fun or as a hobby?
Flying as a career demands additional considerations such as schedules, weather, etc. Flying as a hobby - There is always tomorrow. Also when my wife turned 50 she got her license. Makes the hobby all the better