Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I am taking a break from snarky mockery of  my PilotHusband to salute, and pay homage to, the ULTIMATE pilot.  You Piedmont "Silver Eagles" and USAir folks know the legend, the man, the UberPilot.... Captain Jim Brown.  He was the icon, the mold, the role model, the superhero of professional aviation.

The stories about him are legendary.  They have been told and re-told countless times, at hotel bars on long overnights, crew rooms during hot reserve duty, and cockpits during departure delays.  Each time a story was repeated, no doubt, it became more fantastical, more mythical, more unbelievable... or maybe not.  Perhaps the stories I heard were as accurately told as the morning after the events unfolded.  Maybe, just maybe, Captain Jim Brown was the real deal.  If that's the case, we must all bow down and worship him, as the one true God of Aviation.

I've seen photos of the man.  He sure looked like the perfect Air Line Captain; pot-bellied, unkempt, graying, smiling, and a yellowed uniform shirt with mustard stains on his necktie... and oddly magnetic.

The stories... oh, where to begin?!  There was the one about him playing poker while overnighting in the Bahamas.  Out of cash, but with a pretty good hand, he threw the keys to the Boeing into the pot.  Unfortunately, someone at the table had a better hand.  So next he did the only reasonable thing.  He called operations and told them he needed $10,000 wired to him immediately if they ever wanted their airplane (or their crew) back.  In this day and age, that might be called piracy, but back in the day, it was just Captain Jim Brown having a good time.

Then there was the one about the crew hotel in London.  The rooms were never ready when they arrived, forcing an exhausted crew to mill about the lobby for hours, waiting to check in.  Capt. Brown fixed that situation.  When told the rooms were not ready (again), he stripped down to his stained undershirt, black socks, and jockey shorts and laid down on the sete in the middle of the lobby to take a nap.  After a few minutes of his snoring and farting (simultaneously), he was awoken by the hotel staff with the news that all the crew rooms were ready.  And they never had that problem again.  In this day and age, that might be called indecent exposure, but back in the day, it was just Capt. Jim Brown taking care of business.

My favorite story was about his paycheck.  Piedmont Airlines paid Pilots and Flight Attendants twice a month.  The check on the 30th was small, covering just half a month of guarantee pay.  But the check on the 15th was much larger, covering the other half of guarantee, hours flown above that, per diem, night differential, and international pay.  Somehow, Capt. Brown convinced his wife that his ONLY compensation was the small paycheck at the end of each month.  Then one day, she discovered the check stub from the 15th paycheck.  She was furious!  But unphased, and slicker than "Cool Hand Luke", he looked at his wife and explained that the 15th paycheck was used to buy fuel for the aircraft, pay the Flight Attendants, pay for the crew's hotel rooms, and the caterers that stocked the plane.  After all that, there was nothing left of that paycheck.  In this day and age, that might be called withholding marital assets, but back in the day, it was just Captain Jim Brown making sure his family didn't live above their means.

I think Heaven looks like the dive bar at the old Airways Hotel.  When I get there, I hope to be greeted by Captain Jim Brown, telling stories, holding court, and ready to share a pitcher of beer and a plate of hot wings. 


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