Me: Today, at age 70, you’re standing next to your Beechcraft Bonanza. I understand this older picture is from when you were just 2 years old, atop the wing of an older Bonanza. These pictures are decades apart, yet you’re smiling in both. Should we be surprised by this?
Jim Duea (Airspace System Inspection Pilot and Manager, Federal Aviation Administration, Retired): Love of flying runs in my family. My dad was a pilot in World War II. He flew P-47 Thunderbolts in Italy. That’s a big fighter aircraft used in WWII. After he got out of the Service, he did some private commercial flying. I’d go to the airport with him since I was 2 years old and watch airplanes, so my love for the Bonanza and flying go way back. In high school, I found out I needed to wear glasses. I thought then all my hopes of being a pilot were crushed.
I went into the Army in 1964-1967. I spent a year in Vietnam and a little over a year in Germany…In Vietnam, since I couldn’t fly as a pilot, I’d volunteer to go on missions as a gunner in helicopters and as an assistant crew chief on the cargo aircraft the Army had just because I liked being in the air.
After high school, the vision restrictions to fly had changed. They’re not as restrictive as they used to be. I knew then I could fly as a private pilot. When I was in Vietnam, I saved all my leave and nearly every penny that I could so that when I came home on leave, I could take flying lessons. I still had about a month of leave after Vietnam, so I spent about 2-3 weeks flying almost everyday just to get my student license. I continued that afterwards in flying clubs and such just to get flying time and eventually qualified for my private pilot’s license. After that, I found out the GI Bill was available to help supplement the cost of additional ratings you need to fly commercially, like a commercial’s pilot’s license, flight instructor ratings, multi-engine instrument rating, all of those I got assistance from the GI Bill.
Me: Tell us something you’ve learned about flying?
Jim Duea: I’ve had flights that for 3 hours, it was unbelievably turbulent. I’ve also had trips over the ocean where I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it back to where I needed to go because I was low on fuel and the weather had turned sour. One of the first things you learn in aviation, much like with life, if you get in trouble, confess. Tell someone you have a problem. They will then assist you. Let them…When you’re 26 years old, things don’t scare you as much as when you’re 70. When you’re 70, wild and crazy is next to dying!
Me: You never gave up on your dream of flying. What would you say to someone trying to make a dream come true?
Jim Duea: Don’t lose that vision. Keep that vision in mind all the time. You’ll find ways, you’ll find openings, opportunities to do what you really want to do in life. If you focus your attention on something you want to do, you’ll see opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise. For instance, you’re driving down the road looking for a parking spot. Your focused total attention is on that. You will see the exhaust from a car 2 lanes away that indicates they’re maybe pulling out of the parking space. You would never have noticed that if you’re just driving down the street. My advice is to just don’t lose your focus. Keep that dream. Keep thinking of what you want and you’ll be able to accomplish it.