world according to Carl
special in the air
Airlines' most-senior pilot lands for good after 37 years
David Van Meter
AIRLINES Flight No. 37 that flew in to Dallas from Zurich on March 27
was just like most other flights. Except that the person flying the 777
jumbo aircraft was Captain Jim Chaffee '64.
And after cake, coffee -- and the sentiments
that come with the retirement of American's most-senior pilot ever -- the
60-year-old fly boy left his captain's chair for good. Chaffee's flight
pattern started in 1962, after the Fort Worth native caught flight fever
from a family friend, pilot George Eckardt, who attended Chaffee's retirement
"I asked him to help me get a private pilot's
license," Chaffee recalled. "He said, 'Son I don't teach amateurs; if
you ever want to fly as a career, come back and see me.' "
Chaffee, a student at Texas Tech, soon
transferred home to TCU, earned his commercial license and was hired by
American at age 23. By 29, he reached the rank of captain, an unusual
Chaffee remembers planes that had no autopilot
and making seven or more flights a day. He's seen the advent of the female
pilot, picked up troops in Vietnam, flown to more than 20 countries and
watched as aircraft has moved from manual controls to the birds of today,
where a pilot's index finger -- commanding all kinds of high-tech gadgetry -- can
fly a plane halfway across the world. Yet, automation and improved safety
aside, flying a 300-ton mode of transportation still requires steady nerves.
"One of my most memorable flights was
when the landing gear on a 727 came up through the wing," Chaffee said.
"The gear went back down, but we had to fly around and dump fuel before
we could come back and land."
The northern lights and flying over Greenland
are Chaffee's favorite sights from above, and his favorite destination
is Paris. Maybe that's why retirement with his wife of 31 years, Jeannie
(the Chancellor's special events coordinator, by the way), includes building
a wine cellar specializing in French red wines.
"I've been quite lucky," said Chaffee,
waving off his own skill, "and luck is where it's at, because American
was a viable company during my entire 37 years."