Myron Collier

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Myron Collier

Myron Collier was born June 8, 1930, on a farm near Butler, Ohio. He built model airplanes and, though he didn't know any pilots, knew he wanted to be one. An hour's worth of instruction was too expensive, so he paid for 15 minutes at a time. What he lacked in finances he made up for in determination, and by age 23 he had accumulated private, instrument, commercial, multiengine, instructor and ATR ratings. He financed his college education by teaching flying, and entered the job marketMyron Collier just as airline pilots were being laid off. He taught science to junior high students and rewarded their achievement with airplane rides. He continued to teach flying and in 1956 became a designated flight examiner.

In 1959 a late-spring Michigan snowstorm changed the travel plans of executives of the Empire-Reeves division of Cyclops Corporation. Instead of instructing that afternoon, Myron flew to Detroit and brought the executives home. That trip earned him a job offer from the president of the division, and he spent the next 34 years as Chief Pilot of Cyclops. As the company prospered he transitioned from Apache to Aero Commander to King Air to Citation. He became an early proponent of RNAV, wrote an RNAV handbook for air traffic controllers, and served as chairman of NBAA's RNAV committee. He also completely rewrote the navigation chapter in the 5th edition of General Van Sickle's Modern Airmanship. On his 66th birthday -- 50 years to the day after he soloed -- he flew to Dallas and flew the same Luscombe in which he had first soloed. In 1998 Myron was named Flight Instructor of the Year by the Allegheny FSDO. He also served eight years as a board member of NBAA and was recipient of NBAA's Jack Doswell award in 2001 for "lifelong individual achievement on behalf and in support of the aims, goals and objectives of business aviation."

How did you decide you wanted to be a pilot?

I grew up on a farm in North Central Ohio during the Depression. I didn't know any pilots and have no idea how I got hooked on airplanes, but it happened, and there was never a question in my mind that I was going to be a pilot.

Was there aviation around you?

None. The closest airport was Mansfield, which was 20 miles away, and the only airplanes I saw were those that flew overhead. I read every aviation publication I could get my hands on, and by reading books and magazines I taught myself how to move the controls before I took my first lesson.

When was your first lesson?

  18-year-old Ace
I was about 14, and I hitchhiked to the Mansfield airport and asked for a ride. The war was still on and no pleasure flights were allowed, but flight instruction was allowed, so instead of a ride they gave me a lesson. Dual was $11 an hour, and all I could afford was $2.75 for 15 minutes. The school could see I was interested and they would stretch out the lesson to a half-hour or more and only charge me for 15 minutes. I did that at every opportunity and soloed on my 16th birthday. After I soloed I would circle over the farmhouse of a girl that I was sweet on. I didn't impress her, but her dad took an interest in flying, bought a brand new J-3 Cub and put a 700-foot landing strip on his farm. He didn't have a lot of confidence, but he would fly if I went with him. So I got to use the airplane just about anytime I wanted, and all it cost me was fuel that we bought in 55-gallon drums for 13 cents a gallon. So I could fly that Cub for 50 or 60 cents an hour. One day a buddy and I hopped in that Cub and flew it 11 hours. We flew to Chicago, back to Toledo, up to Detroit, and back to Butler, just trying to build hours.

I kept flying and got my private certificate on my 17th birthday. Shortly after my 18th birthday I got my commercial rating, and shortly after my 20th birthday I got my flight instructor's rating.

You moved through these ratings in a hurry. Did you have a mentor and were your parents supportive of your flight training?

I didn't have a mentor. My dad was 100% behind me, and my mom thought I ought to grow up and be a farmer. My mom was not fond of airplanes, and one Sunday I landed the J-3 in a hayfield on our farm. I took my dad for a ride, then asked my mom and -- to my surprise -- she said she'd go. We circled around for a while, and when we landed she called all the neighbors to tell them that was her in the airplane. From then on she didn't object to my flying.

I had a friend named Mike who lived up the road from me. He was two years older than me, so he had a drivers license. We drove to the Mount Vernon airport on Sundays and found a guy who was selling a 40-horsepower Porterfield for $200. It was priced so cheap because it needed new fabric, and he didn't have the money to do it. We told him we'd buy it on two conditions -- that he took us for a ride so we knew it would fly, and that he delivered it to a field on our farm near Butler. After he delivered it Mike and I taxied it around in the field, then we got bored with that so we took the wings off -- they needed to be recovered anyway -- and taxied the fuselage on a long, straight stretch of State Route 95 near the farm. There wasn't a lot of traffic, but occasionally we would see a car coming the other way and they'd pull over as we whizzed past. The Porterfield had no brakes, so we'd just let it roll out.

That went on for a week or two then my dad found out about it and that was the end of that. We decided to sell it, and a local fellow bought it and restored it. I heard that it got blown over in a windstorm, and that's when I lost track of it until many years later when I started wondering what had happened to it. From the photos I had I couldn't read the NC number, so I called EAA. They sent me the name of the president of the Porterfield club. I wrote to him with a description of the airplane and what history I knew, and he was the last owner of that very airplane. He donated it to a museum in Blakesburg, Iowa and that's where it is today.

  Myron reunites with his first flame.
What other ratings did you get?

I got my instrument rating while I was instructing part-time in Mansfield, Ohio, and taught a lot of ex-military pilots to get their instrument ratings. I became a designated flight examiner in 1956. In those days anything you could give an exam in anything you were rated in. It's not quite like that now.

How many flight exams did you give last year?

Around 80.

And how does that break out for private, instrument, commercial and the other ratings?

There are a lot of privates, a lot of instruments, quite a few multiengine -- it's a pretty good variety.

Somebody somewhere is getting ready to take a private checkride. What's the most common bad habit you see on the private ride?

Today's pilot -- compared with the average pilot of the '50s and '60s -- just lacks good basic stick-and-rudder skills, and most of that is inappropriate rudder technique.

Is there one particular phase of flight where you see that? Climbs? Descents? Turns?

All phases of flight. In a climb I see them using right yoke input instead of right rudder to counter torque. I can tell whether a pilot learned to fly in a tricycle gear airplane or a tailwheel airplane shortly after we're in the air, just by how the pilot uses the rudder.

That covers private rides. What about the other ratings?

I see bad rudder technique on commercial rides and pretty much across the board. They understand the concept of using rudder to correct for yaw, but they don't fly that way. When I got my private, the flight test guides -- as they were called in those days -- specifically stated that if the applicant attempted to use aileron to pick up a wing in a stall recovery he failed the flight test. Over the years the airplane manufacturers used differential aileron travel -- so the down aileron doesn't go down as far as the up aileron goes up -- to minimize yaw, so coordinated controls became the standard, but the primary control is still rudder.

How did you get from teaching school to the job at Cyclops?

I taught general science to junior high students for six years. I had the same students in my homeroom for 7th, 8th and 9th grades, and we became a little family. Normally I'd have 17 or 18 students make the honor roll, so I threw them a challenge. I told my class of 32 students that if 30 of them made the honor roll I'd take them all for an airplane ride. When the honor roll came out 28 of them made it, and I decided that was close enough, so I took them all for a ride. That group of kids just had their 40th high school reunion and I threw a little luncheon for them. I hadn't seen some of them for 43 years, and some of them went on to be military pilots and airline pilots.

In 1958 Cyclops bought a brand-new Piper Apache and the FBO in Mansfield -- Richland Aviation -- provided pilots for them. One day the executives at Cyclops had flown to western Michigan, it started snowing and the Richland pilot couldn't get them back to Mansfield. They took North Central Airlines as far as Detroit. I was teaching school and giving flight instruction in the evenings and in the summer. That day I got to the airport around 4 p.m. and the manager of the FBO asked me to take one of the Apaches to Willow Run in Detroit and fly these guys home. I flew there, picked them up -- by then it was snowing in Detroit, too -- filed an instrument flight plan and about Toledo we broke into the clear.

When we landed at Mansfield I gave the president of the company a ride to his apartment, and he asked me if I could fly him to another meeting in the morning. He was sizing me up, and about a week later I got an offer for a job. That was in late spring and I wanted to finish the school year, so on June 15, 1959, I became the chief pilot of the Empire-Reeves Steel division of Cyclops Corporation, and I stayed there until January 31, 1992.

  Myron is named Professional Pilot Magazine's "Pilot of the Year."
For many years, Empire-Reeves was the only division of the company that had an airplane. Even corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh didn't have one. I flew the Apache, then an Aero Commander 500-B, then a King Air B90 for 12 years, and in 1981 a decision was made to get a jet and make it available to all the divisions. The company bought a Citation, and I moved to Pittsburgh to fly it. Our customers were east of the Mississippi -- because shipping steel out west didn't pencil out economically -- so we wanted airplanes that would get our executives out in the morning and back home at night.

Somewhere somebody is getting ready to transition from props to jets. What advice can you offer?

I had never even sat in a Citation, but after the two-week course at FlightSafety I was very comfortable with the airplane. In fact I took my flight check in the simulator, then shot three takeoffs and landings in the airplane. That was my first time in the airplane. People think jets are supposed to be harder to fly, but I found the Citation much easier to fly than the King Air.

What type of personality makes the best corporate pilot?

I was very lucky. I had as close to an eight-to-five, five-days-a-week job that I could imagine. That doesn't mean I never had to fly on a weekend, but as a rule we flew out, took care of business and flew home. Today's corporate pilot has to be flexible, because you don't have regular hours, and your family needs to understand that. You also have to wonder how long the company will keep the airplane. Lots of corporate flight departments are closing down, because the company has fallen on hard times, and fractional ownership may give them a more cost-effective option.

If I were running a company, I wouldn't look twice at fractional ownership. I would want to know my pilots and my aircraft.

How did the steel business change in your time there?

Cyclops specialized in stainless steel. Obviously the auto industry was a big customer, but they also sold to appliance manufacturers like Whirlpool. It took years for the problems to grow, and for years business was so good that the company gave in to the unions. Eventually the steel industry couldn't keep overhead down -- for instance, a union steel worker got an extra 13 weeks vacation after five years on the job -- then imported steel became available at or below cost, and companies couldn't compete. Many of the foreign steel companies are nationalized -- owned by the government -- so they sell steel cheap just to keep people working.

This problem isn't going away. The president just imposed more tariffs on steel.

That's a Band-Aid as far as I'm concerned. The industry has to get costs under control, and it's up to the unions to try and work with management to keep the business alive. The same thing is happening with the pilots at at U.S. Airways. They're on the verge of bankruptcy and they want more regional jets, but the pilots don't want to take pay cuts to fly something smaller.

If you gave 80 checkrides last year, the Pittsburgh economy can't be too bad. What's taking the place of the steel industry?

Carnegie-Mellon university is here, so the computer industry and other high-tech businesses have moved here.

Tell us about the Reading [Pa.] airshow.

In its day Reading was the premiere business aviation airshow -- like NBAA is now -- on a much smaller scale. The manufacturers parked the new models of airplanes on the ramp, exhibitors set up booths and there were prizes for different categories of corporate airplanes. I entered our King Air five times and won three first prizes and two second prizes. The airplane was pretty but it wasn't just appearance -- each time I prepared a little booklet showing our typical flights and how the airplane fit into the company strategy.

Reading also had an airshow, with the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels and Bob Hoover, flying that old yellow P-51. There are a lot of hills around Reading, and Bob used to like to disappear behind the one set of hills and pop up somewhere else. When he landed, my wife noticed something dragging behind the airplane. He had hit a power cable and blacked out a portion of the city of Reading.

When did you begin writing?

Leighton Collins really promoted instrument flight, so I wrote an article called "Instrument Flight Test" for his Air Facts magazine. I got $75 for the article and spent it on a suit, which my wife and I always called my "Air Facts" suit. When we got RNAV in the King Air, I could see the potential so I wrote an article about it for Professional Pilot. I wrote some airplane reviews, and over about 20 years I had 40 articles published.

When did you get on the board of NBAA?

  Myron celebrates his 66th birthday by flying the Luscombe he soloed in 50 years earlier.

When RNAV was relatively new they formed a air navigation subcommittee under the airspace committee, which Bill Horn asked me to chair. A few years later I was asked to serve on the board.

Did you get as enthusiastic about GPS as you did for RNAV?

I retired when Cyclops got bought out in 1993, so I saw GPS coming, but I'm not as familiar with it technically as I am with RNAV. GPS is wonderful, and it solves a couple of the shortcomings of RNAV.

For instance?

With RNAV, ATC might clear you to a waypoint 300 miles away, then you'd have to plot a course line to get there. GPS gives you that course line, but we didn't have that with early RNAV. It takes too long to use a chart, so we had two small computers to do it. One ran on a Texas Instruments TI59 and the other ran on a Psion, and [AVweb Editor in Chief] Mike Busch had the best program for that. It was a wonderful program, it just came along a little too late.

NBAA gave you the Doswell Award in 2001. Tell us about Jack Doswell.

He was a military pilot who retired and became chief pilot for American Standard. He was very active in NBAA until he acquired a rare disease that took his life. Based on all that he had done for corporate aviation, NBAA decided to give an annual award for "lifelong contribution to business aviation."

Can you offer advice about how to handle emergencies?

I had an engine blow up in a Navion, but I was close enough to a grass field and glided in and landed. I had a rough engine in the Aero Commander, but I shut it down and landed at the next airport. And I had an engine go bad after takeoff in the Citation, and I came back and landed. I haven't really had any spectacular emergencies, and I always tried to plan so things didn't happen.

Tell us about your 66th birthday.

I soloed in a Luscombe, and got my private in the very same Luscombe. One day I realized that the 50-year anniversary of my solo was approaching, and I wondered what had happened to that Luscombe. I used the internet and found the current owner in Burleson, Texas, close to Dallas. I called him and he offered to let me fly the airplane again. He's a retired banker with a private strip on his ranch, so I flew to Dallas, drove out to his ranch and flew that airplane 50 years to the day after I soloed in it.

Next: Lazy-Rudder Syndrome