American Airlines – A Veteran’s Story: My flying history | News
Bob Jones was born in the cattle country of Oklahoma City, OK in 1923. His father owned a ranch in Osage County, northeast of Oklahoma City. Bob said before he turned 12 he was a bona fide cowboy, including picking up the bad habit of chewing tobacco.
Being cattlemen, the Great Depression didn’t affect his family as bad as other Americans.
“Two meat packing plants were close by, Armour and Wilson,” he said. “They gave my father an employee card which meant he could buy meat for almost nothing. Mom was a great cook with a soft heart and shared our bounty with unemployed men and families in need. She gave away a lot of our roasts and steaks. Dad would ask her, ‘Where is all this meat going to?’ Mom would reply, ‘To a worthy cause,’ and that was that.”
On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Bob returned from church to hear the news of Pearl Harbor on the radio. He recalled, “My older brother and I were at the Marine recruiting station within a week, but when the recruiter found out we were still in college he told us to go home and finish our education. Well, we did, but my brother still ended up in the Marines and I got what I wanted, the Army Air Corps.”
Thus began a career in aviation for Bob Jones. For me to pen his story would require a book; however, Bob sent me an outline, a bio of sorts, entitled “My Flying History.” I loved it, a heartfelt narrative by a member of the Greatest Generation in his own words. Therefore, the following is his own story with limited editing by yours truly. And what a marvelous career and story it is. We will never see their likes again as the Greatest Generation goes softly into the Good Night. It is our duty, it is our responsibility to be sure their service, their sacrifice, their love for country is never forgotten.
Like so many in my generation, I began my flying career courtesy of Uncle Sam during World War II. At the beginning of the war, a minimum of two years of college was required to qualify for pilot training. Later in 1942, the requirement was dropped, so I dropped out of Oklahoma State University in September and signed up for pilot training in the Army Air Corps.
Since the training pipeline was full, I had to wait until January ’43 to enter active duty. My first stop was Shepard Field, Wichita Falls, Texas for Air Corps Basic Training. Upon completion, I was sent to a College Training Detachment at Austin College in Sherman, Texas for four months of general academic instruction, physical training and basic military education.We were also given three or four hours of flight orientation in a Taylorcraft to make sure the cadets had the “right stuff.” guess I had the ‘right stuff’ because they sent me to preflight at the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center for nine weeks of intensive academic, physical and military training and instruction. This training was more in line with what a new pilot officer candidate would need to grasp to begin actual flight training.
I finally got my hands on an aircraft in September ’43 at Grider Field, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where I soloed in a Fairchild PT-19. Basic Flight Training continued in Independence, Kansas with aerobatics and formation training conducted in the North American BT-14, while instrument flight was carried out in the Vultee BT-15. I was selected for Advanced Training in multi-engine aircraft then sent to Pampa, Texas to finish in the Curtis AT-9 and Cessna AT-17/UC-78 aircraft. I successfully completed all my training and graduated with Class 44D in April ’44.
The Air Corps was lush with 2nd Lieutenants so my classmates and I were sent to a “pilot pool” at Barksdale Airbase in Shreveport, LA to await further orders. After two months, a group including myself was sent to Bergstrom Airbase in Austin, TX to the C-47 Troop Carrier Replacement Training Unit. We transitioned to the C-47 and learned how to function smoothly as a two-man cockpit crew, since all our previous flying had been single pilot. We had 90 days of intensive ground school and flight training covering both day and night VFR and IFR long cross country flights in single ship and large multi-aircraft formations. We also had simulated supply and parachute infantry drops and actual glider towing. I even got 4 hours at the controls of a CG-4A glider. In November, I received orders to join the 14th Air Force in Kunming, China.
As ‘human cargo’ in various Air Transport Command C-46 and C-87 aircraft we completed our transit to China; via Florida, Puerto Rico, South America, across the south Atlantic, Africa and India. I arrived in Kunming, China in December ‘44 and “reported in” to HQ, 14th Air Force, where I was assigned to the 69th Composite Wing, 27th Troop Carrier Squadron.
I flew C-47s out of unimproved bases in Kunming, Yunnanyi, Chengkung, Liangshan, and Tchinkiang. Of over 600 hours flight time, 504 were combat hours in all kinds of weather over inhospitable terrain in support of Chinese ground troops in the Salween River Campaign to reopen the eastern terminus of the Burma Road. We also supported our own Office of Strategic Services (forerunner of the CIA) on clandestine missions in Japanese held territory all throughout the area of operation. Some flights were as long as 10 hours with P-51’s flying escort to airdrop supplies to operators on their reconnaissance and intelligence gathering activities. On one occasion we landed behind the enemy lines on a make-shift landing strip to pick up an important critically injured OSS officer then returned him to a hospital. For these activities we were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and two Air Medals.
After the Japanese surrender, the 27th’s troop carrier aircraft ferried troops and supplies in China, helped to evacuate prisoners of war, and flew mercy missions in China, French Indochina, and Manchuria. The squadron finally received orders for home in November ’45. We closed down Liangshan and left the equipment for the Chinese Nationalist Forces. We flew into Calcutta and awaited sea transportation to Portland, OR. Finally, in late December, we boarded the SS Marine Robin for our 28 day non-stop cruise. The long voyage home was made tolerable by over 200 Army nurses aboard ship also returning home.
I was released from active duty in February ’46. I returned to Oklahoma to complete my college education and also joined the 456th RTU, an active reserve replacement training unit in Oklahoma City at Tinker Airbase. My military flying continued in the North American AT-6s, Beech C-45s and Curtiss C-46s. My unit was re-designated as the 456th Bomb Squadron (L) in 1947 and we converted to the single pilot, eight gun nose, Douglas B-26B. I thoroughly enjoyed the bombing and gunnery exercises this new assignment brought with it.
I was able to combine my first love of the cattle industry with my new found piloting skills. I left school in the spring of 1947 and took a job with Porter & Huelett Cattle Company in Amarillo, TX as a flying cowboy operating not only a horse, but a Stinson Voyager and Beechcraft Bonanza throughout the west and Midwest on company and personal business. The company was happy to support my continued service in the reserves and arranged their flight schedules around my commutes to Oklahoma City for reserve duty. West Texas is known for its violent and unpredictable weather. I managed the weather well in flight but wasn’t so fortunate on the ground. A tornado roared through and destroyed the Bonanza in its T-hangar, while another storm ripped the Stinson from its tie-downs at one of the outlying ranches. That was in late 1949, plus the company was also suffering from financial downturns, so I found myself in need of another job.
I returned to Oklahoma City and joined my dad and brothers in the family livestock commission business on the stockyards. I continued my reserve flying and occasionally picked up some flying jobs with local businesses. But something was brewing on the Korean peninsula.
I was recalled to active duty in March 1951 and selected for an assignment to the Strategic Air Command. I was sent to Roswell, NM to join the 6th Bomb Wing, 39th Bomb Squadron flying B-29s. After transition training, I became an aircraft commander with my own ten-man crew flying missions all over the Atlantic and Pacific area theater of operations. Acquiring approximately 40 hours of pilot observer time in the newer B-36 Peacemaker, I was offered a regular commission and transfer to the B-36s, but that would have required an indefinite or prolonged commitment to stay on active duty. I didn’t want a military career at the time, plus was a little homesick for the smell of the stock yards. I declined their offer and separated from active service in March ’53 then returned to the reserves, inactive status, having logged over 2,800 hours of military flight time. I retired out of the inactive reserves in 1972 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
I returned to Oklahoma City and while visiting the local Beechcraft dealer to catch up on all the current gossip, I heard of a pilot opening with a company in Denver. I had hardly unpacked and got some laundry done before I was off to Colorado for an interview with Mud Control Laboratories, Inc. They hired me immediately. Thus began another year and a half of flying the west and Midwest, this time in a new Beechcraft D-50 Twin Bonanza.
However, with the resurgence of the cattle market and the beckoning of my dad and brothers, I was enticed to return to Oklahoma City in early 1955 and rejoin them at the stockyards. This time my entrepreneurial spirit was in full swing and I decided to try my hand as an independent cattle order buyer. This type of work allowed me to still pursue my flying endeavors. Again through my local connections, I discovered that Fred Morgan Oil needed a pilot to fly their Piper Apache from time to time and that W & W Steel Co. had the same requirement with their Twin Bonanza. I roamed as far as San Diego and Las Vegas in the Apache and as far as Greenbriar, WV in the Twin Bonanza on a regular basis.
Many of my flying buddies were taking jobs with the airlines. So, while on a trip to Dallas, I dropped by American Airlines, filled out employment forms, they said they’d call me if a job became available, then I returned home and forgot all about it. Several months later, I got a call on a Friday morning from American Airlines telling me that I had a job and training started in LaGuardia, NY at 0800 Monday morning, three days hence. I was right in the middle of a cattle buy on behalf of one of my best customers that would take several weeks to wrap up and was also scheduled to fly trips for both of my aircraft owners in the coming month. I felt it necessary to honor my prior commitments and to give proper notice. I asked American Airlines for a later class date, they replied, ‘Nope, take it or leave it.’ So in the period of one short phone call, I was hired and fired by American Airlines. So much for my airline career, which has to be one of the shortest on record.
In 1957 The Standard Oil Company of Ohio (Sohio) was looking for pilots. An employee of the company was a friend of my dad’s next door neighbor and remembered that Mr. Jones had a son who flew in WWII and Korea and wondered if I might be interested. I got the message and figured, ‘what the heck, nothing ventured, nothing gained,’ and considered this an opportunity to join the large energy company with an office in Oklahoma City, operating several aircraft and perhaps offering more opportunities for advancement and better job stability. I was put in touch with Harry Sievers, the chief pilot, and we immediately hit it off. This time I was allowed to tidy up my affairs and give proper notices. I started with Sohio in June 1957.
My first assignment was to report to Spartan Aeronautics in Tulsa, OK to help complete the installation and certification of the first ever Collins flight director and autopilot in a Lockheed L-18 Lodestar. After completion of the maintenance, test flights and awarding of the Supplemental Type Certificate by the CAA, the Lodestar returned to its base in Oklahoma City but to my dismay, without me.
Sohio owned a D-18 Twin Beech based in Billings, MT used to support its exploration and drilling operations. The pilot had unexpectedly given short notice in the fall of 1957. So, with me being low man on the totem pole I was sent to fill that position. I operated that aircraft, and later a new D-50 Twin Bonanza, single pilot all over the western United States, Canada, and Alaska until April 1960, when I was told to bring the airplane and myself on permanent transfer to the home office in Cleveland, OH.
In Cleveland, I meshed with all the other pilots and rotated as Captain and Co-captain on the two Lockheed Lodestars and the Twin Bonanza. In April 1965 a Beechcraft King Air 90 joined the fleet replacing the Twin Bonanza. The first jet, a DH-125-1A was added in 1967. A Handley Page Jetstream was added in 1970, but the early Jetstream airframes with the Turbomecca Astazou engines had some operational and reliability issues, so it was soon replaced by a Hawker HS-125-400. In 1974 a Learjet LR-35 replaced the King Air making us an all jet fleet. Along the way the two Viper-powered Hawkers were replaced by the 700 series Hawker with the Garrett TFE-731 fan engines. With the acquisition of a copper company one of their Lear 35’s was brought to Cleveland to round out the home office fleet to four aircraft; two Lear 35s and two Hawker 700s.
In 1974, I was promoted to Chief Pilot. Due to ever-increasing operations in Alaska and the necessity for trips to Europe, a longer range Dassault Falcon 50 was added in 1980. Even with my added administrative and management duties, I maintained currency and proficiency in all the aircraft and continued to fly the line, both domestic and international, right up to the bitter end of my flying career with my mandatory company retirement on November 1, 1983 due to Sohio having adopted the airline age-60 rule. Not quite ready to strap on the proverbial rocking chair, I used several aviation contacts in the Cleveland area to continue flying as a contract pilot for Sherwin Williams, Hanna Mining, and Eddie Debartalo to name a few.
My wife finally had her fill of the Cleveland winters and with no permanent job to hold us there, she gave me the ultimatum: “Bob, I’m returning to the warmer climate of my previous residence in Atlanta and you are welcome to come along.’” So in August 1984 before another winter set in, we relocated to Atlanta and Robert L. Jones Pilot Services, Inc was born.
With business cards and resume in hand, I started hawking my services and making acquaintances and new friends throughout the area. I immediately caught on with Mike Pickett, owner/operator of Aviation South based at Epps Aviation flying the Piper Navajo Chieftain and Cheyenne III on both private and charter flights. However, the rigors of operating single pilot charter with the erratic on-demand hours began to wear on me and I longed to return to the two man crew, jet operations, I enjoyed so much.
A fortuitous trip to Fulton County Airport, knocking on doors handing out resumes and drinking coffee, did the trick. I started picking up trips with Home Depot and Fuqua Flight on their Hawker 600, 700 and later 800s. The flying got so frequent that I gave up charter work and flew almost exclusively with those two companies. In 1992 Fuqua purchased a new Bombardier Challenger 601-3A. That purchase put the Hawker 800 into retirement and put me out of the pilot rotation. When management realized they would be losing my services, an executive decision was made to use one of the pilot training slots that came with the new aircraft purchase to send me to school. So at age 69 I acquired a new jet type rating. Well, so much for being washed up and retired at age 60.
I flew for another six years, rounding out a wonderful career flying around the globe piloting the Challenger with Fuqua Flight, White Cloud Charter, and other operators on occasion. I retired a second time at age 75 in 1999 with 14,865 hours of safe flying.
NOTE: In 2016, Bob Jones was nominated for and awarded the FAA Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award.
A long story, a long productive life. A cowboy from Oklahoma trained as a pilot during WWII, and as with so many of the Greatest Generation, used his training and experience to make a success of his life doing what he loved the best: Flying. Bob will be 98 years old this October, 2021. He is fighting a blood disease but stated, “I plan to be around in 2023 to celebrate my 100th birthday.”
A warning to all airplane owners: lock up your aircraft.
American Airlines – A Veteran’s Story: My flying history | News