It’s hard to tell by looking


I’LL BET that the man in the front cockpit of that T-28 doesn’t look much different to you from any other instructor pilot you’ve known.

It’s hard to tell by looking, but Jamie V. Forbes was one of those few men whose sheer quiet character taught me more than the hundred-some hours we flew together.

“This isn’t in the syllabus, but you probably ought to know how to do a snap-roll off the top of a loop,” he said.  And, “Settle down, Mister Bach.  The airplane flies itself.  All you have to do it guide it.”

Words I still hear him speak, and it’s been 55 years since.  Jamie Forbes was hired to teach us how to control an airplane; what he taught was how to control ourselves.  He did that without a word on the subject, he showed us by being the man he was.  Never once did he raise his voice, even when we screwed up something awful, spinning out of the top of our loop instead of snap-rolling, drifting below approach minimums, distracted setting some radio frequency.

“You might want to notice your altitude about now, Mister Bach, unless you intend for us to purchase some agricultural real estate…”

He didn’t say look out for this, look out for that.  “You can do anything you want to in an airplane,” always that hint of a smile, “until you hit the ground.”

Not, “Stay calm when you’re flying, no matter what.”   He showed us, his even voice through the midst of what sometimes seemed to us like hell breaking loose.  He let us find the words.  My translation, “If I’ve got to be scared in an airplane, I’ll be scared after I land.  Right now I fly the machine.”  Mister Forbes figured our take would last longer than his, that his job was to be these kids’ example of what a pilot ought to be.

If we met today, my old instructor would neither recognize me nor remember we had flown together.  Best I can tell, he had thousands of students.  Yet who he was soaked so deeply into who I am that when time came to name the hero of Hypnotizing Maria, to show the heart of the truest pilot I could imagine, I called him Jamie Forbes.

You and I remember the best instructors in our lives.  What we may not remember, chances are, is that we’ve been the same for someone else, and never knew it.



2 thoughts on “It’s hard to tell by looking

  1. I knew Jamie in the 1970’s when he operated Robbins Airborne in Gulfport, MS. Also his son, Jamie Junior, and I were partners in a Piper PA-12 for a while. Jamie Senior was still just like you describe him, always cool, non-judgmental, humorous, full of stroreis. He died in Memorial Hospital at Gulfport, of which I was CEO, and was just the same as always as he faced his own demise. I recall a day in 1976 or ’77 as a Commercial ticket student when we were returning from a charter in a Cherokee 6. I was high on final and was trying to slip to a reasonable approach angle, only to have Jamie reach down and dump the flaps, push the wheel forward briskly, and he said dryly “This is what flaps are for, Mr. Burton.” He was a class guy. Thanks for remembering him in your writing, which I only found today.

    Ron Burton
    Meridian, MS

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