Monday 12 August 2013

Ace Abbott - His Story

When I first got in touch with Ace Abbott about the concept of doing a 'Share Your Story' for this blog, his immediately rose to the opportunity. Little did I know how diverse his career has been and many experiences he has endured in his lifetime; I was speechless when his email came through with his story, no really, I was!

Meet Ace Abbott - An author and retired commercial pilot who flew F-4 Phantoms in the 60s, private Learjets in the 70s, and spent 22 years as a Boeing 727 Captain as he tells his story with us and shares some details about his book, 'The Rouge Aviatior'.

Ace in the Captains seat of a 727

Although I grew up on a small, hardscrabble farm in The Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York I was exposed to aviation at a very early age. In 1950 when I was eight years old, my father purchased a Taylor Craft airplane and sitting in the right seat of the old T-craft with pop at the controls planted the first seed for my aviation career.

An example of a Taylor Craft Airplane
The Taylor Craft was tied down in the back-forty hayfield and after the hay was harvested we would launch the old bird. The takeoff roll involved dodging woodchuck holes on a makeshift runway that was well less than 2,000 feet. After takeoff most flights would start with a climb to 1,000 feet, a full spin, followed by a loop. Now that the kinks and bugs had been removed from the aviator and the air machine we would go around to the local farms and engage in simulated strafing attacks on neighboring farmers on their tractors.
In 1952 a hurricane came up the East Coast and its tenacious tentacles reached into Upstate New York. The severe damage of downed trees and power outage, etc. was totally trumped by the death of the old T-craft, as it was shredded into several pieces, despite being tied down. 13 years later, as I was approaching the receipt of my BA in education at SUNY at Cortland I slowed up briefly while walking by 33 the Air Force recruiter’s office and he immediately coerced me inside where I engaged in a battery of aptitude tests. Two weeks later I was informed that I had been accepted to U.S. Air Force officer’s training school (OTS) and pilot training. The Vietnam War was just heating up and the consideration of being a fighter pilot was an adventure that I could not refuse.
In November, 1965 I jumped in the old Chevy convertible and headed for Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio Texas. After three months of learning to make the “perfect bed,” shine shoes to the glare hurt your eyes, and engage in military indoctrination while learning to march in step, I was ordained to be an officer and a gentleman (second Lieutenant). With the convertible top down on the 59’ Chevy convertible I ventured across West Texas and found my way to Williams Air Force Base for the 13 months of undergraduate pilot training (UPT).

Williams Air Force Base where Ace done his UPT
Our class, 67F, started with 74 aspiring young aviators. Thirteen months later exactly half of them had “washed out.” I was a physical education major in college and competing with Air Force Academy graduates who had just achieved their master’s degree in aeronautical engineering at Purdue left me in their wake turbulence during the academic phase. Despite not knowing what “PSI” was all about and not having a clue about Bernoulli’s Theorem, I managed to excel on check rides and finished in the top one- third of my class which allowed me to get one of the more coveted assignments to the F-4 Phantom.

Ace posing with a T-34

Prior to flying the fabulous Phantom it was necessary to jump through a few additional loops that were required to become “combat ready.” As a GIB (guy-in-back) or second-in-command I had to learn how to operate the airborne intercept radar, inertial navigation, along with other nuances that were part of being a GIB. This two-month training program at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona was followed by a two-week survival training school at Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington. It was then off to Florida’s Homestead Air Force Base for a one-week sea survival training program, followed by a short drive across the peninsula to MacDill Air Force Base to finally commence the F-4 Phantom training.
The six-month training program was filled with scintillating experiences and led to a status as a combat ready F-4 Phantom pilot. One week prior to graduation the Pueblo incident occurred— the capture by the North Koreans of an American intelligence ship— and rather than straight to Southeast Asia to fight the air war over Vietnam I went to South Korea in preparation for another war with North Korea. This assignment kept me in Japan and Korea for the next 3 ½ years until I elected to head for what we called, “the hard cruel civilian world.” Flying the F-4 Phantom all over the Far East was an ongoing adventure but it was clear to me that my personality profile which led to the title of the book, The Rogue Aviator, would prevent me from having a successful Air Force career despite my aviator skills. The first third of my book is dedicated to my Air Force experiences and every person who served in any branch of the military will enjoy reading some of the radical experiences of Ace Abbott.

Ace with an F-4 Phantom at Oshkosh Airshow 
Upon returning to the hard “cruel civilian world” in March 1971 I briefly pursued a possible career as a golf pro but soon found out I would starve to death in this profession. I used my G.I. Bill to obtain a Learjet type rating and that opened the doors for employment. The next eight years were filled with adventuresome experiences flying a wide variety of passengers which included numerous celebrities such as: Jack Nicklaus, Jimmy Buffett, Bob Marley, John Glenn, Evil Knievel, Olivia Newton-John, Crosby,, Stills Nash and Young, just to mention a few. In the early 70s most of the kingpins in the burgeoning illegal drug trade had set up shop in South Florida. On Tuesday I might fly a wealthy Palm Beach socialite and the following day, in the same airplane, I would be flying unsavory drug dealers. I never knowingly flew illegal drugs as the drug dealer clients were usually moving money, making deals, or partying in Las Vegas and other high-end recreational venues.

Learjet similar to what Ace would've flown
After eight years of living on the beeper with an erratic social and personal life I was able to grab a big brass ring that put me in the left seat of a Boeing 727. I was hired by Ryan International Airlines to fly Emery airfreight and train all the new pilots that had been flying Cessna Citations and Learjets. After three years of being a “night freight dog.” I ventured off into the unstable world of start-up passenger airlines by accepting employment with Air Atlanta. This was an airline that catered to the business class rider and our 727s had been modified from the usual 150 seats to 88 seats. First-class meals were served throughout the cabin and the flight crews received them as well. I was hired as a captain but my initial training qualified me in all three seats. It was a very unique situation as I would bounce from the flight engineer’s panel, to the captain’s chair and/or the first officer/copilot position.

Air Atlanta 727 that Ace flew
We had a wonderful airline with the fabulous esprit de corps and camaraderie when the founder and CEO, Mr. Michael Hollis “pulled the plug’” and announced that the airline would be shutting down. This was an omen for my future. From March 1987 until September 1997 I was employed with a total of 10 different airlines as a 727 Captain in an FAA 121 airline operation. During that period I encountered five airline shutdowns (Chapter 11) and my average salary as a 727 captain for this ten-year period was $35,000 per year. The subtitle of my book is “the back alleys of aviation” and I experienced most of those back alleys during this time frame. During this period I started thinking that perhaps there was a need for an exposé regarding the greedy and unscrupulous entrepreneurs that ran some of these “fly-by-night” airlines. A chapter in my book, The Rogue Aviator, is titled The Turbulent Ten. It exemplifies my 36 year career which I refer to as “frequent oscillations between the aviation penthouse in the aviation outhouse.”
In September 1997, while surviving on a minimum wage job, I received a phone call from one of my old aviator colleagues informing me that TransMeridian Airlines was hiring. I immediately accepted employment with what appeared to be a relatively well-run company. However, the always unstable world of “nonskid airlines” led to a furlough only a few months later. I returned to my minimum-wage job at the golf course under the premise that my career was over. Several months later I was fortunate enough to be home when I received a call from Trans Meridian Airlines asking if I wanted to go to Belgium for a six month contract flying 727s for TNT airfreight. I initially rejected this proposal as I was tired of chasing airplanes around the world. I called my good friend Marylee and she talked me into taking the job. Her career coaching was very effective and I called TMA just in time to secure the final available captain’s slot.

TransMeridian Airlines 727 that Ace went on to fly in Belgium
After training at Copenhagen, Denmark with Sterling International Airlines, myself and my 14 TMA colleagues headed for Liege, Belgium where our employer housed us in a high-end business man’s hotel. It was real pleasant “digs” compared to the previous ten years of cheap hotels and filth-dirty crowded “crew pads” on the other side of the tracks. I decided six months was too long to be away from my girlfriend so I gave her a long-distance proposal which she readily accepted. A few days off allowed me to catch a jump seat back to Florida and we were married.
TNT freight had a very liberal jump seat policy and allowed us to take our girlfriends and wives along on all of our trips. A few of our garden spot layovers were: Oslo, Norway; Helsinki, Finland; Edinburgh, Scotland; Paris; London; Barcelona, Spain; Portugal, Ireland, Geneva, Switzerland; Vienna, Austria; Budapest Hungary, and a few other locations in Scandinavia. The icing on the cake of this European Vacation/honeymoon was the Mercedes-Benz luxury sedans that met us on the freight ramp to escort us to our five-star hotel. For my wife and me it was the ultimate European vacation and the price was right.
When the contract ended I returned to the US and was soon shuffled off to Airbus training since the company had a few A320 Airbus aircraft. After my first simulator ride I decided that I wanted to be a pilot rather than a computer operator and walked away from a six-figure job. A very apologetic and condescending letter to the TMA management later paid a nice dividend. At age 57 I felt my aviation career was over and headed back to the golf course to commence my new career as a golf pro. Several months later I received a call from TMA informing me that they had acquired some 727 aircraft and they wanted me to return to work for them.  I returned to TMA and spent the last three years of my aviation career as a check airman in the 727.
'The Rogue Aviator' 
Upon retirement at age 60 I ventured into my new career as a golf teaching pro but I remained in close contact with many of my old pilot colleagues. Two of my best friend pilots, Jim Keeling, a colleague from my Learjet days, and Marylee Bickford, and aviatrix who worked with me at four different airlines, continually goaded and cajoled me into writing a book about my radical aviation career. In mid-2008 I took the bait and commenced the project. The third and final edition of The Rogue Aviator has now garnered 34 reader reviews at Amazon and 30 of them are five star reviews. I have been a featured author at the Oshkosh Airshow for the previous three years (2009-2012) and have twice delivered speeches there relating to my second book, Dead Tired: Pilot Fatigue- Aviation’s Insidious Killer. (

As an aviation author I have discovered that book marketing is more challenging and time-consuming than being a professional pilot. I have attended innumerable airshows for book signings, and frequently address such groups as local EAA chapters, Flying Club’s, Chamber of Commerce groups, senior living centers, etc. to host book presentations and signings. I have also engaged in nearly 50 radio interview. The Rogue Aviator was recently vetted by Barnes & Noble and I will be hosting book signing events at many of their stores. The book has also been vetted by the Smithsonian Aviation Institution in Washington DC and will soon be available in their gift shops. I write an aviation-themed blog which is readily accessible by going to my website at My last posting is titled: Private Jets- Justifiable Decadence. I also host a program at  titled Ace Abbott’s Aviation Affair. Anyone remotely interested in aviation will enjoy these interviews with veteran pilots.
A couple of excerpts from The Rogue Aviator are as follows:
  • Where was that back-seater? He now bobbed like a fisherman’s cork in the frigid, four-to-six-foot seas of the Pacific Ocean.

  • Unfortunately, trying to find a person in rough seas with only a head visible is like trying to find a fly turd in a pepper shaker.

  • Ace was escorted to a cell. When the door closed behind him, he heard only a tiny clank, but its effect was sickeningly deafening. The cell had one piece of furniture: a single bed with no mattress.

  • Ace ventured into the retirement phase with no retirement pension program, but and relationships will leave him forever wealthy.

The final excerpt relates the primary theme of the book: The quality of one’s relationships and experiences trumps all else.

At a book signing for 'The Rogue Aviator'

I would like to take this final opportunity to thank Ace for being able to share his story not only with me, but all aviators across the world and beyond. To call Ace an inspiration would be an understatement -- He is much more that that, continuing to share his story and experiences through his blog and online social network sites, he is what I call, determined... Determined to inspire. Thanks again, Ace.

If you have any questions for Ace, or would simply like to connect with him:

Tweet him - @AceAbbott


Drop a comment here which he will reply to.

I hope you enjoyed,

Pilot Jake

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