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Friday, March 4, 2011

Godspeed, Good Bye and Thank You, Capt. Wiley

Each name on the masthead of Business & Commercial Aviation magazine has a rich personal history associated with it. Among the more interesting is that of Contributing Editor John Wiley whose email address – -- suggests there are stories to be told.
By way of background, his c.v. reveals him to be a product of the Southland with a razor-sharp mind – a Mensa member, actually – given to self-deprecation and laughter, but intolerant of bureaucracy and self-important poobahs, and who had a special love of literature, ideas, his family and airplanes.
After graduating from the University of Georgia, he joined the U.S. Air Force and did two tours in Nam as a forward air control pilot (for those too young to know, that meant he flew low and slow over a jungle waiting for bad guys to shoot at him and (hopefully) miss, so he could then call in his F-4 friends to address those evincing such temerity and disrespect.) Having survived that, he flew corporate for a bit and then joined Piedmont, which became USAirways and made a career of it.
Throughout much of that time, he made the most of his English degree, writing stories that ultimately found their way to BCA, as we call ourselves. If a manuscript was informative, thoughtful, entertaining, artful – inevitably it was another Wiley, another winner. In fact, two of his features garnered Aerospace Journalist of the Year Awards.
As you probably suspect, something has happened. Something bad.
Last Friday, John went to his local gym in Marietta, Georgia, and it ended there. Working out on a stationary bike. He'd survived a war as a low level target, survived the vagaries of a post-deregulation airline career, and even a tour in Baghdad last year assessing airline safety. And in the end, it was a bike going nowhere that won. He'd probably appreciate the irony, if not the results, because he left behind people he loved, particularly his wife, Joyce, daughters, Ashley and Stephanie, and his mother. We grieve with and for them.
My fellow editor/writers were glued to John for his stories, both printed and spoken. He was full of them, and they were rich. He was a pilot's pilot, which we air-headed types appreciated, but lordy how he could tell a story.
One that comes to mind (and I've likely got some details wrong) was about a time early in his flight training when he asked a crusty major or colonel if he could simply sit in a particular airplane he was to fly the next day for the first time and learn all the switches, instruments and such so they'd be familiar once airborne.
The officer agreed, but warned him to stay clear of the red handle.
Why's that, sir?
Lieutenant, that handle releases the drop tank and requires about ten hours of maintenance to put everything right. So don't touch it.
Yes, sir.
Off he goes to the airplane and spends a half hour or so going over everything. He climbs down from the cockpit, walks back to the commanding officer and salutes.
Get good and familiar with the airplane, son?
Yes, sir, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow's flight. But there's just one thing.
What's that?
There's something binding that red handle. It's really tough to move.
A long, cold stare. Then… 
Lieutenant, I'm going to be watching you…

John likened as how it was that way throughout his Air Force career – unsmiling senior officers watching him with suspicion. He simply did not fit a mold. But oh, how he filled a life. And we are all the richer and lesser for it, now that it's done.
God bless and godspeed on what's next, Captain Wiley. Thank you so much for the flight you gave us. It was spectacular.

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