Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

29 July 2007

Hating The Helicopter Industry

Getting ready to leave for a weekend of canoeing and fun, I logged onto one of my helicopter websites for a final peek. One topic jumped out at me right away: Two news helicopters had just (in fact within that last hour) collided in flight while covering a “car chase” in Phoenix, Arizona. Onboard each helicopter was a pilot/reporter and a cameraman. Four dead, total. The other three(!) helicopters abandoned the car chase; they had a new story to cover.

Immediately, due to the incredible power and reach of the internet, I was able to click on links to the crash. One of them was a video from one of the helicopters actually involved in the midair, complete with the now-dead pilot’s narration, ending with a tense, terse, “Oh, jeez…” just as the image from the camera went haywire.

Mere words cannot express the sadness I feel whenever I hear about fatal helicopter crashes. They hit close. Really close. I can imagine the pilots in the cockpit…happily doing their thing and loving what they’re doing (it’s a trait we all share – no helicopter pilot hates his job)…unaware that they are moments from death…until it suddenly starts to go horribly wrong. I can feel their puzzled helplessness in those last few seconds as they struggle desperately to comprehend what’s happening so they can do something about it. Because that is what we all do up there. It wrenches at my heart and my gut. I didn’t know the pilots who died in Phoenix on Friday, but I’ve known plenty of others.

Then again, death is part of the risk. It is the ultimate price of not doing my job perfectly. I’ve said before, there are no “average” or even “pretty decent” helicopter pilots. You have to be damn good. Otherwise you’re damn dead. And sometimes, even being damn good isn’t enough. By all accounts, the guys in Phoenix were damn good pilots. And yet…

Once upon a time I was a radio traffic-reporter. I’d fly around for two-and-a-half hours, chronicling the travails of the New York City morning highway commuters in little 30-second reports. Composing the reports was not hard, but I found myself spending too much time staring at the roads below and not enough time watching for other helicopters in the busy New York airspace. I knew that, because one day I looked up and saw a corporate helicopter zipping close by from my right-front to left-rear. Luckily, the two pilots onboard saw me well before I saw them and they turned to avoid a collision. They did not say something like, “Watch where you’re f***ing going, willya?” over the radio, but they could have, I guess. That was my wake-up call.

So I know how media pilots can get fixated on what’s happening on the ground and lose what we in the aviation biz call “situational awareness.” Thankfully, it doesn’t happen often. But ironically, the very first pilot/reporter was killed in a mid-air collision. He was a legendary guy named “Captain” Max Schumacher, and he covered ground traffic in Los Angeles for radio station KMPC. He and a police helicopter came together over Dodger Stadium one afternoon in 1966 with the same tragic results.

Okay, shit happens…get over it…move on. So they tell me. But accidents of this type bother me. I know that I’m good, but am I damn good? Man, I hope so. I try to be, is all I can say.

I do know one thing though. I am soon going to work for a guy who is buying a helicopter to use for his business. He’s a conservative guy, and has already told me that he wants the ship equipped with thunderstorm-detection equipment called a “Strike Finder.” It really does just what it says: detects lightning strikes – and lightning is what defines a thunderstorm. The Strike Finder is kind of…well, pricey. And we helicopter pilots usually fly low enough to visually avoid thunderstorms. But I’m not arguing! In fact, I’m going to suggest that we also add a collision-avoidance system to the instrument package. More tools, man – I want as many as I can get.

So we did go canoeing as planned this weekend: Matt, Alisha, Gracie and me. The day could not have been more perfect and the river was beautiful. The pictures taken show four seemingly happy people smiling and having a good time. I tried – didn’t want to spoil the others’ fun - but my heart and my head were not in it. They were with the families of the dead pilots and cameramen in Phoenix as they now try to deal with the aftermath of their shattered lives.
I thought about their colleagues; both aviation and t.v. news are small industries and everyone knows each other. Must be a lot of grief out there right now. I would’ve preferred to stay home and be alone with my gloomy thoughts.

It usually takes me a while to process and work through these events. Sometimes quickly, sometimes not, eventually I do. Otherwise I’d never be able to get back in the cockpit. For I am a helicopter pilot. It is what I do, and I love my job.

But sometimes I really hate this business.

26 July 2007

Jose-Luis, The Conclusion

You remember our former employee, Jose-Luis? I've written about him here and here. He was a piece of unfinished business in Guanaja, and I wondered how that story was going to end? I'll bet you were too.

To recap: Jose-Luis was a likable, seemingly great guy with a perpetual smile and a wife and three kids, one of whom was a newborn. He was also a crack addict. And he got fired for various reasons but mostly because the Boss became aware of his little drug problem. Lalo and I sat him down and had the usual Come To Jesus talk. We'd help him out, but there were strings attached. In return, he had to uphold his end of the bargain we were making with him. Getting his job back would not be simple or easy. First, he would have to prove that he was completely off drugs and more importantly, that he could stay off them. Secondly, he would be subject to regular drug-testing. Tearful apologies were made and sincere-sounding promises were proffered. I left the meeting skeptical but hopeful. I liked Jose-Luis; he was a really nice guy.

Jobs are scarce in Guanaja. Even so, Jose-Luis got himself one as a deckhand on the "yacht," the scary-looking rustbucket ferry that makes regular death-defying runs between Guanaja and the mainland town of Trujillo. But he quit that when someone stole his overnight bag from his bunk (probably another crewmember) and the captain of the vessel wouldn't do anything about it (might've been he who stole it). I chastised Jose-Luis for quitting before finding another job. That possibility evidently never occurred to him. His search for a new job was not exactly diligent.

The second indication of trouble came to light when Jose-Luis would send his kids around at night to various people on the Cay saying, "Could you give us 100 lempira? Mr. Bob said it would be okay and that he'd pay you back." The people knew that this wasn't the case. Guanaja is just not that big a town, and everyone knows everyone else's business. (It's pretty creepy, actually.)

Additionally, Jose-Luis would attempt to "borrow" money every time he saw me. Two-hundred lempira here, three-hundred lempira there. "Can you buy me a pack of cigarettes?" It started to get out of hand. I don't mind helping a guy out, but I was starting to feel like I was being taken advantage of.

Many of our employees had no decent shoes. They'd come to work at our construction site in sandals or ratty, falling-apart sneakers (no OSHA in Honduras!). So one of the things I started doing was to have a friend in the States buy pairs of $17 El Cheapo Wal-Mart sneakers in various sizes and send them down on our plane. Then I'd give them out to the ones who needed them most. Jose-Luis got a pair, of course.

One recent Saturday night, Lalo, Jose-Luis and I went out. We needed Lalo as our interpreter, as Jose-Luis doesn't speak English and my Spanish was still rudimentary at best. We started off at Manati where we feasted on some of Hansito's fine, authentic German food, lots of rum and a little Coke. Guess who paid? From there we went over to another bar, Castaways. I opened a tab. Lalo joined a spirited game of dominos; Jose-Luis was talking to some people he knew; I was talking with another Bob, the owner of the joint. We stayed a while, but not too late as I'm not exactly a party-all-night kind of guy anymore.

As we got ready to leave, one of the bartendresses handed me the bill: 850 lempira! I didn't have that much cash on me, but I said I'd come back on Monday to pay it (strangely, my credit was pretty good at all of the bars in Guanaja).

I did go back, when I was sober, in the cold light of day and scrutinized the bar tab. Turns out our little friend Jose-Luis was magnanimously buying his friends rounds of drinks. And not just drinks, but cigarettes too and frescos (sodas) for those who wanted them. What a guy! I guess he figured that he had a good gravy train going. Owner-Bob was laughing, Me-Bob wasn't. "Man, that guy was buying drinks for his friends all the time you guys were here and putting them on your tab," Owner-Bob said. "I thought you knew." Hey, I was already pretty shit-faced from all the drinking we did at Manati - what did I know? Or care?

Now look, the whole night only cost me about $90.00 for the three of us. Bear in mind that I was a willing participant, and I did have a good time too. So I'm not complaining in the least about the money. It's the principle of the thing. Why do people so unashamedly take advantage of your generosity? I'll never understand that.

Compounding this was the strong suspicion that Jose-Luis was not as drug-free as he'd promised to be. We learned that when Lalo and he got back to the Cay on that weekend night of drinking, a woman we know said that our little bro' showed up at her home, knocking on her door at two in the morn, stinking of booze, and trying to sell her some shoes...er, sneakers. Only one reason why a guy would be trying to sell a pair of shoes at two in the morning, folks: to buy a hit of crack.

There was more, but why bother? Lalo and I have our limits. And we'd both reached them. We realized that we'd made a mistake. Of all of the worthy causes in Guanaja, Jose-Luis was apparently, and sadly, not one of them. Hey, it sucks being wrong about somebody, but you know what? Sometimes you just are. Oh well.

When Jose-Luis heard that I was leaving Guanaja, he was frantically trying to get ahold of and speak with me. Unfortunately, without an interpreter, it was tough. I knew what he was asking of course, and told him as best I could that the gravy train had left the station...Elvis had left the building...Bob had left the island. He would get no more money out of me. He was on his own. Of the money I've "lent" him, I doubt I'll ever see a single lempira of it paid back in any way, shape or form. To the people of Guanaja, "lend" = "give." It's true! Just look in the dictionary...the Honduran dictionary, that is.

And so I found out today that his wife has left him due to his drug use; taken the kids and gone back to...who-knows-where. Good for her, I guess. Jose-Luis is reportedly "working on a fishing boat." I anticipate that when the boat comes back in, he will take his pay and join the other crewmembers in blowing all of it that first night on drugs and alcohol, as is the custom of so very many of the fine, upstanding men-boys who live and work in Guanaja.

Eh- we tried.

16 July 2007

"God Bless You"

So I was sitting in the DMV the other day, in one of those damned uncomfortable plastic chairs, waiting for my car-less friend Jacob to have “Motorcycle” added to his driver’s license so he could legally ride the apparatus he had just purchased. As with most things connected with the DMV, I should have brought a book. In the end, I'm glad I didn't.

It was nine a.m. but the waiting area was already crowded. Across from me sat a very pretty teenage girl, also waiting for someone I suppose. She had her knees up on the chair and was slouching onto them, looking like she was asleep or trying to be, but in any event the expression on her face indicated she was highly unhappy about being out and about at this ungodly hour of the morning. Next to her was a middle-aged white woman, not entirely unattractive but wearing a skirt that was too short….really too short if you know what I mean.

On my side of the room, right next to me was an older black woman. And by “older” I mean nearly my age (51). She had a very young boy in tow who kept calling her, “Mama,” which I thought was odd. And she had this gentle, motherly, calm-but-in-control manner about her; an absolutely noticeable aura that just emanated like the comforting glow of a nightlight in a child’s dark bedroom. Some people can seem frantic and nervous even when they’re sitting still. Not this woman. Just being next to her, I could feel my blood pressure dropping by several points.

Suddenly, the woman in the short skirt across the way sneezed. Before I could say anything, the black woman next to me said, “God bless you!” Short-skirt woman looked up and smiled. A genuine, appreciative, heartfelt smile. “Thank you!” she said. I couldn’t see the face of the woman next to me (although you know I wanted to look), but I’m certain she smiled back. I smiled too.

In fact, I chuckled. Silently and to myself, because I didn’t want them to think I was laughing at them, but I chuckled nonetheless. I was still smarting from some recent back-and-forth blog posts between the littlewoodenman Matthew and me on his blog and this one. They were still fresh in my mind. Matthew, the atheist, maintains that there is no God. I, the Creationist, believe that there is. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

“God bless you.”

I chuckled because it’s funny how God slips insidiously into our daily lives, almost unnoticed, whether we want Him to or not. And I wondered what atheist-boy would have said in such a situation had he been sitting next to me instead of the kindly black woman? “Bless you?” No, that still implies that it’s a contraction for “God bless you,” and in any event atheists apparently do not adhere to the concept of being blessed because where would that blessing come from?

How ‘bout, “Gesundheit!” Well…ahh, no, not that either. It ostensibly means, “To your good health.” But it’s not as God-free an expression as you might imagine either. We think of it as a German expression, but it is actually much older than that. In fact the origin of “gesundheit” is a little bizarre. According to the answers.com website:

The expression is also found in Jewish custom. Although not technically part of Jewish Law (Halacha), the custom of saying "gezuntheit," "tzu gezunt," "labreeyut," or "God bless you" is considered a mannerly custom. It is written in the Talmud that the patriarch Jacob was the first person to become ill before passing on. Before that, people would sneeze and die. When God infused the soul into Man, He "blew it" into Adam's nostrils. Thus, when it came time for the soul to be returned to its Maker, it would leave through the same portal it arrived.

So maybe an atheist would say nothing, simply not acknowledge the sneeze. And maybe that is the proper thing to do after all. It is a bit odd that we feel we must say something when a person sneezes. But "good manners" demands it. Traditions…sheesh.

Perhaps atheists really, truly believe that there is no benefit at all to society in a belief in God. Perhaps atheists really, truly believe that we’d all in fact be better off if we just stopped all of this silly God-believin’ and just went on with our accidentally-evolved lives without (insert sarcastic eyeroll here) "...bringing Him into it all the time." Sorry, but I wouldn’t want to live in such a world.

Sure, the woman next to me in the DMV the other morning could have said nothing. Instead she said, “God bless you,” and the woman across the way smiled and thanked her. Human interaction; just a small bit of common courtesy, things we might gloss over or fail to notice as we go about our busy lives. But God snuck in there and brightened, however slightly and however momentarily, the days of two random strangers.

Well, three if you include me in the deal.

11 July 2007

Why I Love My iPod (Yet again...)

I was in Guanaja, sitting at Graham's as usual. As also usual I was the only customer in the place, which is at the same time both kind of nice and kind of strange. Needless to say, I never have to wait in line to get a drink refill, as I did just last weekend when Matt, Alisha and I went to see a hugely popular cover-band at Seville Quarter.

At Graham's, Alex, one of the bartenders went over and stuck a CD in the player. Suddenly I heard a bunch of familiar songs from the 1980's. I waved him over. "Alex," says I, "can't you find something else other than this crap?"

He looked puzzled. "I...I thought you liked this kind of music?"

"Yes, yes I do," I told him. "I like old music. But if we keep listening to old music, there will never be any new old music," I said.

At this point, Alex gave me a blank look and went, "...Que?" If you've ever seen the old British t.v. series "Fawlty Towers" with Manuel-the-Spanish-waiter you'll know exactly how that went.

For a hilarious little one-minute excerpt of the show, click below. Classic British humor. In this episode, a pushy, hard-of-hearing woman has arrived to check-in. She was trying to jump the line but Polly, who was already handling a customer, was having none of it.

I had to laugh at Alex's' reaction. "Look," I explained. "I love these songs. The bring back memories for me...good memories. But this here," I said, sweeping my arm to encompass all of Guanaja, "these are new experiences. I want to listen to new music to remember them by. That way, I'll always have new old music to listen to."

A look of happy comprehension crossed Alex's face. "Ahh, new old music!" he said, smiling. Then, chuckling at the concept, he scurried off and put some Reggaeton in the CD player. Now for me, Reggaeton is one (small) step above hard-core rap on the Bob Like-O-Meter, but at least it was new.

Flash back twenty-two years or so to 1985: I was living on Long Island, New York. I was single, flying helicopters for a living, riding motorcycles like a madman for fun, and generally having the time of my life. (Okay, things haven't changed much. Life is carefree and fun when you don't have to grow up.) There was some great music out, and a radio station that played nothing but new/alternative/"new wave" music; I've written before about WLIR 92.3.

One of the songs they played, "Summer Love" was from a relatively obscure Scottish band called APB.You've never heard of either, I'm certain. Catchy tune, great harmonies, good lyrics, guitar-driven, great bass line, good dance song...like many of my favorites it should have been a bigger hit than it was.

Summer love
I can't believe this place is real
It's been around since the beginning of life

August evening,
Down to drive back to the city
The orange sun is slowly falling
And your sleepy head is resting on my arm...

It came out in the summer and perfectly captured that special feeling. Who doesn't love summer?

Anyway, you know the drill - I get these songs stuck in remote corners of my brain where they periodically peek their head out and drive me crazy until I search them out and buy them. I had googled APB with no success in the past. But iTunes came to the rescue! Sure enough, APB is in their library and it's now in the iPod.

I worry sometimes that my iPod is getting too oldies-heavy. Because it is. I do have a lot of old songs. But I also try to keep up with what's new. The trouble is, finding new music is tough. Satellite radio is a good place, but I've also picked up new bands from movies and even YouTube vlogs (video blogs). Thus, alongside Elvis, Ricky Nelson and Johnny Cash, the Beau Brummels, ELO and Dylan, I have bands like Blackfield, Widespread Panic, The Village Green, Muse, Gomez, and my current favorites, The Killers. If you're over thirty you may not have heard of any of them.

A friend was looking through my iPod library on my computer. I mentioned that I have 129 songs so far - about half of its capacity. "That means you've spent $129 on music!" he said, aghast. Well...I guess so. I hadn't really thought of it that way. Which is, I suppose, what Apple intended. But no matter! I'm still listening to music, and that's what counts.

06 July 2007

Good-Bye Guanaja

So I’m back in Pensacola, probably permanently. That was fun. Why's it over? For now, let’s just say that you can even get burned-out in a paradise like Guanaja. The man and woman I was working for are without a doubt two of the best people on the planet. It was an honor to work for them. But the time had come to leave.

That decision was not an easy one. I had made many friends, both local and gringo. Not only that, the people of Guanaja had come to rely on having the helicopter available for medical emergencies. So I feel a little badly leaving everyone in the lurch like that.

But it’s not like the helicopter won’t ever be available anymore. The Boss is down there pretty much half of the time. He’s also a helicopter pilot and will be available for medevac flights if/when they come up. So with any luck, my presence should hardly be missed.

So much stuff happened that never made it into the blog. I wrote as much as I could, but even if I’d written full-time I would not have been able to cover it all. And you know me: why use two words when two-thousand will do. My writing has never been known for its sparseness of words or economy.

Immediate plans are to take the summer off – go to the beach and just chill; a Seinfeldian “Summer of Bob” if you will. I like working on cars, and there’s a rusting 1985 VW Camper in the driveway just begging for some bodywork and an engine-swap. (Did you know that late-model VW engines bolt right up to the old-model transmissions? Can you say, “More power!”) Maybe I’ll buy a motorcycle...okay, another motorcycle. The two in cold storage are too old and rare to ride everyday. Plus, I miss my (fire-engine red) Harley Sportster, the best damn motorcycle I ever owned. Man, that thing was fun!

The trouble with the intended “Summer of Bob” is that the job offers have already started coming in, drat the luck. Aviation is weird like that. I may have to take one of them. Also, I would like to do some flight instructing. My friends have been bugging me to get my Flight Instructor Rating for some time. Now looks like a good time. So my vacation might not last long.

It was a wonderful, interesting experience, and I was glad to be part of what we were doing down there. Guanaja is a unique, special place. But you know what? It’s good to be home.

04 July 2007

Dear God

When it comes to UFO’s, I don’t know what to believe. Like I said, I’ve never seen one. On the other hand, I do believe in God. Now there’s a dichotomy; how is that possible? I’ve never seen God either. I just believe that there is a Creator who was and is responsible for life as we know it. In some ways that is illogical, yes, I’ll grant you that. But to me at least, I see convincing signs all over the place. So I’m always disappointed to hear someone say they do not believe in God. I think to myself, “How empty their life must be!”

I have occasionally made references to Matthew and his very entertaining blog, littlewoodenman. Matthew lives in the inland city of Juticalpa, Honduras with his girlfriend Angel where they are working for the Canadian organization CUSO (their website gives no clue as to what "CUSO" stands for). They’re both young, energetic, full of idealism and joy of living. How else do you explain two Canadians uprooting themselves from what must have been a comfortable life and relocating to some Godforsaken part of a third-world country?

In a touching recent post, Mathhew laments the passing of his younger brother Adam, who five years ago succumbed to a disease called vasculitis. You can (and should) read the whole post here. In it, Matthew says something I find disturbing.

“As an atheist, I don’t have the luxury of believing that Adam is now, somehow, in a better place. I simply don’t know where he is. And I’m fine with that, considering. I’d be no less sad about it than I am now if I truly believed he was in Heaven.”

I was going to leave a comment on Matthew’s blog, but I decided instead to answer him here. So here goes:

Dear Matthew,

I am so sorry to hear of your pain regarding the loss of your brother Adam. I know how hard it must still be for you. Some things we never truly and completely get over. Especially the things that seem so senseless and unfair…the things no one can adequately explain.

But I am also sorry to hear you claim that you are an atheist, which is to say that you do not believe in God. How very sad.

As a pilot, I’ve been lucky to see this world from a vantage point afforded to relatively few. And it makes me appreciate the beauty of our planet from both above and below the surface, from the macro- and microscopic perspectives. But it also convinces me that this all could not have happened serendipitously or by chance, like some big cosmic accident or happenstance. No, quite the opposite. From what I’ve seen, this world was very deliberately created. Moreover, created just for us!

Now, I’m not going to get all religious on you. Although I was raised as a Catholic, I’ve come to see all religions as various ways of controlling people’s minds and actions. I believe however in a Creator which I and others call God. And I believe that Jesus Christ was the human manifestation of God on our planet. The evidence of this is fairly convincing. But aside from those two things, everything else is open to question. (Expanded spiritual discussion available on request - Ed.)

I know, I know…we cannot prove the existence of God. As the rock group XTC asked in their coincidentally-titled 1986 song, "Dear God," Did you make mankind, or did we make you? Good question. Absent of any solid proof, it’s easy to just assume that God does not in fact exist. It’s not like He talks to us (well, not anymore, although He apparently did at great length once, however He has inexplicably stopped all subsequent communication).

Well, some things just have to be taken on faith. Sure, okay, but where does that faith come from? When we’re young, we merely parrot the beliefs of our parents, whom we trust implicitly. Eventually, we come to our own conclusions. In my own case, I can point to one time (although there have been others) when God absolutely intervened in a very concrete and physical way in my life. To ascribe the outcome to “luck” or “coincidence” or anything else would simply be inaccurate and naive. (Details on request.)

However, believing in God does not mean that I necessarily credit or blame Him for all the good and bad in the world. I don’t blame Him for wars, “the good dying young,” my bad landings, or my dead car battery when I’m already running late for work. Neither do I thank Him on the days when the car does start and I make all the green lights on the way. (Strangely, I do routinely thank Him for my good landings. Hey, I need all the help I can get!)

It gives me great comfort to know that there is a higher power than me – that there is someone I can turn to for guidance and help and strength – that I’m not on my own, cast adrift to fend for myself in the sea of sharks we call “life.” As for you, Matthew, can you not acknowledge the astounding good fortune of “someone” sending you your own personal Angel? Angel! Coincidence? I think not.

Matthew, you even betray your own doubts - your lack of total commitment to being an atheist when you say about your brother, “I simply don’t know where he is.” This tells me that you believe he had/has a soul, that he still exists in some form. Yes! Our lifeforce, our consciousness, our soul - the thing that makes us uniquely us. It continues after we die (and may very well have existed prior to our being born). Where does it come from?

Well, those of us who believe think we know where it comes from. We humans may have slogged and slithered out of the primordial soup, shed our gills and fins and evolved into the walking/talking rocket scientists and rock stars we are now, but how does that explain our sentient consciousness, our innate ability to discern “right” from “wrong?” No other fish or mammal seems to exhibit these peculiar traits. No dog or cat has designed and built a submarine, as far as we know. It wasn’t the dolphins that sent one of their own to the moon. Apes did not produce the iPhone. The Nobel Peace Prize has never been awarded to a giraffe ("Next year, next year!” the giraffes say).

Matthew, you say you’d be no less sad even if you knew he was in Heaven? I disagree. Look, I’m no expert on theology. But it makes me feel good to know that you and Adam will be reunited some day (in Heaven or…wherever), just as I believe I’ll be reunited with my father, and my best friend Jim, whose evidently insurmountable emotional problems caused him to tragically commit suicide at age twenty-five.

And I do believe that. I wish you would too.

01 July 2007

Flying Objects

Do you believe in UFO's? Such an emotional issue, such passion on both sides. I know plenty of people who summarily dismiss even the possibility of UFOs as childish rubbish not even worthy of discussion. And yet others believe just as vehemently in their existence.

I used to live in one of the nation's hot-spots for UFO sightings. The Pensacola suburb of Gulf Breeze, Florida was the home of Ed Walters, a building contractor who claimed to have sighted and been visited by aliens on numerous occasions beginning in 1987. He even took photographs of their craft, the authenticity of which is still debated to this day. His story was chronicled in the book, "The Gulf Breeze Sightings."

There is a segment of society that vigorously, fervently debunks any such "flying saucer" stories. The debunkers went after Walters with great gusto. He was branded as a kook and a faker, and is still regarded rather unkindly in some circles. We haven't heard much from Walters lately, and in fact reports of UFO sightings have dropped off too.

For as long as I lived in Gulf Breeze and the Pensacola area (which was during Walters’ purported sightings), I never saw a single UFO. As a pilot, my eyes are always turned skyward (watching planes, the weather, etc.). But I've never seen anything even remotely puzzling or inexplicable. Some of my friends have though. They've seen lights that behaved in very strange, non-customary ways - at least, non-customary as we currently understand physics. And my friends are debatably not idiots or LSD-takers; they typically do not wear hats of tin-foil. You can read more about the Gulf Breeze controversy
here. I think it gives a fairly objective overview of the events.

I bring this up because in his blog, a friend of mine (and current helicopter pilot for PHI), Hal Johnson has a link to another blog by a guy named Kevin Randle. Randle is a former Viet Nam helicopter pilot and author who's been involved in the subject of UFO's since the 1970's. Randle's blog is called, "
A Different Perspective."

As far as modern "Ufology" is concerned, it all starts with an incident near Roswell, New Mexico back in June of 1947 (as the U.S. Army Air Forces was becoming the separate U.S. Air Force).

Now, depending on whom you believe, either an alien spaceship or a weather/spy balloon crashed on a ranch outside of Roswell. Either bodies were recovered or they weren't. The debate rages still. Kevin Randle is one of the foremost authorities on the Roswell incident. It is a subject of which he will not let go. His books stand alone in their steadfast adherence to known facts, not rumor or innuendo or hearsay and avoidance of hyperbole. He is baffled by the discrepancies in all of the stories, both official and unofficial.

To me, the most curious thing about about "Roswell" is that it happened before the invention of the Mighty American Spin Machine, before the days of smooth, slick public relations and disinformation campaigns. Indeed, Roswell may have been the impetus for them.

The discovery of an alien spaceship crash must have been huge news to the local military brass! The head of the Army Air Force base must have thought that this revelation would surely be greeted with great worldwide enthusiasm and excitement. So Air Intelligence Officer Major Jesse Marcel was directed to issue a press release stating that an alien disk had been found. Marcel had actually been out to the site and had seen the wreckage with his own eyes. But within days, this story was changed to say merely that a "weather balloon" had crashed.

Huh? Say what?

That's the thing that has always struck me as odd. Why would the military initially claim that a spaceship had crashed and been found? These guys weren't dummies; Roswell was a base for bombers with nuclear weapons (the 509th Bomb Group, the same one that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan). Major Marcel was not some uneducated, gullible boob private with a big imagination. Surely he could tell the difference between a weather balloon and "something else." But no, the military said that he was mistaken. Subsequently, he said he was mistaken too. He retracted his "alien spaceship" story and went with the weather balloon story.

Okay, back on topic, please. People are divided into two camps: Those who believe in UFO's and those who don't. But I think the real questions should be, "Do you believe in the possibility of alien life? Or are we 'it?’ Are we God's only living creation in the universe?" Which actually begs the question, "If you believe in God, whom you cannot see or prove the existence of, do you also believe in UFO's?"

Like I said, I've never seen a UFO. But I am open to the possibility that we are not the only life form in the universe. In other words, I don't dismiss them out of hand as so many do. I cannot prove they exist, but I won’t swear that they don’t.