Of the many big names in general aviation, Arnold Palmer — the ‘king of golf’ — stood out. His achievements in the air may have matched anything he accomplished on the golf course. Think that’s a bit far fetched? Think again. Palmer’s sports career is well documented. But how many know that he piloted solo after just six hours of learning to fly? If my own flight instructor had tried to cut me loose at that point, I would have immediately hauled him back into the cockpit. As they say: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
But some men’s limitations stretch farther. In 1976, Arnold circumnavigated the globe in a Learjet 36, doing it in a record 57 hours, 25 minutes, and 42 seconds. Compared to the 30 to 40 hours logged annually by many non-professional pilots, he amassed nearly 20,000 hours of flight time in 55 years of flying. That’s an average of at least 350 hours a year — a figure normally carried by airline pilots.
What I love most about this statistic is that it tells a love story. Arnold could have easily occupied a seat in the back of the plane. Instead, the depth of experience in his logbook indicates someone who had a passion for flight that went far beyond the financial and business benefits it offered.
Arnold earned my highest respect during the 2008 financial crisis, when he loudly defended business aviation in one of its darkest hours. From where I sit, business aviation has always been easy to support. Fact is that companies that operate aircraft in furtherance of their business do better. But that wasn’t a popular position for a public figure to take in 2008.
Remember what an odd time that was? Some folks were excoriating users of business aircraft at the very same time they themselves were using them. Some grovelled, as though business aviation was a crime against humanity.
Arnold was proof that business aviation pays dividends. While this may be self-evident to anyone who takes a look at it today, he was using aviation to further his business in the mid to late 1950s, a time when our industry barely existed. The first Learjet flew in 1963, while Grumman’s Gulfstream turboprop — one of the first serious purpose-built business aircraft — didn’t begin deliveries until around 1960.
Palmer was on the leading edge of aviation as much as of golf. It’s almost as if he saw the future. You’ll see that same look in his eye when being photographed on the golf course. That easy smile that says he knows the answer, and is confident in the direction he’s heading. He’ll be missed by people who have never even played golf, and couldn’t use a nine iron if their life depended on it.
I know, because I’m one of them. Thanks for everything, Arnie.
“ARNOLD PALMER LOUDLY DEFENDED BUSINESS AVIATION IN ONE OF ITS DARKEST HOURS”