Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Goodbye to Another Friend

A photo I took of Peter flying the CX4.
Our good friend Peter Beck passed away on January 11, 2015.  He is survived by his wife, Kathy; his daughter, Melinda; his son, Ted; and his brother Timothy.  Of course, he is also survived by us, all of his friends, however large a group that may be. 
Admittedly, Peter’s passing happened some time ago.  So, for me to be discussing it now may seem a little late.  But, I must tell you that I sat down no less than five times prior to tell the story.  Each time it never worked and I walked away.  His passing was different for me and I struggled to put it to words.  This time I'll get it right.
Peter Beck came into our lives through aviation; more specifically, the Thatcher CX4.  When we first met, he was in the process of “kitting” the popular single-seater.  Before long, he was visiting on a regular basis, volunteering, and even sponsoring the fly-in on occasion.   The plane spurred his passion.
Away from the CX4, Peter was still an interesting individual.  Some aviation enthusiasts are single faceted.  Aviation is their everything.  His life was more.  Driven by a strong mind, he graduated from Harvard, served the Air Force exceptionally, majored in Finance in graduate school, worked for companies all over the world, served as director of planning for MCI, started his own communications business, and consulted or assisted many others corporations in their efforts to excel.  He also enjoyed working with his hands which you can read about in his obituary (click here).  Through it all though, aviation never left him.
He really enjoyed that plane.
The first aircraft Peter built was a Thorpe T-18.  At the end he was building a two seat tricycle version of the CX4 called the CX5.  The last time I talked to him, taking the CX5 to Oshkosh was high on his list.  Yet, little did I know, he was still involved in many other things.  Basically, he was a sharp knife in a dull world and I greatly enjoyed his visits.
When Peter was around everything was fair game.  You name it we talked about it.  Politics, economics, language, art, music, international travel, theory and philosophy, and even operatic training to improve vocal projection were among the subjects.  Cars, aluminum, the FAA, and the future of aviation were also extensively covered.  It’s that last one that made Peter’s death different.
It’s no secret that aviation is losing a battle of attrition.  It’s something he and I frequently discussed with great energy.  Peter was a fun and fine adversary when it came to debate.  We often sparred off from different sides, both enjoying, not dismissing, the other's point of view.  His thoughts were always well constructed and I looked forward to them all.  They may have been born within a greater generation, but the fight for aviation frustrated us equally.
And yet, when I heard Peter had passed away, my thoughts about aviation took on a new sense of reality.  I’ve argued for almost two decades that aviation needs a real strategy in order to win the fight for its soul.  I’ve meant every word.  But until Peter he was gone, one feeling had escaped me; being the last soldier in line.
It’s true.  Up until the news of his passing, it may have occurred to me, but I had never truly felt that I was, along with the rest of my generation, the last real line of defense.  We’re it.  There isn't another behind us.  Younger folks may argue that point, but the truth is they are merely the breadcrumbs from the feast.  It isn’t a slight at them, but the observation of reality we must accept.  Peter’s death drove that point home.
That was a fun day of flying.
Reading his obituary made me remember all the other great friends I had lost who were 60 and over.  Not only was the total number growing, it was accelerating faster than I cared to face. Unfortunately though, truth is not an image.  It is a feeling which can be felt from all directions, and that day hurt.
Folks, we’re it, and we’re losing.  Choosing what sounds good over what works, we’re failing those who came before us.  That is not something I care to accept.
Thanks to Peter Beck I have a new sense of reality.  Sadly though, he’s not here to debate it.  If he were, any effective idea could be considered.  Instead, we're left behind in a world of people who choose fantasy over facts.  His generation never thought that could happen in America and it was too late before they realized they were wrong.  Now it’s up to us to fix the problem.  They carried with them the spirit of aviation and our country.  We must do the same.
Thanks Peter.  You were a good friend who always, even in death, expanded my mind.  You will be missed.


Anonymous said...

Beautifully said. Thanks. said...

Well written and sadly the truth about our prized passions' possible ultimate ending. Many flying groups are losing members at an ever-increasing rate. Some of them no longer exist.

We all wish we had the silver bullet to end the decline. For those who who still can, fly as often as possible, strive to maintain and promote flying activities especially at the grassroots level. Consider that you may just be inspiring someone watching from afar.

Two brothers from Dayton, Ohio started all of this because they would not accept conventional wisdom that man could never fly a heavier than air machine. I don't mind being one of the last soldiers on the battleground. Especially when I look around and see who is standing with me.

Bern Heimos

Joe Rizzo said...

Nice tribute and beautifully written observation. Passion is something that we can share, but it is not easily transferred. Keep an eye out for the young ones with a spark; then fan the flames.

Dan DeVillers said...

I agree that we are losing many of those that shaped aviation through the first 100 years of this great invention, but I disagree that aviation is being lost to history. There are a lot of 'kids' out there that have a deep interest in aviation; we need to recognize them and accept them into the fold. Too many times I have seen grizzled 'old guys' turn away a wide eyed kid because apparently they didn't want to deal with the messiness of having to explain everything - the old WC Fields "go away kid you bother me" attitude. Agreed, thin skin is a part of the issue, but we need to be aware of it and maybe compensate a little. I really appreciate your post about this...tough to lose another friend...(

budd davisson said...

Said as well, an as poetically, as it can be said. And truthful in the extreme. Thanks.

Art Geissler said...

Hi very well said, I did not know Peter but he sounds just like my father and you in regards to the pure joy of flying. My dad's vision was that flying would catch on to the younger generation and thus help preserve the secrets of what we as pilots know. He was always talking about flying to anyone who would listen. He was a Pan Am Chief pilot, based in Germany. He would go on outing with kids of all ages to different airports in Germany and some of youngsters learned to fly gliders and power aircraft, at least 2 went on to fly for Lufthansa. I know he and Peter touched a lot of lives and flying is better for them but we need more people to do the same things. I am always taking kids up and they love it! I get a big kick out of it when they run to their parents and beg to go again. The funny part is the parents don't want to go up. Their generation is too busy! You and I have to do more to get the kids excited if we want the children of today to enjoy flying. Peter and my dad knew this. Thank you Peter thanks dad. Art Geissler, Louisville

Jerry Meddick said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Rich. Beautifully said...

Rich Davidson said...

As chance would have it, I am sitting in Halle/Leipzig researching local GA airports to visit. What are the chances of that?

timcfi said...

Nice tribute. I've been very interested in the CX5 and followed Peter but didn't know all that about him.
I don't know about you, but I won't go quietly. I started a flight school in 2003 to do my part. Seven airplanes and a dozen instructors are making pilots.
I've been on stage at OSH and SnF for the past 10 years trying to get others to listen about solutions, but find it frustrating that it never seems to stick.
At the end of the day, it's production, real live, no kidding production, of airplanes and pilots that will save the industry. (that's my short version)
I'd love to continue the conversation in honor of Peter. We can't give up.