Mar 052012

My wife and I had been on a cruise all last week and returned home this Sunday evening (Mar 4). This morning, while reading the paper, she saw that Robert A. Gambrill Jr. had passed away on Monday 27 Feb 2012. He was 90 years old.

I knew Bob fairly well and had visited him at his care home most recently this Christmas. He had moved there to be with his wife Betty who was ill for some time. Bob had also suffered from cancer and other maladies during the last few years and so it was probably just as well that he was in the home, too. When I last saw him at Christmas, I came to his door and it was ajar. Since we were cordial, I pushed it open and looked inside to see that he was dozing off in front of the TV. I went in. Bob was pretty hard of hearing these last few years and wore hearing aids. I spoke to him for about 3 minutes to try to wake him up but to no avail. I didn’t want to yell and startle him so I finally lightly jostled his knee and he woke up. We talked about a few things but he was having trouble maintaining the conversation. He appeared very tired and I knew he had been undergoing chemotherapy on and off over the last few years. My mission was to come by and give him a copy of “That They Might Fly Again – Part 1“. He always like to see the aviation movies I have produced so I would bring them by. I had also brought a Christmas card. After about a half hour I bid him Merry Christmas and took off.

I knew Bob had done a lot of flying in his career but did not realize that he had 18,000 hours of flight time until I read it in the paper. It also stated that he had flown about 280 different aircraft in his dual careers as Naval Officer and FAA Aircraft Certification Officer. He liked flying anything from Ultralights to F-4’s.

The way I got to know Bob was after a friend of ours – Larry Thompson – died in a stall spin crash that Bob had witnessed. At that time, I had known Bob just in passing but had never really had a conversation with him.  Prior to Larry’s crash, Bob had become involved in Ultralight Flying. He had owned at least two models and really had a good time flying them. He had bought a home with its own airfield and hangar and Larry Thompson hangared his plane there along side Bob’s.

I had heard from Steve Ewing that Bob was very upset that so many guys were not versed in spin entry and recovery. It was his contention that the removal of spin training from the requirements for obtaining a pilot’s license was a mistake.

After hearing that Bob was disturbed about Larry’s inability to extricate himself from the spin, I asked Bob if I could interview him for a series I was doing about Ultralights called “HangarTalk-Tips Tricks & Techniques“. He gratiously accepted. He wanted to do what he could to alert new pilots to the need to widen their knowledge base. In the interview, we talked about his new Hurricane and also about the need for Ultralight and Private Pilots to get some spin training and more “unusual attitude” experience. Bob was obviously very knowledgeable on these things and had all the credibility one could ask for to make the point. I really appreciated his participation in the HangarTalk Series. The two parts of the series were produced in the 1990’s.

We remained in contact after that. Most recently he had bought a Titan Tornado but had only flown it a little. His health was not permitting him to do the flying he had so enjoyed throughout his life but he continued to stay “in the loop” and enquire about what was going on.

I was impressed by Bob Gambrill’s integrity and willingness to “tell it like it is”. He valued competency and was not afraid to speak the truth.

All of us in the flying community around Wichita and the other parts of the country where he was known will miss him. But, as he told me, he knew he was going on to a better place and that is where he is now.

Blue Skies & Tailwinds™

Brian FitzGerald