The Continuity of Aviators


The Contents of the box in the picture are a complete set of Lycoming and Continental cylinder wrenches. The were once every day tools of my late friend Dick Philips. He gave them to me 12 years ago. It was something of an honor, Dick was a bad-ass aircraft mechanic of the first order, and the gift came with the unspoken understanding that I had learned things from him, and had the obligation to give his life’s work some immortality and continuity. Dick had already been diagnosed with the cancer that would kill him.


Although I am an Embry-Riddle trained A&P for more than 30 years, and have owned both Lycomings and Continentals, I don’t do that much work on them. I have enough stuff to do with Corvairs, that I could work them and installation components 10 hours a day for every day I have left on earth. I came across the wrenches cleaning up, and spent some time thinking about Dick, now gone a decade. Time for the wrenches to move on, continue the validation that the skills and ethics of hard core aircraft mechanics are perpetual.


Kevin Purtee is known both as a very accomplished homebuilder and pilot of his corvair powered Pietenpol, but also as a combat military pilot. In recent years he has continued to fly helicopters in the civilian world, but has expanded his skill sets to flight instructing and A&P maintenance. Perfect candidate for continuity of Dick Philips skills and values. Into the box they went.


By deciding to build your own aircraft, and build the engine for it, you are reaffirming all the things that made Dick Phillips’s post war career in aviation meaningful. Your life is better for it, better for deciding that aviation for you will not be just another consumer experience. Stay with it, invest in yourself with skills and understanding, and if follow the path long enough, you just might turn out to be someone’s Dick Phillips.


Dick Phillips was my friend and neighbor here at the airpark. He was something of a mentor to me, not fully on mechanical matters, but on how a man of ethics conducts himself in a world that presents daily, a string of petty, small and corrupt people. By example, he led his life on his own terms, and he didn’t care if it wasn’t popular nor apparently lucrative. There was nothing a man would gain by giving up being himself.


I have included below a story I wrote after his passing. It is worth your time. Some of the photo links expired in the last decade, but the moral of the mans life is still there.

Ironic postscript: Dicks original place at our airport was a super cool 40′ x 40′ concrete hangar with an A frame house on top of it. It sits on one acre, right on the southern end of our runway. After he passed, his widow revealed that Dick driving a 35 year old truck and being frugal was a facade; he was actually quite wealthy, and had secretly donated cubic yards of funds to peoples aviation education. She said that Dick had loved the place, and asked me to find any good person for it. The money wasn’t important, she just wanted someone to enjoy it as Dick had decades earlier. She asked for $50K, and was willing to hold it as an interest free loan for 10 years. The first person I offered it to was Mark from Falcon machine, my friend in WI who rebuilt Corvair heads for years. After 30 days he declined, saying Florida was “Too full of rednecks” . The next day I offered it to Ron the drummer, who signed the papers that afternoon. He has lived there every day since. With the escalation of property values here, he has been offered six and a half times what he paid for it, but he doesn’t care. He views every day of his life here as invaluable, he doesn’t see the world as dollar signs. Dick would have concured with that perspective.





One Reply to “The Continuity of Aviators”

  1. As Adams would note in his dispatch from the unnamed carrier — he was aboard the Enterprise — luck was on the Japanese pilots’ side. The men of Bunker Hill had been in combat mode for 58 consecutive days, supporting operations off Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and beyond. The ship was not at general quarters when the attack came, the men not on watch finally permitted to relax.

    It was at this precise moment that a keen-eyed man aboard our ship caught the first glimpse of three enemy planes and cried a warning. But before general quarters could be sounded on this ship, and before half a dozen shots could be fired by the Bunker Hill, the first kamikaze had dropped his 550-pound bomb and plunged squarely into the midst of the thirty-four waiting planes (on the carrier’s flight deck) in a shower of burning gasoline.

    The bomb, fitted with a delayed action fuse, pierced the flight deck at a sharp angle, passed out through the side of the hull and exploded in mid-air before striking the water. The plane — a single-engined Jap fighter — knocked the parked aircraft about like ten-pins, sent a huge column of flame and smoke belching upwards and then skidded crazily over the side.

    Some of the pilots were blown overboard, and many managed to scramble to safety, but before a move could be made to fight the flames another kamikaze came whining out of the clouds, straight into the deadly anti-aircraft guns of the ship. This plane was a Jap dive-bomber — a Judy. A five-inch shell that should have blown him out of the sky set him afire and riddled his plane with metal, but still he came. Passing over the stern of the ship, he dropped his bomb with excellent aim right in the middle of the blazing planes. Then he flipped over and torched through the flight deck at the base of the island.

    A third Japanese attacker appeared soon after but a neighboring destroyer shot it down, ending the immediate threat. Now the fight was on to save the ship. As the crew fought the existing fires, new explosions kept popping off once the flames reached a fuel tank or ammunition stores. Eventually other ships were able to come alongside, “like fireboats in New York Harbor,” and help hose down the listing carrier. After about three hours the fires finally came under control, though they weren’t completely out.

    “There were so many acts of outstanding heroism, it would be impossible to praise anyone over another,” Bunker Hill’s skipper, Capt. George A. Seitz, said in the Navy release on June 27. “I’m proud of every man who performed his assigned duties, and words can’t express our indebtedness to those gallant men who died at their posts below decks. They kept the boilers going and the pressure in the fire mains.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: