Thursday, January 29, 2015

Into the West

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total Time (hrs)
17 Oct 2003 N3470R HAI (Three Rivers, MI) - local flight 1.3 154.8

Joyous Pouting

"Ok," I said. "Your airplane."

The man in the right seat squared his shoulders, sat bolt upright, and primly reached for the Piper Cherokee's yoke with both hands. He slid his feet to the rudder pedals as I, with some trepidation, withdrew from the controls. It was only the third time I had ever relinquished an aircraft's controls to a passenger and I was still developing my own comfort level with that process.

As we flew over the colorful autumn terrain of southwest Michigan, I divided my attention between the sky outside the airplane and appraising my passenger. He was dressed tidily, wearing a brightly colored button down shirt. His face was a mask of concentration, his brown hair exhibiting hints of gray at the temples that imparted a mildly distinguished appearance.

"Feel free to make some turns," I encouraged.

Without altering expression or posture, he banked the airplane into a well-coordinated left turn of thirty degrees while maintaining a constant altitude. Then he performed a right turn followed by another left. In this way, we tore up the air for over an hour, venturing as far as the Lake Michigan shore. His skill in directing the airplane through the sky was remarkable; smooth, coordinated, and --­ in his inimitable fashion --­ meticulous.

It was not until I indicated that the rental aircraft was due back at the airport that I observed a change in expression; he pouted. It was the first time I had ever seen a grown man pout like a child, but I knew that the pout was simply a reaction to my ending the indescribable joy he felt over being at the controls of an airplane again.

Enjoyed my aerial color tour! - Brian Glass, he wrote in my logbook when the flight was over.

The Wildcard

I first met Brian in the fall of 1999. We started within a month of each other at The Company in Kalamazoo, working in the same laboratory. We were pharmaceutical newbies on opposite ends of the spectrum; I was directly out of school and he was an experienced chemist from a different industry. I took an immediate liking to Brian. He was kind, patient, and possessed with an enthusiastic curiosity as a scientist.

We called him "The Wildcard". This was not one of those ironic nicknames, like calling a big guy "Tiny". Beneath Brian's placid exterior lurked a healthy, often mischievous, sense of humor that ran the gamut from subtle to outrageous. We never knew what Brian was going to do next. Whether it was spontaneously bellowing "KHAAANNN!" toward the heavens while working at a Cahn microbalance, gleefully running his wheeled desk chair over bubble wrap while rolling his eyes in delight, or imitating a seagull choking on an onion ring at the West Lake Drive In (in a particularly memorable episode), Brian's sense of humor was often the highlight of my day. Brian was an artist and his talent was in crafting the hilariously unexpected. "Wildcard" was a badge of honor that only Brian could ever wear.

When Kent and I began flight training, Brian revealed that he was fascinated by flight and had taken lessons, but never soloed. After disclosing a one-time childhood incident on his medical application, the FAA demanded he undergo an onerous and expensive regimen of testing. Stymied by the FAA, Brian gave up on his dream of flight and maintained a vicarious link to aviation through a subscription to Flying and periodic missions flown in Microsoft Flight Simulator.

To my mind, the best gift that I could ever give him was time in the right seat of a single engine airplane. That is how Brian and I came to be flying together in October 2003. It was the first time I had ever flown with a lapsed aviator and I was amazed at the retention of ability. His hands and feet knew exactly what to do, well imprinted from primary training years before. Brian never held a pilot certificate in his hands, but his soul was truly that of an aviator.

Brian and I flew together many times over the years after that initial flight in the rental Cherokee. Because Brian was part of the extended work family that moved from Kalamazoo to Rochester, NY with me, those flights encompassed my time renting airplanes out of Three Rivers, MI; basing Warrior 481 in South Haven, MI; and my many years at Le Roy, NY. On one particularly memorable evening, Brian and I were flying together over the Lake Ontario shoreline when we saw the skyline of Toronto (~75 nautical miles away) silhouetted by the sunset for the first time.

Impromptu Roast

Brian was a part of my daily work life from September 1999 until December 2013. There was a change in control of our company that resulted in substantial layoffs. Brian, along with several other members of our ex-Michigan cohort, found himself looking for work.

Weeks later, Brian and I were with our old friends Kent and Dan. Conversation turned to our favorite Brian moments; Shatner impressions, bubble wrap, seagulls eating fried foods, et cetera. Brian remained uncharacteristically quiet even as we teased him about a newly grown beard and playfully roasted him over past antics.

His doctors encouraged us to talk to him, read to him, laugh with him. They told us that, sometimes, a person fighting for life in a medically-induced coma can hear words of encouragement spoken by their loved ones. Our conversation was underscored by the sound of a ventilator as Brian struggled to overcome complications from an aggressive flu contracted over the holidays. I spent a lot of time at the hospital with Brian, just talking. I reminisced about the times we shared aloft, something unique that he and I shared. I urged him to come back to us and fly with me again. Unresponsive in his coma, I never knew whether he heard me or not.

On January 29, 2014, the evening of our impromptu roast in intensive care, I departed the hospital to retrieve my daughter from school. Twenty minutes later, I received the call that Brian lost his battle.


I miss my friend.

I think of him often when flying alone in the Warrior. Sometimes, I take comfort in imagining him flying with me, quietly, primly, with both hands on the controls. I treasure the tangible evidence of our first flight together, his distinctive signature in my logbook.

I do not claim to understand what happens when we depart this world, but I like to think that Brian is now beyond the bureaucratic reach of the FAA and cleared for unrestricted solo flight.

In memory of Brian J. Glass, April 4, 1956 - January 29, 2014.


  1. Chris, You are a devoted friend, your words speak volumes of the man you are and the friendship you treasure. I'm sure in those quiet times we endure while flying you can almost hear him when you let yourself really listen.

    It sounds like Brian touched your soul.....treasure those memories and smile when you think of him.

  2. So sorry for your loss, Chris. Beautiful words, though - you've certainly honored Brian with supreme eloquence.