June 1, 2021
I met Jerry Soderstrom some 40 years ago when he was the pilot for the richest man in the world. At that time I was President, General Manager and one of two owners of Associated Air Center. At Associated Air Center, I oversaw the modifications, maintenance and completions of airliners, helicopters and VIP aircraft.
Over the past 40 years I have kept in touch with Jerry through our mutual industry contacts. We had not seen each other in person until I saw him recently when he was at the King Aerospace Ardmore, Oklahoma facility. It felt like an old homecoming as we shared countless aviation stories. Despite the 40 years without seeing each other we picked our friendship back up and never missed a beat. Sounding like two aviation dinosaurs, we compared notes about the people he had flown and the customized aircraft we both had encountered. Our list included presidents, sultans, sheiks, princes, dictators, kings and a few thugs. There were countless celebrities and captains of industry from all over the world with whom we had crossed paths. His list of passengers included people like Howard Hughes, Winston Churchill, various United States presidents and current and former Hollywood stars and producers. We both shared the somber times when we wondered if we would make it home alive due to bad situations as a result of our travels and aviation careers. We reflected on some of the crazy modifications to aircraft we had been around, like an airborne Jacuzzi, beds that were designed to self-level in flight, barber chairs, massage tables, designated “hostage” seating and even a flying gambling casino! We could not forget the Boeing that had provisions to carry the owner’s Harley Davidson motorcycle and hot air balloon! The talk about “special cargo” was even crazier, but I cannot share much about it. When it was time for us to go our separate ways it was a little sad but we were very thankful for the brief encounter. I couldn’t help but think that the countless stories told will probably never be shared again as we both moved onto our next adventures as self-appointed members of the unofficial aviation dinosaur club!
Since my visit with Jerry at the Ardmore facility, I thought about many other interesting aviation situations I have experienced over my 42 year career. I cannot forget the time a Boeing operator took off for a “test flight” only to depart the area without paying his bill – and with my employees on board! It seems like only yesterday when my wife Barbara and I slept between the two parallel runways at Dallas Love Field in a motor home that was parked behind a Boeing jet to enforce a mechanics lien while waiting for payment for work that was completed. I remember being interviewed by the Wall Street Journal about an airline sized jet that we customized that that a foreign government took delivery of but failed to get approved by its congress. I once was asked to hide a large jet because the corporate customer didn’t want company shareholders to see the aircraft as they held their annual shareholders meeting in Dallas. Thankfully, I was able to work some magic and meet the request. One of my good friends would like me to forget that he was the copilot on a DC-10 that buzzed the beach in Waikiki, Hawaii. Upon landing in Dallas he called me nervously, seeking advice as to what he should tell the FAA, which was waiting to interview him. I guess my advice helped him since he is still flying!
There are lots and lots of dinosaur stories that can never become fossilized but won’t be forgotten!
Written by KING AEROSPACE Founder, Jerry Allan King-Echevarria.