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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday Fabulous Flyer

Ray Wallace

Captain Ray Wallace

Scheduling called the day after my thirteen-day trip and assigned me another trip, this time to Osaka. It was hard not to smile when I saw that Ray Wallace was the captain. It took some coaxing and pleading, but he finally allowed me to interview him to be my Friday Flyer. He is by far the most humble person I’ve yet to meet, and keeps his life private.

Ray lives a quiet life, low on the radar, and enjoys the anonymity. But how could he not be a Friday Flyer?

This is a special month for him, as he will be turning sixty-years-old on the 29th, and he is retiring. For every pilot who retires, my number moves up one. But Ray is one Captain I hate to see go, number or not.

He joined the Air Force Academy in 1969 and learned to fly a T-41—A fancy name for a Cessna 172. Following graduation he spent 6 ½ years on active duty flying and instructing in a Lockheed C-141.

When he left the military he was hired by United Airlines and three weeks later, while still in training, he was furloughed. He then went back to flying the C-141 in the USAF reserves, and two years later was hired by Air Florida as a 727 F/O. He was furloughed a year later. Ray’s first son was born four months after the United furlough, and his second son was born shortly after Ray was hired by Air Florida. Two babies on the ground, and no job, Ray went full time into the reserves. Then in 1983 Northwest Airlines called, and his airline career began.

Ray flew the Boeing 727 as a Second Officer for one year, the Boeing 747 Second Officer for six years, and another seven years as a First Officer on Boeing 747– all in Seattle. In 1997 he upgraded to a Boeing 747 Captain, the same year I was hired at Northwest. As a captain, he was based in Minneapolis and then got back to Seattle for two months before the base closed, then Honolulu until that based closed. And finally in Anchorage, until they closed that base and parked the whales. His total time on the 747 is 27 years and somewhere between 13,500 to 14,000 hours.

The final year of his career has been with Delta on the A330. Ray started class about a month behind me and I’ve been fortunate to fly with him twice now. The first trip was a six-day trip over the Fourth of July.

People have often asked what we do enroute. Well, the flight from Osaka to Seattle Ray allowed me to interview him—A once in a lifetime interview.

Karlene: “How do you feel about retiring, and what will you miss the most?”

Ray: “It’s time. 36 years, and of course I’ll miss certain flying experiences, and most of the people I flew with.”

Karlene: “Based on that line, I know you’ve flown with some great people. So, tell us... who was your favorite first officer?” Hesitation. Pause. He’s thinking… Does he get the answer right?

Ray: “I’m looking at her.”

Karlene: “Good answer! And we now know that you’re a smart man too.” Yes, Ray has a great sense of humor. “All joking aside, one of the most common questions I get from readers is the difference between Boeing and Airbus. Can you tell me the greatest differences you’ve seen?

Ray: “The biggest differences I have seen have been generational. The C-141 was actually a generation before the 747. At first we had no INS. We had navigators that used celestial sextants. We shot stars and navigated with dead reckoning. We had an early Loran and a Doppler radar that worked on the C124 at 24,000 feet, but we’re were flying at 37,000 and 39,000 feet and it didn’t work real well unless the ocean was rough.”

Karlene: “That’s quite a difference in technology from then to now. So you’re flying one of the most modern airplanes now. How do you feel about where the industry is going with the automation?”

Ray: “New technology is neat, helpful, and useful in most cases has made it safer. Unfortunately I see a de-emphasis on flying skills and too much reliance on the technology. But on the positive side, the benefits and added capabilities increase safety.”

Karlene: “Speaking of increased safety, how do you feel about standard operating procedures? I know this is quite the topic of discussion in our industry, and I’ve got many general aviation pilots interested in this concept.”

Ray: “Clear standard operating procedures are a definite step up in safety. It allows mistakes and operational deviations to be caught much earlier in the game. It makes it much easier for new crews to function well together on first encounters.”

Karlene: “Not only the technology change, but you recently changed airlines. You spent your entire airline career, until recently, with Northwest Airlines. During that time you’ve seen a ton of change—both good and bad. What do you miss most about NWA?

Ray: “Corporate change is always difficult, but I miss the operational philosophy of Northwest.”

Karlene: “You’ve had quite the career Ray. Would you recommend this job to others today?”

Ray: “Yes. If you really love flying.”

Karlene: “Are you glad you chose this path for yourself?”

Ray: “Yes. I love to fly, and I don’t think I’d like a Monday through Friday 8-5 job. I get blocks of time on and off, which has both advantages and disadvantages. But I get to work with an extremely good group of people. Professionals that are both competent and care a great deal about the quality of job they do.”

Karlene: “I know what you mean about the people. So, what would you recommend to our future aviators?”

Ray: “Never stop learning. You can always learn from the great pilots you work with, and the not so great.”

Karlene: “I, too, think that learning is a life long key to success. So what additional advice would you give to our future commercial pilots?”

Ray: “Maintain the highest standard of knowledge and proficiency operating your aircraft in conservative manner with a large margins for error. Neither the company or the passengers pay me to take chances with their lives.” And then there is a pause…

“Trust but Verify.”

Karlene: “What do you mean by trust but verify?”

Ray: “You have to trust the people you work with and the airplanes you fly. But verify they’re living up to your trust.”

Karlene: “Excellent advice for everyone!”

Ray, we will all miss you very much. I wish you the happiest retirement—the next adventure to your life is about to takeoff. And if you buy a little plane, make sure you come to Renton and join us in our fly-it-forward events.

Enjoy the Journey! It goes by way too fast sometimes.

XOX Karlene


  1. I really like his inspirational story.I feel how much he loves the job(airline pilot),and so glad to hear that.At the same time,I am proud of him.
    About retirement,I miss him.
    I am thinking "Trust but verify" is the basic idea in our life.thank you so much for sharing!
    Thank you for sharing wonderful story,Karlene san.
    Have a great day.

  2. I'm so glad you had a great Captain to get you through this flight. I can't believe they scheduled you for another so soon after you got home from that long trip. Wait, yes I can. ;)

    I love Ray's advice about verifying that people live up to your trust. He sounds like an amazing man!

  3. Nice interview. I love reading your blog, Karlene.

  4. Hi Karlene and hi Ray
    Was happy to read this very special fabulous friday flyer, specially because thanks to Karlene I had the honor to meet this amazing guy.
    Ray remember that afternoon in Amsterdam when a strange Dutch woman came barging in and mingled with the crew?
    And you took us out to dinner, having Thai food that evening and as I recall you payed for that dinner!
    I hope you enjoy your retirement and you won't miss flying too much.
    When you do, you can always hike to AMS with Karlene to have another dinner with some crazy girls!


  5. Great philosophy, nice person. Always appreciate seeing pilots with glasses, but understand the challenge entering that line of work with glasses is much greater than without. Nice post.

  6. Both on the 320 and now on the 330 I have without exception flown with outstanding people, so I really appreciate this interview.

    Coincidentally, MY last trip last week was with Bob Alexander, for whom October is the last month prior to retirement. Another outstanding and relaxed Captain who would make any trip enjoyable and educational.

    I too benefit in seniority from retirements, but I lament that especially on the 330 we are (not so) slowly losing a great knowledge and experience base that I am still hoping to profit from while "the old guys" are around!

    Happy retirement to Ray and Bob, and Godspeed!

  7. Hi Capt.Wallace,
    I write with Much respect and admiration.Thanks for all the great care and team work with which you worked and lived by in the skies.I am sure you will have much wisdom and skills to share with the next generation Pilots and thus keep contributing to aviation.Many would love to learn from you and me for sure would be so honoured to learn some.I would like to seek your blessings as I begin my career as a Commercial Pilot.

    Capt.Karlene, Thanks for choosing to do this Interview.You are the best.

    Warm Regards,
    Denzil, INDIA

  8. Hi Jun, and you got to meet him too! I should have got your picture with him. He was the captain I was flying with when I met you. I think we will all miss him. Thank you for the nice comment!

  9. Heather... Yes, I can believe it too. And you are so right, he is an "amazing" man for sure!

  10. Thank you some much for the kind words David. I really appreciate your support!

  11. An, I think that is an excellent idea. I will make him hike... we call non-rev... to AMS to come out to dinner with the crazy girls again. And yes... THANK YOU Ray for the nice dinner. That was very gracious of you. As always! Thanks for the comment!

  12. Thank you Paulo! I'm so glad you like pilots with glasses because I may be there before I know it. lol. Thanks for the nice comment!

  13. Marcel, Thanks for the comment. You know exactly how I feel about the old school retiring. We will miss them!!! So many good ones, and so much experience. I had the opportunity to fly with Bob a few months ago... feels like forever and did a post on him.

    Great guy too! Very nice to fly with. Yes... we'll miss you Bob and Ray!!!

  14. Denzil, Thank you so much for the nice comment. I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts with Captain Ray. So many people read and send me messages on the side, but I think he will be happy to see his interview inspires pilots like yourself. You're going to make a GREAT captain yourself one day! Looking forward to meeting you.

  15. Great post, Karlene. Captain Ray's long experience will be missed, but up-front and by us SLCs in the back. I'm a little sad that Capt. Ray is bailing out before he has to, but... After all of those years, having to change employers and aircraft (brands) for the last year or two is unfortunate. Too bad that the merger retired those whales as his long experience (and yours) on the 74 is so valuable. Heck yes, I hope that Capt. Ray gets a little one and comes to Renton. With a I think he has other plans... Regards,
    -Craig (Cedarglen)

  16. Great interview, Karlene. And congratulations to Ray on completing such an amazing career. Makes me kind of sad, though, to know someone so accomplished won't be captaining the planes!

  17. Hi Craig, I too am sad he is going. But the over 60 is quite the question still. Some say, "we don't fly our planes to failure, so maybe we shouldn't fly our pilots to failure, either." I guess it's hard to self-diagnose our age limitations, so 60 was just a good point. Some pilots could fly until they are 80, and others should be gone at 50.

    I know he's had a great career, and as he says, "It's time." But we are losing a lot when someone like Ray retires.

    As always, thanks for the great comment.

  18. Linda, it makes me kinda sad too. But he trained a lot of pilots in his career, and I think his wisdom is shared by many. But still...
    Thanks for your comment.

  19. Hi Karlene,
    Great article and very inspirational too! I wish Captian Ray a happy retirement and all the best to his next chapter in life!
    Tricia Kato

  20. Thank you Tricia!! I suspect he's going to have a great retirement!

  21. A really wonderful post. You are lucky to know such an amazing and accomplished man. All the best to Ray. Hope he enjoys his retirement.

  22. Oh, I forgot to add, thank you so much for the Versatile Blog Award. I've already received it but I will gladly accept it again :-) I'm so honored!

  23. Angela, Thank you for dropping by and you're right... I am very lucky. You are also welcome! And multiple awards that you deserve.

  24. I think "trust but verify" could apply to a lot of scenarios in my "hey kids, did you brush your teeth?"

    Although that's not as life threatening as not verifying safety stuff on a plane...

  25. Lydia, that is so funny! And so true. My other half always trusted... and I verified. Our kids got away with everything with him. lol A good life statement for sure.

  26. Hey, I thought I was Ray's favorite copilot!! :(

  27. Well, Kath... you snooze you lose. Or retire early. I'm sure you were his favorite, but he is a very smart man and knows the right thing to say at the right time. :)


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