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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, November 25, 2011

Barry Schiff: Friday's Fabulous Flyer

Captain Barry Schiff

Taken earlier this year when I got checked out in a B-29.

Barry may have started his flying career by ducking a flying shoe—but he ended it as a Captain with TWA in 1988. And ending his career is open for debate, as Barry is actively involved in writing, teaching and mentoring young pilots... and getting checked out in new (old) planes.

His life has been an amazing adventure. 20 years old he taught ground school to work his way through college. He built a small business, Aero-Progress, Inc., which he eventually sold in 1963 by to “Times-Mirror for its subsidiary, Jeppesen.”

Barry and Elroy Jeppesen when he sold his publishing business to him in 1963

Karlene: You’re one of the most accomplished, humble pilots, who has gone far beyond the realm of just flying planes, but to writing, educating, mentoring, and teaching, too. You also have one of the most unique stories. Can you tell our readers how Barry Schiff became interested in aviation and the obstacles you faced?

Barry: I am going to respond with a very long answer because I wrote about my inauspicious beginnings about 20 or so years ago and just happen to have it available. So, here goes:

The road through life is a fascinating series of forks, turns, and twists that often take us to unlikely and unpredictable destinations. No one who knows me would guess that my aviation career was a direct result of my having been a juvenile delinquent.

In front of a flight school at Clover Field in 1952 (age 14), but this is not the school at which I took lessons.

I recall the seminal event as if it were yesterday. I was 13 years old and sat nervously between my parents as we faced the vice-principal of Emerson Junior High School in West Los Angeles in the spring of 1951. “Mr. and Mrs. Schiff, I believe that Barry’s behavioral problems are the result of his hanging out with the wrong crowd. I suggest that he be sent away for the summer, away from such bad influences. Otherwise,” the man in the suit warned, “Barry will become worse.” My parents agreed to have me spend the summer with my grandparents in New Jersey.

A month later, my parents led me toward my first airplane ride, a North American Airlines’ Douglas DC-4 that would whisk me from Burbank to Wichita to Chicago Midway to LaGuardia. They could ill afford the cost of this ticket and would not allow me to forget how its purchase had wreaked havoc with the family budget.

I sat next to a window and stared incredulously at what I saw. The iron wing stretched endlessly into the night like the arm of some prehistoric monster. I knew that the wings kept us from falling but did not know how. They did not move or flap or do anything to help me understand what prevented gravity from having its way with the iron monster. Blue fire streaked from roaring engines bolted onto the wings. They snarled and shook incessantly as if to keep some imaginary enemy at bay. If I had pressed any harder against that window, either it or my nose would have broken.

Curiosity drew me to the library in my hometown of New Brunswick (partly because I got bored of throwing freshly laid eggs at the chickens running around my grandparents’ back yard). There I discovered a 1945 hardbound book entitled The Science of Pre-Flight Aeronautics, another seminal event. I was totally consumed by its 774 pages and found myself drawn deeper into its esoteric subject matter. There I encountered those words now so familiar: Bernoulli, Venturi, airfoil, camber, pitot. The wing, I discovered, was so elegant in the way it worked without really working at all.

As you might know, I learned to fly in taildraggers.
This picture shows that I consequently was not very good with tricycle landing gear

I could not fathom all of what I read, so I hitchhiked to nearby Hadley Airport hoping that I would find friendly pilots to help me better understand the more complex concepts. It surprised me that they did not know as much as I had expected. There I was offered a flight in a J-3 Cub, which my grandparents absolutely forbade me to accept.

Before summer’s end I had read all five of my library’s aviation books. I could hardly wait for the airline flight home and to tell my parents about my burning desire to fly.

The response was predictable. “You will not take flying lessons,” my father barked sternly. “You will become a doctor or a lawyer or other professional.” I refrained from informing him that there were professional pilots lest his belt would have found bottom, my bottom.

Barry (the tallest of the group) and his first 3 students

standing next to the airplane in which he learned to fly

and instructed, Aeronca N81881. 1956 (age 18).

That did not stop me from hitchhiking to nearby Clover Field (now called Santa Monica Municipal Airport) and sneaking onto a taxiway where I stuck my thumb into the air whenever an airplane taxied by. (If I could hitch a ride in an automobile, I reasoned, why could I not do the same in airplane?) I was desperate for a flight in a little airplane, and I got one.

A year later found me with new and better friends at school, but I was still enough of a rebel to forge my mother’s signature on the application for a student pilot certificate. I also got a job at the airport working in exchange for dual instruction. I told my parents about the job but not its purpose. They had wondered why I was always so broke. I did not have the courage to tell either parent that I was taking flying lessons. I did not have to.

"My hero, the flight instructor, 1956, age 18. This in front of the hangar at Bell Air Service, where I did learn to fly"

One day my instructor called home to let me know that the Aeronca “Champ” (N81881) that I was scheduled to fly later that afternoon was in the shop and would not be available for my flight. He left that message with my father. Oops.

Enough time passed between the call and my arriving home from school for my father to develop a fuming rage. He chased me out of our apartment and into the nearby alley. At 14, I was thankfully fleeter of foot, but I did notice one of his thrown shoes sailing over my head.

I slept in a neighbor’s garage that night and developed the courage to go home the next morning. When my father saw that I was determined to pursue my passion, he reluctantly agreed to allow me to continue flying because it seemed to have given me a productive direction and diverted me from earlier behavioral problems (or so he thought).

One of Barry's early students, actress Jill St. John

Karlene: Did you parents ever approve of your career?

Barry: My parents never really approved of their elder son becoming an aviator until I was hired by Trans World Airlines in 1964. This is when they learned that they would be given free passes to travel anywhere along TWA’s global route structure.

At 21 Barry held his ATP, and when the "big three" were hiring— American, Trans-World and United Airlines. Barry opted for TWA because “it was the only one at that time with both domestic and international routes. It was the "Lindbergh Line," the "Airline of the Stars." For me, there was no other choice.”

"We figured that if that headgear helped the Japanese find Pearl Harbor that they would help us find HNL."

During his 34-year career during he flew everything from the Lockheed Constellation to the Boeing 747 and was a check captain on the Boeing 767. He also earned ever FAA category and class rating except airship, as well as all possible instructor ratings.

Working hard: Athens-JFK flight in an L-1011.

Karlene: You’ve flown more hours in more types than I could ever hope to fly… I think a world record. How many hours and types are you up to these days? And of course we want to know which is your favorite plane?

Barry: Currently I am at almost 28,000 hours and have flown 325 types. It is difficult to specify a favorite type because each has a different role and purpose. Having said that, I would choose a P-51 for pure unadulterated excitement, any of several open-cockpit biplanes for going on a romantic flight at twilight on a warm summer evening, the L-1011 as my all-time favorite jetliner, and the list goes on, depending on my mood and the purpose of the flight.

With my best friend, Hal Fishman (left), as co-author,

I wrote two novels, "The Vatican Target" and "Flight 902 is Down."

Photo taken in cockpit of TWA L-1011

Karlene: If you could give one tip for the next generation of pilots, what would it be?

Barry: Working one's way into the left seat of airliner can be a difficult and lengthy process and reminds me of when Tom Hanks played a coach in the motion picture, “A League of Their Own.” The star player, played by Geena Davis, wanted to quit the baseball team because “it is too hard.” Hanks told her, “It’s supposed to be hard. Hard is what makes it good. If it weren’t hard, everybody’d be doing it.”

The same is true in pursuing a professional piloting career. A person should never allow himself or herself to become discouraged, never waver from the task at hand, and never let your eye to wander from the target. The goal is achievable irrespective of how tortuous the route.

Barry on the right, and his student, Griff Hoerner, after an emergency landing on a Santa Monica beach.The cop gave him a ticket for illegal parking of a motor vehicle on a public beach, but the judge threw it out of court.

Karlene: Have you always had a passion for writing, or did you begin writing because you had so much to say?

Barry: I entered the writing profession through the back door. Again, this is something that I wrote about many, many years ago.

Click HERE to read more. Let’s just say he sold his little publishing company to Jeppsen.

when I started an aviation publishing business, Aero-Progress, Inc., in 1959 (age 21).

I sold that business to Jeppesen in 1963, the year before I started with TWA.

Karlene: Many articles you'd written discussed "personally developed concepts, procedures, and techniques" Would you share one technique with our readers?

Barry: The first one involved turning around following an engine failure shortly after takeoff. The "rule" said never to do this, but it seemed illogical. There were times when such a maneuver could be safe. So I researched the subject and have been writing about it every since I first wrote about it in 1959. Since then, many others have done the same.

I also developed the procedure of stopping the prop at high altitude following an engine failure to improve glide range. I also developed the concept of pressure-pattern navigation for light airplanes at low altitude.

Karlene: Your training books... Proficient Pilot 1 and 2, Flying wisdom, and Flying the golden Science, I know touch on a different area of training. Could you tell me in brief sentence what the readers will get when they read each? What your intent was when writing.

Barry: The purpose in my writing usually is to present material in a different manner so that the subject matter becomes easier to understand. I have always strived to simplify complex subjects without sacrificing accuracy.

Karlene: You flew the Spirit of St. Louis, and you tell us what if felt like taking her into the sky?

Barry: I felt privileged, honored to have a taste of what Lindbergh experienced. It was like flying across the pages of history. I didn't want to come down.

“I soloed my son, Brian, on his 16th birthday, September 8, 1967. He started flying for TWA when he was 21,

became a 727 captain, and now flies for American Airlines.”

Karlene: You started your son out early teaching him how to fly a glider. But is he flying for an Airline today?

Barry: Brian started out flying for TWA when he was 21 years old and became a Boeing 727 captain. Then when American Airlines purchased TWA, he became an AA pilot.

Barry and son, Brian in front of a B-757 engine

on the occasion of my retirement flight, June 21, 1998.

(TWA had sold its L-1011s and 747s during the previous year, which is why I didn't retire on one of those.)

Karlene: Your grandson is darling. Do you think you have another aviator in your future?

Barry: I hope so, but that, of course, would be up to him. I never pushed any of my children to become pilots. I felt it important that the desire to fly develop within their souls. All I ever did was to encourage and attempt to facilitate whatever it is they wanted to do. The passion for flight has to come from within. All I could do is hope that they would catch my infectious enthusiasm for aviation. Two of my kids did; the other two did not.

Barry and his son, Brian, and his first grandson, Brett, at the end of his final flight.

“What made it remarkably specialwas that Brian was my first officer,

and the event occurred on Father's Day, 1998.

By the way, I, Brian, and Brett are known as BS1, BS2 and BS3, respectively.”

Karlene: Did you parents ever approve of your career?

Barry: My parents never really approved of their elder son becoming an aviator until I was hired by Trans World Airlines in 1964. This is when they learned that they would be given free passes to travel anywhere along TWA’s global route structure.

"I finally mastered tricycle landing gear (while filming a video about how to fly a taildragger)"

Barry has mastered more than the tricycle landing gear, he's mastered life. He's giving back too! Click HERE to learn more about the $3000 scholarship he's gifting out. Thank you Barry for all that you've given to the world of aviation!

Enjoy the Journey!

XOX Karlene


  1. I really proud of him.I have learned many things from this writing,and thank you so much for sharing inspirational story!Yes!! Goal is achievable,and I will focus on achieving the goal!!
    Have a great day!!

  2. Who would have known that this amazing man could have fulfilled so many dreams? I admire Barry for persevering to become an airline pilot even when his parents objected, I sometimes feel that way but I know I must stand my ground. Barry is an enlightening person. He has stimulated the flying bug in two of his four children showing is natural ability to inspire people. I especially enjoyed the portion about your retirement flight with your son. Thank you for sharing this with us Barry, you are really a person to admire!

  3. What an amazing career and list of accomplishments. I love that sentiment Barry quoted from A League of Their Own. It IS supposed to be hard, isn't it? Or everyone would be doing it right. Perfect inspiration.

  4. Thank you for the nice comment Jun! Yes, you will accomplish your goal because you are focused!

  5. Aisling, Thank you for the great comment. He is a person to admire. And so are you. Your dedication to your dream is apparent, and I have no doubt you'll make it all the way. The sky is not the limit!

  6. Thanks for the comment Linda. Yes, I think it is supposed to be hard... sometimes we forget that; making it all the more delicious when we get there. Wherever there is.

  7. I absolutely love this! so much experience so many hours so much love of flying! and a great trend and great aircrafts. Very lucky. such an inspiration. Beautiful read. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Dipeet, you are so welcome! He's a wonderful man.

  9. I loved it reading it! and yes reading it again today. :) so great.

  10. I was a passenger on Barry Shiff's 1998 retirement flight, a TWA 757 from STL to LAX. Captain Schiff came through the cabin and greeted passengers during the flight.

    One thing I remember vividly about that flight was the extreme precision evident during the parts of flight that were most likely hand flown. Every movement of that airplane was perfectly coordinated and extremely smooth.

    I've been a passenger on about a thousand airline flights over 40 years, but have never before or since been in an airplane that was handled so beautifully.

    Mike in BUR

    1. Mike, Thank you for a fabulous comment to an incredible pilot. And what an honor to have been on his last flight. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  11. This was perhaps the most memorable flight of my career. I'll never forget the stir of such a variety of emotions one flight could provide. It was a bitter-sweet day. The most exciting of which was the fact that I was gaining one more seniority number. By the way whenever that flight was so smoothly flown--I was at the controls. (Just kidding)

    I have to admit feeling rather insignificant following such large footsteps.

    1. Brian, this is what memories are made of. I've flown many last flights..the power of emotion without the family connection was so powerful even then. I can only imagine.
      Never feel insignificant. The footsteps of those who follow have the experience and wisdom of those who went before...which means yours will be so much more powerful and leading those to come.

      Thank you so much for the comment. Fly safe and have fun! When you get to the end you realize how fast it really goes. Enjoy every moment.

  12. I was on his 2nd to last leg on that Father's Day, LAX-STL. I later met Brian on a STL-HNL flight and made sure I told him I was on that memorable flight. Brian ended up being my CFI and I earned my pilot's license thanks to his tutelage! Barry signed one of his PP books for me which I cherish. Glad I got to know the "flying" Schiff family. Gary D.

    1. Gary, how wonderful! Memories like this are those cherished for a lifetime. Thank you for sharing your story!

    2. Thank you for websites like yours! I caught the aviation bug early in life but didn't get to fulfill the dream of flying until well into my current career. My job has be flying around the country and int'l often and every trip I feel like a kid with my nose pressed against the window watch the wing movements. Wish more airlines had the Ch 9 feature like UA to listen to cockpit comm with ATC. Gary-Houston, TX (IAH)

    3. Thank you Gary! I still have my nose pressed to the window too. Well, yesterday I walked to SeaTac airport, went under the tunnel and found the best plane spotting location. I was laughing at myself, after all these years still a kid taking pictures of planes!

  13. Hello. I was curious to know if Captain SCHIFF might remember my Dad...Captain Reese White; also retired from TWA L1011's?

  14. Hello, I am curious to know if Captain Schiff might remember my Dad...Captain Reese White; also retired from TWA L1011's? Thank you.

  15. Mike White;

  16. Maybe you remember my uncle, William Max Shaffer?

  17. What a true professional sleeping in the left seat. I’m sure TWA management at the time would have loved that.


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