IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — The Idaho Aviation Association (IAA) honored local flight instructor Bob Jones during the May 18-19 Trade Show Aviation Idaho. Jones is 86 years old, still instructing, and as sharp as I wish I were at less than half his age.
IAA District 6 Director Mike Hart admitted the IAA was honoring Jones (pictured above) with a “non-award award,” but it was unanimous among the board. The honoring of Jones was a simple affair, much like the honoree. After a few words of introduction from Hart, a few of the more than 1,000 students Jones has instructed offered a few words from their experiences flying with Bob, followed by a few humble words from the man himself.
Jones is originally from nearby Rexburg, Idaho, and he and wife Barbara have lived in Idaho Falls since 1947. Jones learned to fly T-6s at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona during World War II in 1944 and 1945 and was commissioned as an officer at 19, but never saw combat overseas. Since learning to fly, Jones has amassed more than 20,000 total flight hours, with 16,000 of those hours logged as instruction. Amazingly, with the exception of four years of full-time flying, Jones earned his hours as a part-time instructor. Jones spent 37 years as an engineer with the Atomic Energy Idaho National Laboratories, formerly the National Reactor Testing Station.
Of note in a part-time career spanning more than 65 years, Jones…
- Has taught three generations of the Hoff family (the owners of Idaho Falls AeroMark FBO) to fly in a Cessna 120 that Onita and Mark Hoff bought new in 1946. AeroMark owner Bob Hoff hopes to talk his granddaughter into becoming the 4th generation of Hoffs to learn to fly in the 120 with Jones as instructor, if he convince her to put down her softball bat and glove long enough.
- Taught Spencer Horn (son of Aviat Aircraft owner Stu Horn) to fly in 30 days. “Spence had 30 days before heading back to college and wanted to learn to fly,” said Horn following the ceremony. “I’d fly Spence over from Afton [Wyoming] in the morning and pick him up in the evening. After just one week, Bob soloed Spence. They flew all night (or nearly so) so Spence could log his night hours, and the day before heading back to school, Spence passed his Private Pilot checkride.”
- Helped founding director of the Recreational Aviation Foundation Jerry Cain fly 15 hours of dual in his Aviat Husky as mandated by his insurance company. “I didn’t have much time and Bob was very accommodating,” said Cain. “In one day, we made 105 takeoffs and landings. He might’ve dozed off a few times, but I got my 15 hours thanks to Bob.”
- Put Pacific Fighters owner John Muszala to shame in his T-6. “Bob hadn’t flown a T-6 since flight training in 1945,” said Muszala, “so I put him in the front seat of my T-6 about eight years ago. I’ve been flying T-6s continuously since 1974, and when I turned the controls over to Bob it was like he’d flown it every day since 1945. When we landed, I was ready to tear up my pilot certificate…that’s how good he was.”
Bob has never owned an airplane. He’s instructed in whatever the student showed up in. And he never had an accident, although he had two in-flight engine failures.
“One was west of Idaho Falls. We were doing spin training and the carburetor iced up,” said Jones. “When we pitched up the engine quit. We couldn’t get it restarted in the air so we found an open spot among the lava fields to put down in. I had my student keep the cows clear of the area I took off from, flew back to Idaho Falls, hopped in my car and went back out to pick up my student. The other engine failure happened here at the airport. We’d just taken off, and the carburetor failed. I took over, we landed straight ahead and ran off the end of the runway. Just as we rolled out, the engine came back to life so we taxied back to the ramp. Interestingly, those two events happened 50 years apart, nearly to the day.”
This isn’t Jones’s first honor. He was named the 1991 National Flight Instructor of the Year.
“One of the great pleasures of my life is all the people I’ve met,” said Bob in thanking everyone for the honor.
Jones turns 87 in July and plans to continue instructing through 2013, “and then I’ll probably hang it up.” For some reason, I find that last quote hard to believe.
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