The recent passing of Walter Cronkite made me especially sad.
As a little boy I watched him on our black and white TV as he told me “The Way It Was” about World War II. Then when I was a young man, I listened as Walter told the nation we would have to negotiate our way out of the Vietnam War. He was a factor in all of our lives during those years.
So when a flying buddy who also happened to be a reporter at CNN asked if we could fly Walter Cronkite from New York to Merritt Island, Florida in our Citation, the answer was an unhesitating yes. John Glenn was going into space for the second time and Walter and another flying buddy of ours, Miles O’Brien, were to co-anchor the coverage for CNN. The problem was that Walter was to receive an award from the United Nations the night before. And the only way to get to Cape Kennedy in time was by private airplane. Walter would be comfortable in our relatively small airplane, our old Citation—his wife, Betsy, had learned to fly and Walter himself had taken flying lessons. So it was John and Martha to the rescue.
Martha was to be the captain and I was to be elevated to my obvious level of incompetence as co-pilot. The route that ATC gave us between La Guardia airport and Merritt Island airport was incredibly complicated. We put the first few legs into the GPS and planned to fill the rest in after we got airborne.
Martha and I had a habit of putting our charts on the floor between the two pilot seats, but they did have the occasional tendency to slide backwards when we pitched up for a steep climb. This time when we rotated for take-off, every chart we had slid clear to the back of the airplane and landed between Walter’s two feet. As the lowly co-pilot it was my job to unbuckle and go back and retrieve the charts. As I embarrassedly reached down between Walter’s feet to retrieve the charts, he gave me one of the basic truths of navigation, “Aw, just fly south.” Walter had it perfectly right, but I was pretty sure that was not the way New York Center would feel about it.
As an old sailor, Walter had the essence. Just hold your heading. If only I could have had him tell New York Center, “That’s the Way It Was.”