Flying with a Purpose
By Ron Cuff, CDR USN Ret.
Perhaps you have heard or used the phrase, “ Bob's your uncle”. It’s a great one. It was coined in 1887 when British Prime Minister Robert (Bob) Gascogne-Cecil appointed his nephew as Minister of Ireland and many people noticed that life is good when “Bob’s your uncle”.
Robert “Bob” Cuff was my Dad. Although he was never Prime Minister, having Bob as my Dad was extremely good fortune. He loved aviation and he loved his family. He was a real Dad to me, and he took his responsibility seriously. He didn’t spend his weekends in bars or on a golf course. He worked hard for United Airlines but left work at 5PM to spend time with his family. Weekends were the same. He spent a lot of time teaching me what he knew about life, and more importantly he taught me the self discipline I would need to build a good life for myself. He was part of the Greatest Generation. In contrast, I’m part of the “Me” generation, the one that ushered in what many people recognize as a societal disease. My generation’s hedonistic fascination with exploring altered states of consciousness led to rampant drug use, which resulted in the increased rates of addiction, crime and homelessness we see today.
Bob always wanted to fly because he loved airplanes, but his eyesight wasn’t up to par so he encouraged me to pursue a flying career. I listened to him because I loved and respected him.
Bob was an aviation pioneer. Immediately after graduation from Ritzville High School in 1940, he moved to Glendale, California to learn his trade. He worked at Consolidated Aircraft in San Diego until World War II began when he enlisted in the Army. He transitioned to the Army Air Corp from his station at Camp San Luis Obispo once the Army learned of his background and aviation training.
Bob’s life was well rounded. He traveled the world with my mother, and took my mom, sister and me on vacations every summer to various lakes in the Midwest. We skied and fished with the boat he and I built together in the garage. Bob always paid close attention to his community and his country. He helped out whenever he could. He took citizenship seriously and because of his example, so do I.
I’m telling you about “Bob” because as pilots, we have an opportunity, and perhaps even a solemn obligation, to do much more with our skills and our good fortune than just flying to the next $200 hamburger.
For example, with the SafeLaunch Flights Above Addiction program, we have been able to offer thousands of kids the opportunity to paint their dreams of a happy and fulfilling life directly on the fuselage of my airplane. Because of their artistry and frequent washing, my plane's original white paint job is pretty much shot, but I don’t mind. At 59 airport events all around the country, plane painting has been a teaching tool used to inform thousands of parents and kids what they need to know to prevent addiction. Attendees have learned that addiction almost always takes root before age 18, usually around 12 or 13, and that any addictive substance use can spark it, including alcohol, THC and nicotine. Early drug exposure can eventually lead to a heroin or fentanyl death, or worse… a miserable, disabled and unfulfilling life. These are basic facts that EVERY parent, grandparent and teacher needs to know. They also need to know that addiction is an incurable disease, not a character flaw or moral failing. Preventing youth substance use is critical.
Most of you have probably heard about Angel Flight and the EAA Young Eagles program. Those are two great programs among many, but here are a couple of “solo” ideas you might not have considered:
- If you haven’t taken your neighborhood kids or your friends' kids flying, why not? It could change their life. I know of a young Air Force F-35 pilot who is flying today because a total stranger offered to take him flying in his experimental aircraft when he was only 12.
- Foreign drug cartels are growing cannabis illegally all over the country now, and law enforcement doesn’t have enough air resources to photograph and map the thousands of illegal grow sites, but perhaps you and a buddy do. As an example, along with a retired law enforcement professional and a congressional aide, I recently photographed from the air nearly 22,000 illegal cannabis grow sites in Northern California. Each site generates about a million dollars in illegal revenue. Amazingly, the current fine for growing a million dollars worth of illegal cannabis is only $500.
- You can fly to your state capitol and ask your representatives why the penalty for providing drugs to kids is only $100-200, or why the fine for growing illegal cannabis is only $500. You can advocate to see our laws changed and more importantly, enforced. Most politicians respect constituents with a pilot’s license and will listen to them. Perhaps this is due to the fact that drug use is not condoned or tolerated by the aviation industry.
- Speaking to kids at your local school’s career day is a great idea. Invite your aircraft mechanic or your local FBO manager to go with you. Many kids might not consider becoming a pilot, but they might enjoy working on and around aircraft. As we know, there are hundreds of great careers in aviation.
“Bob” may not be your Uncle or your Dad, but it doesn’t matter. We can all be more like “Bob” starting today, because the next generation needs us.
Robert J. Cuff, “Bob”, was a P-51 Crew Chief for the 116th Fighter Squadron
Felts Field, Spokane, Washington 1949-1951
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