John and Martha King and Tortilla Soup

It was John who was first passionate about flying, Martha went along to keep from being left behind.  Isn’t it hard to imagine Martha King being left behind in anything? Her first airplane ride years before had been in the back seat of a rattley, drafty old Piper Pacer and she was not impressed.  During flight training for her Private, Martha came back from her first cross country in the pitch dark, following a road for navigation.  She had not had any night training.  She landed perfectly and got out of the plane to an anxious John standing with her terrified instructor, and she declared, “That was beautiful!” After that night she was absolutely hooked.
To meet John and Martha King is a great experience.  Almost everyone who found out about the interview wanted to relay a heartfelt message of gratitude.   The first thing you notice is that they are naturally funny and joyful and easy to be around.  We met over tacos and iced tea at Montgomery Field and discussed everything from life and love to their newest Risk Management Program for the Cessna Pilot Centers.
They have a great admiration and respect for flight students at any level.  John said, “Students are a spectacular group of people, they put themselves out there to be evaluated, tested and to show before their peers whether or not they are gaining the knowledge and learning the skills.  We feel a huge sense of responsibility to do a great job in helping them learn the material”.  They believe that almost every student pilot goes through a period where they say ‘I don’t know if I can do this’.  The Kings feel a sense of obligation to make the material fun, to connect with their students and to help them reach their goals.  Martha says she gets “pleasure from being able to go anywhere and meet people who feel we’ve affected their lives for the better”.
Martha blushed when I said I love the way she looks at John when he’s speaking and then in turn the way he looks at her while she talks.  John said “I love living with Martha.  People have said that the best thing I’ve ever done was marry well.  She makes it so easy to live with her.  She handles everything with such grace.  She’s competent and fun, and she makes it easy to go through life with her.”  He said they do everything together, it was an agreement they made early on and they hold to it.  She said they each “have a respect for each other’s competence, neither of us needs to be the star of the show”.
John explains that they are often approached by men who say their wives won’t fly with them, even in cases where the woman is a pilot herself.  But with a little questioning, John consistently learns that they are not able to equally divide the responsibilities.  He said for a couple to work under a slave and master system naturally isn’t very much fun for the slave.  John and Martha have been flying their Citation for the past ten years and now a Falcon 10 for constant business travel and both require a two-person crew.  They share each trip by one serving as pilot on the way out and the other as pilot on the trip home with all standard call outs and responses limited to “thank you” or “correcting”.  It seems that in addition to the instruction they offer in aviation and business they could offer a course in personal relationships.
A recent study reported that some women pilots are better at risk management while some male pilots are better at physically maneuvering the aircraft.  John said “clearly it’s not that simple, Patty Wagstaff is better at controlling an airplane, in some years, she’s proven to the best in the world”.  In further defense of women he explained that “Martha is able to form a three dimensional image in her mind of the airspace, the field, their craft in that space and to stay three steps ahead of the flight plan and the airplane throughout the trip”.  He told of an FAA examiner stepping out of the airplane as Martha completed her ATP checkride and telling John “That’s one cool customer”.  Martha believes that keeping your emotions under control is a critical skill in flying.  John said that “professionals make the same number of mistakes they are just better at catching them”.
We talked about Judy Scholl’s habit of analyzing each flight after landing and Martha said, “we talk about our mistakes and sometimes we’re disappointed with ourselves but that’s a part of being human.  It is the difficulty of flying that makes it fun. If it were easy it wouldn’t be such a huge accomplishment and you couldn’t get so excited about having done it”.  Martha said, “Sometimes you just need to say that was not a situation that played into my skill set, and move on, you will never be perfect”.
One of the main reasons they feel that pilots sometimes chose to ignore certain risks is that they are by nature goal oriented people who persevere to complete huge tasks.  They had to have these traits to become pilots in the first place.  These attitudes can be dangerous though where some trips need to be cancelled for weather or equipment issues and pilots need to pull themselves from the flight and admit that they are not completely healthy or current or well prepared, not an easy thing to expect from a driven person.
We asked if they had ever had an accident themselves and they said yes, back in the seventies they were flying a 210 and had an electrical failure in bad weather, IFR conditions and had to make an emergency landing in a field at night.  They weren’t hurt and only broke the nose wheel, but looking back now they can see that if they had used the Risk Management techniques they have developed they would have avoided that accident altogether.
As Martha and John lift off in their Robertson R22 to cruise the coastline we knew we were witness to  an amazing couple. They clearly care deeply about the pilots they teach and the flying community they serve.   They adore flying just for the fun of it and they fly constantly in their everyday lives.  It was a joyful day, they are so much more than just their ground school lessons, they are a huge part of the heart and soul of flight. If you want to change your life, purchase a King Schools course and improve your flying skills, you won’t regret it, guaranteed.
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