Long on Memories

Aug. 8, 1999

Long on Memories

By Ralph Hood

August 1999

The King is dead.

Ed Long, the highest time pilot in the history of the world, is dead.

Ed was a working pilot who flew more than 50 years for one company, Montgomery (AL) Aviation Corporation. He flew power line patrol in a Super Cub, he loved his job, he had the work ethic of Hercules, and there will never be another like him. He died of complications of old age, I guess, and worked long after any ordinary person would have quit.

Ed had more than 64,000 hours, all logged neatly in minutes in a tall stack of logbooks dating back to the ’30s. He averaged well over a thousand hours a year, year in and year out, for decades on end. I am convinced he enjoyed every minute of it.

Ed was a gentleman and a gentle man. He wore a tie, he was polite to the extreme, and the only time I ever saw him mad was when something kept him from flying. He was a QB, and a member of the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame.

Ed was honest to a fault, and the tightest man with a dollar — hell, with a nickel — that I ever knew. He would go to the Piper factory at Lock Haven, PA, pick up a new airplane, bring it back to Alabama, then turn in an expense account for less than $5. (That is not an exaggeration. If you want details, I can supply them, as can many oldtimers at Piper.)

A few years ago, the folks at Moontown Airport in north Alabama invited Ed up for an EAA function. He flew the powerline nine hours on Friday, flew the Super Cub 160 miles to Moontown before eight Saturday morning, mixed, mingled, and signed autographs, then left before lunch because he had to get back to ferry an Aztec to south Alabama. He was, at the time, 80 years old, and the company had just bought him a brand new airplane to use. I jokingly told everyone he was going to get a vasectomy the following week, and although he feigned embarrassment, I think he rather enjoyed it.

I hope God needs a powerline pilot in heaven, ’cause Ed will drive God crazy otherwise.

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Total change of subject...

In the aftermath of the Kennedy accident, we will probably see a push to ban some combination of VFR, night, single-engine, over water flight. Let's all do our best to inform the public that such flights are made often, routinely, safely, and productively. Let's remind them that, from a safety standpoint, it probably makes just as much sense to ban night automobile travel. In fact, from a safety standpoint, we should all sell our cars and ride Greyhound.

We don't, because the extra risk is offset by the tremendous increase in freedom and flexibility, which is exactly why we fly general aviation. Let's keep this thing in perspective.