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Meet the Pilot - Bob Allen

Pilot Bob Allen.

Over huevos rancheros at a Tucson breakfast spot, we caught up with volunteer pilot Bob Allen. 

LightHawk: How did you get your start as a pilot?

Bob Allen: I learned to fly at Harvey Young Airport in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1983. It was a grass strip. The flight school there had two Piper Tomahawks and a Piper Warrior. I learned in the Tomahawk, which required some new skills since it had a “T” tail. You had to get going over 70 knots before you could ease the yoke back and get the tail flying, so soft field and short field takeoffs required a very deft balancing act. 

After I got my license a couple of weeks flying rental aircraft convinced me that I wanted my own plane. I found a 1967 Cessna 150 at Riverside Airport in Tulsa and flew it for two years. In late 1985, we decided we needed a bigger plane so we bought a Cessna 172 and sold the 150. It was a beautiful plane but carried only 38 gallons of fuel. We flew the 172 until ’93 when we replaced it with a Grumman Tiger. It had more fuel capacity and we needed it because we were flying a lot of long distance IFR. In 2006 we sold the Grumman to buy a 1958 V-Tail Bonanza with a factory remanufactured IO-520. I had the bigger, faster airplane bug. When I retired in 2011, the cost of maintaining the Bonanza convinced me to trade it for a Cardinal RG. It’s the perfect airplane for LightHawk flying. It has no wing strut, the gear retracts, it has long legs, and you can fly it low and slow. I have a photo window, which is popular, too. 

Bob Allen's Cardinal airplane soaring across the Colorado River Delta.

LH: Do you remember where you were when you achieved 1,000 hour PIC, LightHawk’s minimum requirement?

Allen: I am sure I got to 1,000 hours PIC in Cedar Rapids, Iowa about 1987. By then my wife Barbara, also a pilot, and I had owned two different airplanes. We flew everywhere because we had relatives all around us and loved to fly to far away places like the Florida Keys. When we moved to Iowa in 1986, we decided to get our instrument ratings and outfitted our Cessna 172 for IFR. That opened the door to even more flying.

LH: How did you find out about LightHawk?

Allen: Bill Rush and I both belonged to the Flying Doctors of California, and Bill told me about LightHawk. By that time, I was flying into Mexico a lot with the Flying Doctors, so LightHawk seemed like a perfect fit. My first missions with LightHawk included the Colorado River Delta survey flights because I lived in Palm Desert not too far from the Mexican border and Mexicali, where the missions originated. I also flew fishery surveys along the Pacific Coast out of Torrance, and wilderness surveys out of Santa Maria. When I moved to Tucson in 2013, I continued and expanded my involvement in LightHawk to include more conservation flying in Mexico and Arizona. 

LH: Do you have a favorite LightHawk flight?

Allen: I love all my flights, but I am very dedicated to the work to save the vaquita dolphin in the northern Gulf of California.

Volunteer pilot Bob Allen with the conservation partner before a vaquita flight.

LH: What does being able to fly mean to you?

Allen: Being able to fly gives me opportunities to give back for the wonderful life God gave Barbara and me. Almost all of our flying involves some kind of organized charitable work. The next best thing to flying is spending time with my wife, Barbara, who is also an instrument-rated pilot, my sons and grand children. 

LH: Do you think being a pilot and seeing the earth from that perspective changes your outlook on life?

Allen: Being a pilot and seeing the earth from that perspective reminds me of how insignificant we are as individuals and how beautiful the world below is. Sometimes it makes me sad to see what we have done to our planet, and sometimes it gives me joy to see what’s being accomplished to save and improve it. 

Volunteer pilot Bob Allen with members of Sonoran Institute after flying around and over the White Tank Mountains west of Phoenix. happy conservationists.

LH: What is the most challenging aspect of aviation for you?

Allen: The most challenging aspect of aviation is coping with the expense in retirement. That sometimes limits my ability to participate.

LH: What do you do to maintain your flying currency, to stay on top of your game?

Allen: I fly a lot. Last year I flew over 150 hours in our Cardinal RG. I take annual flight reviews in fixed gear and gliders and regularly pour over changes in rules and procedures. I practice IFR approaches, which are fun in the Cardinal because it has a glass cockpit, and it certainly keeps my brain and reflexes sharp. However, as I age I am becoming an even more cautious pilot.

Did I mention that aviation is pretty much my life now? I ran TV and radio stations for over 50 years and I can truly say aviation is way more fun! 

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