Richard L. Collins
6 min read

Richard L. Collins

Richard L. Collins shares his honest opinion on some hot topics.

This started off as sort of a game. Two Air Facts staffers thought it would be fun to try to ask questions that they thought would be challenging for me to answer. They came up with thirteen questions. To start, I was to pick six to answer. I wound up answering all thirteen just because they asked. I have never been bashful about sharing my opinions and experiences.

Here goes:

  1. What is the biggest mistake you ever made while flying?
    That is easy. My biggest mistake was not looking out of the left windows of a J-3 Cub, N77548 by name, on the afternoon of February 23, 1954. My omission meant that I didn’t see the Cessna 120 on a converging course. The rather loud noise that followed got my attention and I was able to land the Cub okay even though the landing gear was collapsed. The midair collision and the gear-up Cub landing that followed was the only accident in 57 years as pilot-in-command.
  2. Now that you haven’t flown in a few years, what do you miss most about flying?
    I do really miss the challenge of going places in airplanes, almost always in whatever weather happened to be out there. I still follow weather systems and how they are affecting conditions aloft and at the surface and vicariously fly flights. Some think I am bit daft for it, but I enjoyed weather flying a great deal. I always studied conditions carefully and felt like I knew exactly how the flight would work. Of course it didn’t happen that way. There were many in-flight changes of plan, but I was never surprised because I fully understand that Mother Nature does whatever she wants and is completely unaware of things like forecasts. What you see and feel is what you get.
  3. What do you think of the iPad? Do you use one? Is it at all useful for pilots?
    I didn’t have iPads and iPods when flying. (I have three now.) I did have an HP pocket computer, with Pocket Plates on it, and I quit carrying forty pounds worth of Jeppesen charts quite a while before I retired. If I were flying today, I am sure I would have a lot of aviation apps on my iPad and it would be an integral part of my gear and my electronic ruminations while flying.
  4. Do you think glass cockpits improve safety?
    The question should have also included devices like the iPad. My answer is a simple “no.” Only the pilot can improve safety. The electronics are wonderful, they make getting information easier and more complete, and my airplane always had all the latest whistles and bells. But I was getting around the country safely long before that all came about. I never got lost, either. Temporarily misplaced, maybe, but never lost. Two electronic devices do improve safety. Having terrain and traffic information in the cockpit is truly wonderful.
  5. Are general aviation’s best days behind it?
    I think it is safe to say that the good old days are gone forever but that general aviation will rebound. Corporate and business flying will prosper but the family/business use of personal airplanes will not likely ever get back to where it was in the late 1970s. It’ll be there in some form and in some measure, though. Recreational flying will soldier on.
  6. What is the one thing you wish you would have known as a beginning pilot that you later learned?
    I was young and bulletproof but had I known of the real risks in flying, I would never have flown so close to the edge in those beginning years.
  7. Air Facts has run two articles on whether pilots should speak up when they see a dangerous pilot. Have you ever spoken up to a particular pilot you thought was an accident looking for a place to happen?
    Not directly, but I have spoken up to people who I thought could influence the actions of a dangerous pilot. This was effective a few times but not at other times. In my writing I have always tried to help pilots understand what “dangerous” is.
  8. Air Facts had a Great Debate about whether stall training was a waste. Where do you come down on this issue?
    I threw that hand grenade under the bunk because I wanted to see how other pilots feel about this. I am in a minority in feeling that stall training is a waste. To me the training emphasis should be on precise flying that never allows the airplane to get close to a stall. The training is, to me, too unrealistic to be of much value when the chips are down, usually at low altitude when the pilot allows margins to diminish because he is not doing a proper job of aircraft control.
  9. Is there any FAR that you think works against aviation safety?
    Not in the strictest sense of the word, but if a pilot flies thinking that everything that is legal is safe, trouble lurks. There are too many gray areas that require judgment and common sense above and beyond the regulations.
  10. What is the worst advice you’ve ever heard given to pilots?
    I would have to go with “It is okay because it is FAA-approved.” The FAA approves a lot of questionable stuff and savvy pilots look beyond that FAA approval to judge a modification or a repair.
  11. You have flown a lot of airplanes. Which one was your favorite?
    I have three. Concorde because it was beautiful and really fast. It was way ahead of its time and while they build bigger airplanes that carry more passengers there is not, and probably won’t ever be, a flying machine to equal Concorde. My two general aviation airplanes would be the Bonanza and the Cessna 172, both for obvious reasons. I did fly a Cessna P210 for 28 years and almost 9,000 hours and while it was a favorite for its mission capability, it flew like a truck and climbed like a dog in hot weather.
  12. What one thing did you NOT get to do during your flying career that you wish you would have done?
    I’ll look you right in the eye and say “there is not one.” In speed I went from a hover to slightly over Mach 2, and just about everything in between. I never had a bucket list and if I had, it wouldn’t have had anything on it because I’d rather leave a rocket-launched flight undone.
  13. What one thing would most pilots be surprised to learn about you?
    It couldn’t have anything to do with flying because in almost 2,000 magazine articles and 12 books I have pretty well bared my aeronautical soul. Some people are surprised to learn that my education ended after graduation from a tiny high school in the tall timber country of south Arkansas. I would add that this has not been a hindrance. When I was selected to be editor-in-chief of FLYING, it was by an Ivy League grad and my two primary competitors were also Ivy League grads.

So, now I have answered all the questions whether I liked them or not. Ask yourself some or all of those questions and share your answers with us, if you want to.

Richard Collins
28 replies
  1. Mike Chinea
    Mike Chinea says:

    Another great article by Richard. Then again I never expect anything less from him. Been reading his articles since I wore a younger man’s clothes. Thank you.

  2. Rulon Bravo
    Rulon Bravo says:

    Richard Collins really is the coolest stick and rudder man out there. Even on the ground, he casts a shadow bigger than the wingspan of an A380. He puts into words what pilots and aviators experience, and does it in such a humble and accessible way that flyers will be reading reprints of his columns many decades from now, and learning from them. Many thanks…

  3. Stephen Phoenix
    Stephen Phoenix says:

    I am suprised Richard did not chose the Piper Pacer as a favorite airplane instead of the 172. His article in January 1975 sure seemed to indicate a love of that airplane. I guess the 172 was perhaps more practical and time has faded the Pacer fondness.

    • Dick Collins
      Dick Collins says:

      Hi Stephen: I did love that Pacer but like the Skyhawk even more because it has opened general aviation flying to so many people and has such an enviable safety record.

  4. Hunter Heath
    Hunter Heath says:

    Great and revealing words; thanks, Dick. Like you, I put the Cessna 172 high on my list of the greatest airplanes of all time. If I had the money, I’d buy a new one tomorrow. My question for you is based on reading many of your articles over decades: did you really enjoy FLYING? The act of flying, I mean. You said you enjoyed planning and carrying out weather flying, but I don’t recall any encomiums to the wonders of the J-3 or the Stearman or the like flown on nice summer evenings.

  5. BRAD
    BRAD says:


  6. Bob Webster
    Bob Webster says:

    I quit paying attention to Mr. Collins when he bad mouthed the Swift some years back. His father in the Old Air Facts (I believe) thought the Swift was a great airplane. Me too!

  7. Don Rieser
    Don Rieser says:

    Mr. Collins, I have read many of your articles and books over my 34 years of flying. Your guidance on instrument and weather flying have been invaluable. Thank you. I was only surprised you didn’t mention the Cardinal RG, as I know you were fond of yours.

  8. Steve Meyer
    Steve Meyer says:

    Richard, When you were with Flying Magazine,You wrote a multi part series based solely on Instrument Flying.That series proved to be invaluable,as it prompted me to go on and get my Instrument rating. Kudos to you for teaching so many the Fine Art,(The Precision) of instrument/Weather flying.

  9. Mark C.
    Mark C. says:

    Here I am with the ink on my shiny new pilot certificate barely dry, and I’m going to disagree with Richard Collins. The value of stall training isn’t in learning to deal with stalls, and it’s certainly not in learning to cause them. But as I was flying to my checkride a couple weeks ago, it occurred to me that the value of stall training was in overcoming the fear and learning that we are in control of what happens to the airplane. For most of us, the terror we felt the first time the nose dropped and we were looking at trees and buildings instead of sky, or the mounting tension as we hang on the prop of a Sparrowhawk conversion waiting for it to finally decide to try and drop the left wing during a power on stall, were nearly enough to make us quit flying. But overcoming that is part of the recipe for making the famous cool, collected, confident, in control of the situation pilot. We could probably learn the same lessons from some aerobatic training, but stalls and even spins are probably safer and less taxing on the airplanes. I was hoping to take my wife flying tomorrow, but she has to work and I have to fly, so I’ll be out solo, and I just may do a stall somewhere along the way.

    • M Gillis
      M Gillis says:

      Couldn’t agree more with Mark C. I’m a senior student pilot with just over 50 hrs in my log book. Part of the training syllabus here in Canada includes stalls, spins, and spiral dives. Apart from seperating the people who thought they wanted to be a pilot from those who truly yearn, it boost’s your confidence level. I don’t enjoy the whistle or the inevitable buffet(or wing drop)and stall. But it certainly puts you front and centre of a situation that needs to be corrected smoothly, quickly, and with confidence. It might just save your hide one day in a less drastic scenario. I liken it to buying a 500 HP Porsche and having a professional driver show you what happens the first time the rear end cuts loose in a turn.

  10. S.K. Sherman
    S.K. Sherman says:

    Mr. Collins,

    I am overwhelmed at the emotion and love you were able to share in the article about Mrs. Collins.
    I understand that and sincerely appreciate who ANN is and what she means to you.


    S.K. Sherman (USAF — ret)

  11. mark Fay
    mark Fay says:

    Hey Richard:

    In one of your books you caught a kid buzzing around your place and you DID track him down to talk to him. You didn’t turn him in, though. He seemed contrite and you cut him a break, you softy.

    Just goes to prove you have forgotten more about flying then … You know the rest.

    best to you and the family during this time

  12. Mauricio alves
    Mauricio alves says:

    Hello Richard ,

    Its always a pleasure to watch your DVDs and read your articles my wife has asked what else other than airplane are in those DVDs , I watch at list a little everyday specially the weather ones . I haven’t had a chance to read your books yet but I promise I will . I know you are a busy man but if I am not asking too much I would like to meet you , I am foreign aviation student Here in USA and it would be a great honor to take picture with you and take it home to Brazil to show my fellow pilots . I am located in Kansas city if you ever fly by please let me know or tell me where you are and I will fly to meet you . Thank you .

    Mauricio Alves

  13. RobertL
    RobertL says:

    Richard Collins wrote a series of articles in the 1970’s about operating a Skyhawk II IFR year in, year out – a real inspiration showing how a simple aircraft could be operated safely and practically as a business asset. Its great that he is still contributing through his blog.

  14. Patrick Yancey
    Patrick Yancey says:

    I now own N40RG, the 1974 Cessna 172 Mr Collins owned for a few years. The paint & interior are 9/10. The panel is nice, clean and new. It has less than 2,700 hours TT and less than 700 on a 160 HP lycoming. If I could find a way to get in touch with Richard L. Collins, I’d love to send you some pictures of it. [email protected]

  15. Mark S.
    Mark S. says:

    What is the biggest mistake you ever made while flying?

    I made several good ones, but the worst was when I wanted to get some tailwheel time. I went to a flight school with several Citabrias and took some dual. Compared to the ultra forgiving nature of the Beech Sport 150 and the Beech Sundowners I had flown, the Citabria was much more demanding, a true stick and rudder machine.

    My instructor was young, quite possibly I was his first student, and I disliked him. He harangued me continuously over the intercom and, IMO, never allowed to time to develop a feel for the airplane. He signed me off for the Citabria before I was ready and I was so relieved to not have his voice continually in my ears that I accepted the sign off. I was fortunate not to have ground-looped the thing on my first solo flight and really came away from the experience disillusioned.

    Had I the opportunity to go back to that experience today, with the benefit of a more mature outlook, I would have spoken to someone at the flight school and explained that I wasn’t comfortable with that instructor. Simply stated, I needed a different approach. I was licensed and experienced when I checked out in the Citabria, I should have held out for a more experienced instructor whom I felt was a better pilot than I. Huge mistake, and while the likelihood of serious injury was minimal, it definitely could have injured my bank balance had I goundlooped that poor little bird.

    Now that you haven’t flown in a few years, what do you miss most about flying?

    As an inactive pilot, I find that I miss the mental challenge. Flying fills your mind with lots of math and physics which are applied in real time. While my work involves at least a bit of engineering, it’s not the same.

    I also miss the emotional effect of leaving the ground behind. Literally, from my first flight, I recall a sense of leaving my worries behind on the ground while my mind concentrated on flying the plane.

    What do you think of the iPad? Do you use one? Is it at all useful for pilots?
    Do you think glass cockpits improve safety?

    I’ll tackle these together using an analogy. No matter how fine a musical instrument is, it can sound no better than the person playing it. A skilled musician will shine through on a student instrument, but will also be able to take full advantage of a truly fine instrument.

    The computerized flight control systems and information sources such as the iPad are tools, but are no better than the pilot using them. It is my personal opinion that many pilots have become too dependent upon automation and have lost touch with basic flying skills. I think it would be very good for ATPs to spend a little bit of time in a Skyhawk, Cub or the like every month, just reconnecting with the very basic skills every pilot needs. The handful of times when I got into a pickle, it was the basic stick and rudder skills that brought me back to the ground safely.

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