There were many important airplanes in Richard Collins’s life, including his Cessna P210, N40RC, which he flew for almost 9,000 hours. Close behind that special airplane was Concorde, the groundbreaking supersonic airliner. He rode on it 14 times, flew the simulator, and became good friends with John Cook, a British Airways captain on the graceful bird.
I first met Dick in the Park Avenue offices of FLYING Magazine, but I got to know Dick – and learned to fly – in Dick’s real office, the cockpit of 40RC, his Cessna P210. During my years at FLYING as a staffer and then as a freelance columnist, I made about 110 flights in over 500 hours in 40RC.
Memories are stored like snapshots in a shoebox. Moments frozen in time. Dick Collins was hunched over his typewriter tapping away that day in the fall of 1964 when I first saw him. He politely said hello, but kept working against a deadline as his father, Leighton Collins, showed me around the Air Facts office in Princeton, New Jersey.
To a neophyte pilot and aviation journalist in the 1970s, meeting Richard L. Collins for the first time was like meeting God. It was at the 1978 Reading Show in Pennsylvania, and I was in my fourth year as an editor and writer with the British weekly Flight International. As a pilot, I devoured FLYING magazine from cover to cover each month; as a writer, I regarded it with awe.
I was so lucky to work for and with Richard for more than 40 years. Richard refused to be called an aviation journalist. What he did, and I did, at FLYING magazine, and for him at AOPA Pilot, and then for Air Facts Journal on the web, is personal aviation promotion. Richard championed the cause of using our own airplanes for personal travel on our own schedule with a maximum of schedule reliability and safety.
The thing with Richard is that I knew him as a coworker and colleague and friend and sometimes forgot his icon status. Once, in Oshkosh, he and I were walking to our table for dinner in a local restaurant and I became aware that people were whispering and nodding in our direction. It made me uncomfortable, until I heard someone say, “That’s Richard Collins,” and I felt like a celebrity.
Dick wouldn’t have wanted a long tribute. While nobody ever accused him of lacking confidence, Richard Collins was a surprisingly quiet and private man. His idea of a memorial would be a tall glass of whiskey and a nod. But I hope you’ll forgive me if I ignore his wishes and remember the life of a legend – and my aviation hero.