Pilots

Dr. Bob Arnot

December 1, 1998

You want a prescription for adrenelin? See "Dr. Bob."

Dr. Bob Arnot, a physician, is easily recognized as the medical correspondent for NBC News. This married, 49-year-old father of two young sons learned to fly in 1976 when he wasn't running the U.S. Ski Team's sports medicine lab in Lake Placid, New York, or pulling shifts in emergency rooms money.

"I ran into a friend who was a Navy carrier pilot and told him I had lost my driver's license racing from MIT and Mass General Hospital in Boston to Lake Placid. I pleaded with him to teach me to fly. We ended up at Hanscom Air Force Base and flew every night for two and a half weeks to earn my ticket," recalls Arnot from his office at NBC's New York City headquarters.

"I started flying back and forth to Lake Placid in a rental airplane at night. The third time my alternator went out in a valley under a heavy cloud cover, I said, 'I don't care if I go broke. I don't want to die. I'm going to buy an airplane.'"

In 1978 he purchased a new Beech V35 Bonanza. He quickly earned his instrument ticket and soon had logged more than 2,500 hours. After 10 years he wanted a bigger airplane but couldn't convince his spouse until fate provided some help in 1989.

"We were flying from Boston at night with our newborn son when the engine started running rough. My wife said, 'You know, sweetheart, you're either going to have to give up flying or get a twin.' I tried not to grin," he said.

Not only did his new turbo Beech Baron help him to earn extra money making speeches around the country, it helped him and his previous employer — CBS — to beat the other networks to stories.

"One of my favorite stories was on the sextuplets in Albany, New York. They were only the second set born in this century. We didn't have time to charter a plane, so I took the editor, a full camera crew, and producer and got the story on the air that night," Arnot remembers.

Now a Piper Cheyenne owner with 5,000 hours in his logbook, Arnot has saved lives in African refugee camps, hidden in clouds to avoid MiG fighters, flown everything from C-130s to F-16s, and is the author of four popular books on sports and health, including his latest, Perfect Weight Control, which made The New York Times bestseller list.

"Africa is a remarkable place to fly. Within 10 minutes of taking off you can see Mt. Kenya, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the Abadeers. It's absolutely spectacular. And without aviation, humanitarian aid would be very, very difficult to provide. It makes an enormous difference across that continent," he said.

Arnot didn't start his career thinking that he would be dodging bullets over the desert or reporting from the far ends of the earth. After graduating from Dartmouth and earning his medical degree from McGill University in Mon-treal,Quebec, Canada, he focused on internal medicine, exercise physiology, and biomechanics.

Through his work with the U.S. Ski Team he began working with ABC Wide World of Sports in 1979. In 1982, CBS asked him to report on sports medicine for its morning show. After more than a decade with CBS, he joined NBC in the summer of 1997; there he is the medical correspondent for Dateline, Today, NBC Nightly News, and MSNBC.

His latest goal is to pilot all the major jet fighters, especially the F-18, which he "practices" flying on his home computer simulator. His last experience was an F-16 ride while on assignment for CBS This Morning.

"That was certainly the most exciting plane I've ever flown. The pilot said, 'OK, Doc, I want you to lift off, get the wheels up, and bring her up to 300 knots. Now ease the stick back there and bring her to 85 degrees.' Within seconds we were at 10,000 feet. Then we did some right rolls and left rolls. It was definitely cool."

As a doctor, pilot, author, and athlete, Arnot offers his fellow flyers some sound advice for safe flying: "When I get in trouble — like losing instruments or an engine — I feel like my survival is a result of being super fit. The concentration required is far greater than the worst cardiac trauma in the emergency room. I had to fly an ILS below minimums with no vacuum instruments a few years ago. Then this spring I had to shoot an ILS to 800 feet with a disintegrating right engine that would not feather and a cowl door ripped off the plane. Being in shape made a huge difference. If you're not sharp, you're not going to make it. Pilots need to shape up."