Pilots: Dan Sorkin

December 8, 2009

CFII Dan Sorkin has a leg up on most pilots—a plastic prosthetic leg with a San Francisco Sectional laminated into it. “If I ever get lost,” jokes Sorkin, “I’ll just take my leg off and read it.”

Sorkin’s flying career began with two legs and an unreasonable fear of heights. So at age 18 he enrolled at Sally’s Flying School at Palwaukee Airport in Wheeling, Illinois. On his first lesson a very young and inexperienced instructor tried to give him the full cure: loops and power-off stalls. In a panic, “I cut the magnetos and we landed in a cow pasture. He was fired, but I was cured,” says Sorkin.

One of Sorkin’s first jobs was delivering medications from his father’s drug store in Chicago to Hugh Downs of the Dave Garroway Show. That exposure to show biz started Sorkin on a career in radio in 1946. One day at WCFL in Chicago, a friend brought him an audiocassette of a “funny CPA,” who turned out to be comedian Bob Newhart. With Sorkin’s help Newhart got a contract with Warner Bros. records and Sorkin got the job of announcer on the Bob Newhart TV show. When Producer Mike Todd’s Around the World in 80 Days came to Chicago, Sorkin told his radio boss, “Send me around the world in 40 days. I’ll tape my show from the air—and the station will get the film’s entire ad budget.” Sorkin flew a new Piper Apache, and 40 days and 25,000-plus miles later he and his co-pilot returned to Chicago. The most memorable sight of his trip? “I don’t know, “ says Sorkin. “It was IFR most of the way.”

In 1968 while at KSFO in San Francisco, Sorkin rounded a country corner on his motorcycle at 100 mph, leaving a mangled bike at roadside and an equally mangled left leg. After six months of trying to save the leg, he told his doctors, “Saw it off.”

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he says. “It taught me to look at problems as opportunities, and it was the event that helped me form Stumps ’R Us, a self-help group for cheerful cripples.” Sorkin is Chief Stump. As a flight instructor he offers the first hour of instruction free to any new Stumps member. “The change in their attitude after flying is always dramatic and positive. And they can’t help but smile when they see my sectional.”

To make a tax-deductible contribution to Stumps ’R Us: 2109 Skycrested Drive #1, Walnut Creek, California 94595-1828.