Mark R. Twombly is a former editor of AOPA Pilot.
My girlfriend, Susie, and I left our very little house in New Jersey early in the morning and headed south toward Florida for a little winter break. A few hours into the journey the talk turned to the future. Specifically, where do we most want to live and work? My apologies to the good folks who live and fly there, but it was not New Jersey. We happened to be passing through Washington, D.C., at the time, and it hit me. “We like this part of the world,” I said. “AOPA is in Frederick, Maryland. I can try for a job on the magazine.” And so I did.
Ed Tripp, who was running the Publications Division at the time, and his executive editor, Steve Thompson, seemed interested and assigned me a feature story as a you’re-in-or-you’re-out test. They bought the story—“Slugs At Speed” about T–6 racing at Reno, which I knew something about since my father was a competitor—but they did not buy me. Someone else was hired as associate editor at AOPA Pilot magazine.
I was bummed, but only for a little while. Tripp called a few weeks later to offer me a job as news editor. It would be a brand new title on the magazine masthead, I didn’t know exactly what I would be doing, and I was pretty sure it was an also-ran position to associate editor, but I jumped at the chance. I mean, AOPA Pilot was the second-largest aviation magazine in the world by circulation—the entire world!—and I was being asked to join the fraternity of staff writers. Soon Susie and I were headed south again, this time to Frederick.
That was in 1983. A lot has passed under our wings since. Susie and I got married, I outlasted the guy who originally was hired over me, and AOPA Pilot became the largest-circulation aviation magazine in the world. The entire world.
This issue of AOPA Pilot commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the magazine. Congratulations on a fabulous record of longevity, growth, and success. Of course, AOPA Pilot’s accomplishments go hand-in-hand with AOPA’s growth and success. A key strategy in AOPA’s mission to be an effective advocate for general aviation pilots and aircraft owners is publishing a magazine that members consider relevant and interesting. The association and the magazine complement each other. It’s a wonderfully synergistic relationship.
In fact, I’m celebrating an anniversary of my own. This year I will have been a part of AOPA Pilot for 25 years—50 percent of the magazine’s lifespan, and 43 percent of mine. For the first 11 of those years I was on the magazine’s staff as an employee—first as news editor, then associate editor, senior editor, and, finally, editor in chief.
Since I left the magazine in 1994 I have been a contributor, writing the “Pilotage” column each month (my first, “To Live Is to Fly,” appeared in the May 1993 issue while I was still on staff). I’ve also been writing for AOPA Flight Training magazine since January 1997, responsible for the “Continuing Ed” and “What It Looks Like” columns each month. In my career as a writer and editor I am most proud of the time I spent as an employee of AOPA working on AOPA Pilot, and subsequently as a contributor to it and AOPA Flight Training.
So, what’s it like to work at the world’s largest-circulation aviation magazine? A lot different now than when I was on staff, except for a couple of things. First, many of the smart, competent, and dedicated people I worked with are still there including Tom Haines, Tom Horne, Alton Marsh, Machteld Smith, Miriam Stoner, Mike Kline, Mike Fizer, Brenda Ridgley, and advertising reps Norm Schindler and Brian Curpier and his team. That continuity is key to the magazine’s steady rise in prominence.
A word about Phil Boyer. He was hired as president of AOPA, succeeding John Baker, when I was editor. I interviewed him, and like many in the building, I looked a little askance at a guy whose entire career had been in the broadcast industry. Would he know enough about working Capitol Hill as a pilots’ advocate, growing the membership even as the pilot population was declining, and managing an association staff of about 175 disparate people?
He most certainly did. Boyer has more than proven himself to be the smartest guy in the association business. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that, for its size, AOPA is among the most effective associations in Washington, and over the last 17 years we have Phil Boyer to thank for that.
Want some dish on Boyer from a guy who reported to him directly for four years? Sorry, got none. He was a terrific boss. Unqualified support of the magazine, and loyal to his employees. What more can you ask?
I’ve been fortunate—25 years, 178 columns, and lots of other work in the magazine, so far. But there’s one more thing that I’m chest-thumping proud of, and that is my middle son, Ian. He is a new staff writer on the magazine. I’d like to say he is my legacy, but the truth is I had nothing to do with him being hired. He pursued the job on his own, and was awarded it on his own merits. And, unlike Dad, he went directly to associate editor. Good choice, AOPA Pilot. Go get ’em, son.