Michael Arnold was an enthusiastic pilot who first flew as a teen and more recently set to work building his own aircraft. Fellow members of Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 186 said news that Arnold, 59, was among the 12 victims killed in a shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard on Sept. 16 left them in shock.
“He was a guy you knew you could depend on,” said chapter President Rob Anderson, noting Arnold was present at nearly every chapter event, and always willing to help fellow aviators.
A Michigan native, Arnold served for 29 years in the U.S. Navy, retiring as a captain. He was on the phone with his wife, Jolanda, as gunman Aaron Alexis began shooting. Arnold’s mother, Patricia Arnold, told the Detroit Free Press her son stepped outside his office and, unknowingly, into the line of fire.
“There can’t be any reason to kill 12 people like that,” Patricia Arnold told the newspaper.
Arnold is also survived by two sons, Christopher, 31, and Eric, 27, both of whom live in the Washington, D.C., area, according to fellow members of the EAA chapter.
Anderson said the chapter was already mourning the loss of another member: Charlie Schwenker, the pilot who died in an airshow crash in June with wing walker Jane Wicker.
The chapter is working on tributes for both Arnold and Schwenker as it prepares to mark its fiftieth anniversary.
Arnold was building a two-seat Sonex of his own, and quick to answer the call when fellow builders needed a hand.
“Mike was one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet—he will be truly missed,” said fellow pilot and chapter member Todd Stovall.
Stovall, Arnold, and fellow chapter member Tony Fletcher took a ride together on EAA’s B-17 Aluminum Overcast in 2011. Fletcher recalled Arnold was very supportive of Fletcher’s quest to earn a pilot certificate, and answered numerous questions.
“He was very encouraging,” Fletcher said. “You could tell that he was excited for me as a student pilot.”
Memorial services were planned around the country to remember Arnold and the other 11 victims.
“Kind of makes you think about how these incidents are so widespread and affect so many different people,” Fletcher said.