Eulogy for a Business Aviation Hero

May 14, 2014 11:20am


By Randy Bradbury

When we think of heroes, warriors spring to mind. Or rescuers wading into the breach without care for personal danger. Or even the quietly determined individual defying impediments to gain everyday triumphs. We don’t typically think of business aviation.
But there are heroes in this industry. Men and women who risk their lives to ensure that the rest of us fly in safety and comfort. Pete Reynolds, for example. Last month, members of the Kansas aviation community recognized Reynolds’ long service as a test pilot of the first order by inducting him into the state’s aviation Hall of Fame.

They made a valiant effort to hold the ceremony while Reynolds was still here to enjoy the honor. Unfortunately, they fell just short. Reynolds died just prior to the ceremony.

Universally Admired

The induction ceremony at the Kansas Aviation Museum in Wichita made his hero credentials crystal clear.

He joined Learjet in 1973 almost as a fluke. He happened to be passing through Wichita after completing his military service and saw an opening for a test pilot. He stayed for more than 30 years, eventually rising to become vice president for flight test for Bombardier.

In that role, he played a major part in developing, testing and certifying every new Learjet. As flight test VP, he oversaw a division of 500 people and managed testing for Bombardier’s Canadair, deHavilland and Learjet aircraft.

Peers say he did far more than just fly aircraft. He was also an engineer, and he worked closely with the design team, representing the pilot’s point of view while also working to make the aircraft the best and safest possible.

The Pilot They Wanted to Be

Those who knew him called him “hero” not so much for what he did, but how he did it, and who he was.

He was, above all, a consummate, intelligent pilot. His dry sense of humor and unshakeable calm carried him and his team through even the most challenging circumstances. And there were a few of those. Like the time both engines flamed out at high altitude. He put the plane into a dive to restart the engines, then detailed the incident so the engineers could fix it. A week later: same thing. And the same result.

On the third try, the plane flew flawlessly.

Reynolds likely will be remembered as the pilot who commanded first flights for eight different Learjet models. Perhaps he should be remembered as the pilot who took the third flight on an aircraft that had failed the first two times out.

He certainly should be remembered as the hero he was.