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Dragonfly Aviation makes final hard landing

Monday, November 26th, 2012 | Posted by



If there’s anything more rewarding than to buckle into a sleek machine with wings and power up to bank and glide and revel in a bird’s-eye view of the neighborhood or

Bob Archibald (KENT PORTER/ PD)

the coast or the Earth, it may be to teach another person to fly.

Bob Archibald has taught many through the 31 years the former Air Force pilot ran the now-grounded Dragonfly Aviation flight school at the Sonoma County-Charles M. Schulz Airport.

“After many years, I look back at the dozens of former students now sitting in the front seat of major airlines,” said Archibald, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars who sports a white handlebar moustache and doesn’t look his 80 years.

He savors replays of a favorite moment for someone in his line of work: standing on the tarmac and flashing a thumbs-up to a student about to take off on his or her first solo flight.

But Dragonfly has trained its last pilot. Archibald has closed the flight service, having run out of money and been evicted from the county airport.

He’s regretful and also a bit bitter. He said he believes that though his business has struggled, it might have survived had airport management not thwarted his efforts to expand his services, most notably to restore a former aspect of his business and once again sell fuel at the airport.

“There were ways we could have been supported by the airport, which we were not,” Archibald said. “There were opportunities we weren’t allowed to carry out.”

Airport manager Jon Stout views the demise of the landmark flight service differently.

“I don’t think we dealt with him in an unfair manner,” Stout said. In fact, he added, “we felt we bent over backwards” to accommodate those proposed expansions of Dragonfly’s services that met airport standards.

Ultimately, Stout said, the problem with Dragonfly was that Archibald too often failed to pay his rent.

“I like Bob as a person. He’s a nice guy,” Stout said. “It came down to business.”

Despite his grievances with airport management, Archibald said he will not contest the eviction. He foresees his bumpy ride continuing, saying he hasn’t the money to pay his vendors or refund down-payments from some new students.

“So I’m going to have to see a bankruptcy attorney and take care of it that way,” he said.

The involuntary shuttering of Dragonfly, which leaves one helicopter flight school and one fixed-wing school at the airport between Santa Rosa and Windsor, is not the way Archibald hoped to conclude his career in aviation.

He has loved to fly since a family friend took him up over the Central Valley in a two-seat Piper J-3 Cub. It was August 1941, shortly before the U.S. would enter World War II, and Archi-bald was 9 years old.

He enrolled in Air Force ROTC as a student at Oregon State University, and in 1954 — with the Korean conflict still on — enlisted and commenced flight training. That war ended before he was ready to fly in combat.

“Vietnam was my war,” he said. He flew the RF-101 fighter-bomber and reconnaissance aircraft.

Early on in his war service, he expected to fulfill his commitment to the Air Force and then resume his studies in pursuit of a doctorate in geography.

“But I loved my job as a fighter pilot and chose to stay for a career,” he said.

Archibald left the service in 1976 and a short while later brought his family to Santa Rosa. He flew commuter planes out of the county airport for STOL Air before launching Dragonfly Aviation in 1981.

He and his instructors staffed the operation every day of the year except Christmas and shared with a great many people the thrill of flight.

“The most enjoyment in teaching folks to fly is when all the training comes together and clicks,” Archibald said. “When they go up solo for the first time, that really is satisfying.”

Thirty-six years after he retired from his Air Force career, he regrets losing his school to bankruptcy and eviction. But the old bird said with an accepting shrug, “Maybe this is all a sign that it’s long enough.”

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

  • http://www.latvianconnectionllc.com Keven Barnes

    Dragonfly Aviation is a legend in Sonoma County’s Charles Shultz Airport and legends never die – they live on. I have returned from Kuwait for Christmas and drove by Dragonfly where I earned my wings in 1993 under Jim Johnson who was one of Bob’s part-time instructors. Santa Rosa Junior College has benefited for many years from their association with Dragonfly and should create an annex for the college as General Aviation is as much part of America as junior colleges are. Bob is one of Sonoma County’s last gentlemen and a Vietnam Vet to boot. Sonoma County should be doing something to assist this war hero and his business. We, the students should have flown more hours and been Bob’s generous flying club. My apologies to you Bob for not having flown more. You are a great guy and fellow Air Force veteran. I will miss my flying school.

    • David Olson

      I taught at Dragonfly in 1990-91. Jim is a great guy. When I was learning my instructor was Brian Iriks. Also Marc Grail. Going to miss flying there. Best of luck Bob.

  • marc hauptman

    Thanks to Bob and Dragonfly for giving me the opportunity to earn my certificates in beautiful Santa Rosa. Had it not been for you I may not have become an airline pilot.

    Marc Hauptman
    Southwest Airlines

  • Scott Holder

    I leanred to fly here with Gary Ober in the late 80’s and still fly today. It is a shame that we lose another FBO at STS. Competition is good for all and keeps prices fair to all involved. Dragonfly serves a great niche for many years and wil be missed. Scott p. Holder

  • S. Rhodes

    End of an era here. While I did the lions’ share of my California flying across the field at American Aviation, this place was where I got my private with Ron Alvestal in 2000-2001. Been a good ride since then. Tailwinds to you, Bob.

    S. S. Rhodes
    Hawaiian Airlines

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Ann Hutchinson is our Santa Rosa correspondent.
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