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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Captain Kirk Never Flew The Enterprise




Pilots I fly with know one of my favorite sayings is, “Captain Kirk never flew the Enterprise.”  The meaning of this statement is that you don’t necessarily have the best view of the flight deck from the pilot’s seat.  The observer’s seat on an airliner is commonly referred to as the jump seat and has the most effective view of the flight deck.  From it’s vantage point a person can get a much wider perspective as well as absorb the actions of the crew in the context of the situation.  I am always grateful when a pilot in the jump seat gives appropriate, timely and relevant input.

It is not a coincidence that looking at life from a wider perspective was the theme of Gene Roddenberry’s scripts.  He was the creator of the starship Enterprise, its crew, its missions and its iconic Commanding Officer, James Tiberius Kirk.

Eugene Wesley Roddenberry was born the son of a US Army Calvary Sargent and his young bride on August 19, 1921 in El Paso, Texas.  Before his second birthday he would move with his family to Southern California where his father would start his career as a Police Officer. Gene spent his boyhood in Los Angeles, where his enduring love became science fiction.  He later studied law enforcement at L A City College.  Gene then transferred his academic interest to aeronautical engineering and qualified for a pilot's license by the time he was 19.  He volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Corps in the fall of 1941 and was ordered into training as a flying cadet when the United States entered World War II.


As a Second Lieutenant, Roddenberry was sent to the South Pacific where he entered combat at Guadalcanal, flying B-17 bombers out of the newly captured Japanese airstrip, which became Henderson Field.  He flew missions against enemy strongholds at Bougainville and participated in the Munda invasion.   Coincidently, this is where my father served in WWII.  Gene was the lone pilot survivor on one of his missions.  He was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.


After the war ended, Roddenberry joined Pan American Airways as a Flight Officer.  In June of 1947 while deadheading on a flight originating in New York and making its inaugural westbound flight of round-the-world service, the Constellation’s No. 1 engine failed half-way on a leg from Karachi to Istanbul. Due to closed airports and inadequate repair facilities, the pilot chose to continue to its destination. Several hours later, the remaining engines overheated and the No.2 engine caught fire causing the plane to crash in the Syrian Desert.  Of the 36 people aboard Gene was one of the 22 survivors and his actions were responsible for the rescue of many of the passengers.


By the early 1950’s Gene had left Pan Am and had followed his father into the Los Angeles Police Department.  Gene began submitting written stories based on his experiences in the police force.  Soon his part time job writing scripts became a career in the new medium of television and Gene left his full time job at the police department. 


I can remember vividly the shows he wrote scripts for.  Highway Patrol, starring Broderick Crawford and Jack Webb’s Dragnet were two of my favorites.  Another favorite of mine was the western drama, Have Gun Will Travel, starring Richard Boone.  Boone was a direct descendant of the frontiersman and patriot, Daniel.  The show’s principal character, Paladin, was a cultured hired gun whose calling card had an image of a knight chess piece and the inscription, "Have Gun, Will Travel . . . Wire Paladin, San Francisco."  I knew even as a pre teen this was no Roy Rogers cowboy show.  The Saturday night episodes were always riveting even though some were beyond my adolescent understanding.  The one thing I learned from that show was when you ask someone else to solve your problems you may not like the solution.


In 1966 after the first pilot was rejected for being “too cerebral”, Star Trek” finally premiered.  It was not a hit when it originally aired, but it had a large group of committed viewers.  Star Trek eventually became an unmitigated success and developed an almost cult like following.  Roddenberry was intentionally “boldly going where no man has gone before” by his inclusion of controversial social topics in his scripts.  Exceedingly timid by today’s standards, Roddenberry’s episodes gave the audience a rare chance to ponder the day’s conventional thinking.


Monday, October 24, will be the 20th anniversary of Gene Roddenberry’s passing.  His legacy is not only a host of great television shows, service to his country and his fellow citizens, but also the opportunity to look at life from a broader viewpoint.  He shared his perspective in an interview the year before his death.  "If there's one thing that characterizes me, it's the fact that everything was a learning experience. My mind does not say, 'That's good. That's bad.'  It doesn't structure everything into place.  I have an open and inquisitive mind."


Live Long and Prosper

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