Flying With Dad: James' Memories

James' story as told to AOPA.

Photo courtesy of James Benham

My father, James T. “Jim” Benham is a pilot’s pilot. I grew up in the right seat with him flying his Piper Aztec all over the Northern Hemisphere. Countless trips across America, soft field landings at his family farm in Mississippi, flying across Texas to New Mexico (one day he wanted to go to Carlsbad Caverns, so we grabbed one of my friends and just did it!) and multiple trips a year that we would take to bring doctors and nurses to Central Mexico for free medical work. It was on many of those trips to Mexico that some of the best stories happened - from having to buzz the airfields in Mexico to clear the livestock, to having to split the man-made cut between two mountains to barely make final approach at an isolated airstrip in Yajalon, Mexico, to having engines fail on takeoff out of Cordoba and very calmly circling back around on one engine and landing the plane while keeping the medics on board calm, my Dad demonstrated the highest level of pilotage imaginable while instilling a confidence in his passengers that everything would be ok. He sat by calmly as Federalis would search his beloved plane with dogs and guns looking for something that wasn’t there because all we carried was hope for people who needed medical attention.  

When I turned 10, my Dad had what I call a pilot’s mid-life crisis and decided to fly by himself across the Pacific Ocean to Sydney Australia without GPS and in his Piper Aztec. He took the back seats out and replaced them with fuel tanks and proceeded to island hop across the Pacific, starting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, ending in Sydney, Australia and then flying up the coast of Australia and back to the USA. He came back with most of the paint on the leading edge of the wings chipped off from heavy rain and other crazy environmental factors that occurred over the deep blue sea. My Mom was convinced that he wouldn’t make it and prayed for him daily - I just wanted to go on the trip, but he wouldn’t let me go on this one. When he got back, we were overjoyed and met him at BTR with a big banner. 

Photo courtesy of James Beham

When he sold his business in 2004, he went and got his ATP and got type rated in a Citation I and II and flew Part 135 until the insurance companies wouldn’t cover him anymore because of his age. Then when he turned 75 a couple of years ago he decided to get in the Aztec and fly by himself up to Deadhorse, Alaska. Typical Dad - he arrived at the airport, got out, re-fueled, and turned back around to head home - he didn’t even stop to tour around - it’s always been about the journey for him. He’s also flown in Africa and Argentina - I’m convinced that he’ll try to go to Antartica when he turns 80. He still flies frequently at almost 77 - traversing the route between BTR and CLL to come see me and check on our software business, JBKnowledge. He’s my Dad, my Fraternity Brother, my Business Partner and one of my closest friends, but he’ll always be my favorite Pilot.

Thanks for the memories Dad!

AOPA Member Products staff
AOPA Member Benefits Staff members takes great care to ensure every product we provide is valuable, relevant, and in the best interests of our members.
Topics: Technique

Related Articles