GALESBURG, Ill. — Jim Ratliff always wanted to fly. As a young man growing up in Mississippi, Ratliff was always intrigued by planes and had aspirations to learn how to fly. He began his training in the ROTC and would eventually move on to a healthy career in the Air Force, where he would remain a pilot for just over six years.
His time in flight school in the Air Force lasted a year, where he would learn to fly C130s and other aircraft. He would then move on to Tennessee for three years and finish up his campaign in southeast Asia. He sees this time as a fundamental era in his skill set, teaching him all of the necessary mechanics needed to enjoy a life of flying.
After Ratliff’s time in the Air Force concluded, he remained in the United States and took odd jobs with his pilot skills to make do. He found himself doing field service flights to start, flying charters, and eventually took some time away from the cockpit to start a short career in selling cars, which he remembers not going as well as he would have hoped. This kick-started his desires to fly yet again, which led him to his mainstay at Delta Air Lines, where he would remain a pilot for 31 years.
During this time, Ratliff purchased his first Stearman plane in 1992 and has been flying it ever since. The first plane he bought cost $40,000 and has been the model he has remained with to this day, though with some changes. He remembers it being a training plane at a crop dusting school, which awarded it a good bit of wear and tear, though an optimal choice for his first purchase.
“It was a pretty rough airplane,” Ratliff said. “But over the years, I’ve been able to restore it to the condition it’s in today.”
Ratliff now saves his money throughout the year to attend the Galesburg Stearman event as his own personal vacation. He’s been attending the event since 1995 and believes it’s the people he’s met that keep him coming back.
“I’ve met a lot of people here in Galesburg that I really like to see every year,” Ratliff said. “It almost feels like I’m coming home, back to your hometown.”
Ratliff had never been to Galesburg before his first Stearman event in 1995. He remembers hearing about it through the various contacts he had made in his Stearman network and how grand of an event it was. To him, this was a must attend event for anyone who owned a Stearman of their own.
His main goal down the line is to make it to the 50th anniversary of the Galesburg Stearman event in 2022. He sees that milestone as one that will hold some great memories. In the meantime, he wants to take his hobby a year at a time and be sure to make it to the event every year to come.
“When you fly a Stearman, you have friends everywhere you go,” Ratliff said. “No matter where you are, people always want to come up and see the plane.”
Source: The (Galesburg) Register-Mail, http://bit.ly/2wO4YbD
Information from: The Register-Mail, http://www.register-mail.com
This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by The (Galesburg) Register-Mail.