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From Ben Cooper:
These rare photos capture the Flight Deck (cockpit) of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, fully powered for one of the final times. Just a few weeks later, at 9:58am EDT on May 11, Endeavour was powered down for the final time in history. It was the last of the three space shuttles to have power. Below, other views show the mid-deck, gutted of its lockers and storage areas, and three final photos show the white room entrance in the Orbiter Processing Facility, signed by thousands over the years.
Can you tell us a little about you and your background?
I was born and raised in Glendale, California. Dad worked in commercial real estate development, but was also a commercial pilot. I say “commercial” because he had that rating, as well as instrument and multi-engine, but he never flew professionally. He took me to airshows since I can remember, and took me flying – probably weeks after I was born. One of my earliest memories is sitting on my mom’s lap in a Cessna watching desert go by. Pretty typical upbringing… Played baseball, golf and volleyball, got a little better than average grades, and always was drawing airplanes in the margins of my school papers.
Always loved airplanes, always knew I was going to be a pilot. I started flying with Dad around 9, began lessons at 15, soloed on my 16th birthday, and then went to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. I was there from 1987 – 1990, and graduated with a BS in Aeronautical Science, and all my ratings up to multi/commercial/instrument, and CFI.
Sometime in junior high, dad bought me a Pentax ME Super 35mm camera – my first. I really loved taking photos, and would constantly hound him for film before we went to airshows. He’d always say something like, “Isn’t two rolls of film enough?” TWO? I wanted ten! Or more! But dad had to pay for the film, as well as processing, so I tried not to make a stink about it.
In high school, I happened into the classroom being used for the high school’s newspaper. I got involved with that the next year, and began as the photographer. But every member of the staff had to write at least one story for each edition, so I did some entertainment and general writing. I found that I really enjoyed all aspects of it, and ended up winning an award from Columbia University’s school of journalism. In fact, our paper won best high school newspaper for several years in a row.
During this time, I got a Nikon F3, and I was off to the races after that. The Nikon served me well through college, and in fact, that’s when I took my first air to air photos. I was merely riding along with some of my friends from the Prescott Airport, so I’d open the canopy on a T-6 and start taking photos. Later on, that would lead to doing air to air; actually planning and briefing the mission, and directing the aircraft for the photos I wanted.
While at ERAU, I resurrected the college’s newspaper, and began submitting stories to various small aviation publications. I thought it was pretty cool when I got checks in the mail for my writing and photography! I kept up on that, being published in everything from Pacific Flyer to FlyPast, and many others. From 1996 until now, I’ve covered the Reno air races almost every year. That lead to my becoming the editor for Warbird Digest magazine later on.
Career-wise, after college I scraped by as a flight instructor and chief flight instructor, then flew bank checks in Cessna 310s. I went on to fly Chieftains out of Burbank to the Grand Canyon, carrying Japanese tourists. All of the flying was great, but the pay really was bad. I needed to move on and finally get some return on the investment!
I was hired by Trans States Airlines out of St. Louis, Missouri, where I was a first officer on the Jetstream Super 31. I upgraded to captain after a little more than a year, then got hired and America West Airlines after another year. I was based in Phoenix as an Airbus 320 First Officer. That’s where I live now, but we bought US Airways and adopted their name and brand. I’m still in Phoenix, still fly the A319, A320, and A321.
I’m guessing I have somewhere around 18,000 hours now in just over 100 different types of aircraft. My immediate career is to continue flying for the airline and upgrade to captain when the opportunity comes.