When I think about this year’s Safety Standdown theme of “Elevate Your Standards,” I am reminded of Captain Eugene Cernan. I met Gene in 2004 at my first Safety Standdown, and I have to admit, I was a little awestruck. My heroes were there in force. Wally Schirra, Bob Hoover and Gene were sitting in the Captain’s Quarters having a drink. In one place, I was with the best pilot in the world, an honest to goodness Mercury Astronaut – and not only a Gemini and Apollo Astronaut, but the last man to walk on the moon!
That first night, I had the opportunity to sit down with Wally and Bob and have a conversation – and I’ll never forget the experience. However, the best part of the evening was when I was introduced to Captain Cernan. I was blown away.
That week during the banquet, Gene was the keynote speaker. His presentation was entitled, “Good is not good enough.” His presentation started with a description of the famous Apollo 17 lift off and then chronicled pictures of his moon walk. He began by explaining that as a Naval Aviator, being good was simply not good enough. He then went on to explain that at NASA, you always had to strive to be better. The competition for a flight was intense and the challenges of space flight required constant improvement. He then switched gears to aviation and went on to explain that the only way we could improve safety was to take on that mindset of, “Good is not good enough.” Gene continued by explaining that FAA requirements for certificates or ratings were minimum standards and that we should always strive for excellence not mediocrity. The overriding message? “Never be satisfied with just getting by!”
Over the next 12 years or so, Gene and I became good friends and we had many opportunities to talk. All of his conversations revolved around enhancing your skills, always looking for ways to improve. He once told me that a monkey could fly a space capsule around the earth in orbit, but it took an aviator to go to the moon.
When I got home, I took all that I had learned to heart and looked for ways to improve myself and our flight department. We set higher standards and expectations. We decided to strive for excellence. Through the years, our flight department has performed well. We have achieved many goals and received many accolades. I have personally been involved with the FAA Safety Team, the NBAA Safety Committee, as well as other industry safety programs. We all have elevated our standards!
Safety Standdown 2011 was particularly important for me, because I was with Gene when I received an important call from my son. Jared had just started his senior year of college and was in Navy ROTC. He was set to be commissioned as an Ensign in the Spring of 2012, and I just happened to get a call from him while I was sitting at a table with Gene and a couple of the guys. My son explained that he had been selected to be a Naval Aviator.
When I hung up the phone, Gene asked me what was going on. When I told him that Jared had just been selected to go into Naval Aviation, he grabbed one of the Hyatt hotel note pads and wrote a special note to my son. It read, “Dear Jared, being good is not good enough for Naval Aviation. Always strive to be your best.” He signed the note, “Captain Eugene Cernan USN Retired, Commander Apollo XVII.”
Jared framed the note and kept it on his desk throughout his training. He received his Wings of Gold in 2014. He has gone on to serve in an active squadron and has done one combat deployment. He is currently in Pensacola again learning to be a Navy Instructor. He still keeps Gene’s note on the wall in his office.
One of the highlights of my life was standing on stage with Gene when I received the Captain Eugene Cernan Safety Standdown Award in 2013. When Gene passed in 2017, the aviation industry lost a true hero. Everyone involved with Safety Standdown lost a friend. However, his legacy lives on at the Bombardier Safety Standdown, where we constantly strive to Elevate Our Standards! Always remember what Gene said: “If you aim for the moon and fall short, you still land among the stars.”