Meet Your Neighbor: 37,600 hours aloft and counting |

Meet Your Neighbor: 37,600 hours aloft and counting

Eileen JoyceBill Frisbie stands by his airplane after taking it out of a hangar at the Nevada County Airport Wednesday.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Bill Frisbie’s life has been up in the air, and he has no complaints.

Frisbie has been flying for more than 50 years, starting as a U.S. Air Force pilot in 1951. During that time, the 71-year-old Banner Ridge-area pilot has logged 37,600 hours in the cockpit, many of them flying for Pan American airline, which employed him from 1955-90.

At times, Frisbie has taken on extra flying work. During 1956-58, while flying for Pan Am, he went on weekend forest fire-attack missions. The money he made went to pay for rental planes to get to the weekend work.

“I love it, I just love it,” said Frisbie of flying. “I’m so lucky to have spent my life doing something I love to do.”

While doing something he enjoys, Frisbie has also happened to be involved in historical events.

From 1984-90, Frisbie was tapped by two consecutive presidents to fly the press corps Boeing 747 charter plane during overseas trips. He flew Sam Donaldson, Peter Jennings and other media stars who followed Presidents Reagan and Bush on their overseas trips.

Frisbie earned the spot because he had experience with China’s primitive air traffic system. In 1978, Frisbie had flown a Boston Pops trip to Shanghai. De-icing a 747 back then was accomplished by opening the overwing emergency exits and having people beat the ice off the wings with bamboo sticks.

Because of his experience, Frisbie was asked to fly the press plane during President Reagan’s 1984 China trip.

Frisbie’s decision-making skills were tested right off the bat when one of the standup television correspondents became deathly ill while the plane was in flight. Her pulse was 50, and she had low blood pressure.

It was a tricky decision. If Frisbie landed in Okinawa so the woman could get immediate medical treatment, that would mean the president would have to choose between aborting his flight or landing in China without some staff members and security. Okinawa was only 15 minutes away.

Ten minutes later, Frisbie checked on the patient’s condition, which was stable. He continued on to Beijing, which was a few hours away, and did not hamper President Reagan’s mission.

During the next six years, Frisbie flew many White House press charters for Presidents Reagan and Bush, including trips to Brussels, Rome, London, Cartegena, Malta and Helsinki. He also trained presidential pilots to fly Air Force One.

Frisbie has other flight-related accomplishments.

In 1990, he set a transcontinental speed record for a commercial flight from Los Angeles to New York, making the trip in three hours, 42 minutes. The record was certified by the International Aeronautic Federation.

On a more somber note, Frisbie was whisked straight to the wreckage of Flight 103 in Lockerbie, Scotland, where he served as Pan Am’s chief investigating officer.

“It was a dreadful thing, a gruesome thing,” said Frisbie. “It was a tough experience, and it was over the holidays.”

Frisbie retired from Pan Am in 1990 as regional chief pilot for the Pacific region. He still serves as a consultant to charter operations, and is involved in Airpac, a Nevada County airport users group.

Frisbie and his wife Joan have four children.

He jokes that he buys his own gas now, when he flies his Beechcraft Baron 55 out of the Nevada County airport. But he still enjoys flying, and takes to the air with his 15-year-old grandson, Ian Hamadi.

“Flying’s my thing, it’s my life,” Frisbie said.

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