An Interview With Ron Standerfer, Author Of The Eagles Last Flight
By Simon Barrett | Posted on February 26th, 2007
I had the opportunity to talk with Ron Standerfer about his new book The Eagles Last Flight. The book follows the life and times of an Air Force Fighter Pilot.
The Eagles Last Flight is billed as fiction, but my gut tells me there is a good deal of fact involved, not just in the technology and geographic settings, but also the story line and characters.
I say kudos to your gut. Very intuitive. Skip is my alter ego, and I picked him because he was stuck on the wall in front of my desk and couldn’t talk back (A picture of me standing in front of an F-100 when I was 25 years old). Our deal was that he would live my life in the Air Force just as I lived it, but he was on his own when it came to the personal stuff like love, marriage, indiscretions etc. For example, I introduced him to Christy, who had nothing in common with my real wife, and it was love at first sight. The system worked well, although I don’t think he was prepared for some of the curves I threw him about his health and what ultimately happened to Christy.
In my review I say that in my opinion the book is a love story more than a nitty gritty war story. Am I right?
Ouch! I hate it when people say that. Next thing you know the word will be out that The Eagle’s Last Flight is a “chick book.” (Just kidding!) The book is definitely not a nitty-gritty war story. If it were, nobody would read it but old crock aviators like me. A love story? Of course. Even hairy chested fighter pilots are allowed to fall in love and get married. But let’s keep that a secret, okay? Otherwise my image will be ruined.
Being a fighter pilot requires a lot of training, ability and adherence to the rules. In many ways writing a book is like that. You have to deal with pesky editors and publishers, who want to mess with your story. How was your first experience in the writing business?
Humbling to say the least. I sat at my desk for a year writing the great American novel, while a picture of Earnest Hemingway watched in wry amusement. When it was over, the manuscript weighed in at a bouncing 225,000 words. The first literary professional to look at it (the instructor of my writer’s workshop) was appalled at the size and didn’t want to pick it up—much less read it. By the time I submitted it to the publisher I had cut it down to 175,000 words and the editors suggested I cut it another 10,000 words. That’s too bad, because some of my best writing—certainly some of the funniest stuff—ended up on the cutting room floor. I plan to put some of those chapters on my web site, by the way. I think they are hilarious and readers will enjoy them.
I have been told that once a flier, always a flier. Do you still fly?
I haven’t flown in years. For one thing, after spending my life flying supersonic and dashing across the ground at fifty feet and five hundred plus miles per hour, putzing around in a little puddle jumper is boring. Besides I lived in the New York City for over twenty years where the air traffic was so congested it wasn’t worth the trouble.
I used to live about a mile north of NAS Miramar when it was home to the Top Gun program. In the 10 years there I met a number of fighter pilots, I found them generally to be a pretty arrogant bunch. Skip is not like that, Skip is a nice guy, and Skip cares. Have times changed?
Don’t let Skip fool you. When he got on a tear he was among the worst of the bunch—especially when he’d been drinking. We were an arrogant bunch in those days. But then again, so were rock stars and professional athletes—and still are. A lot of that arrogance stems from one thing—it’s called immaturity. On the other hand, a little bit of arrogance in the fighter business is a good thing. We have a saying, “if you don’t know who the world’s greatest fighter pilot is, it aint you!” I hear that this generation of fighter pilots is more low key. That they don’t drink as much, live healthier lives and take their work more seriously. This I doubt, but I don’t know for sure.
The book talks about there being a problem with the F100, and under certain circumstances they crashed for no apparent reason. Was the problem ever found?
Yes, but it took a long time. In a nutshell, the F-100s we flew in Japan were modified so the autopilot could fly a nuclear weapons delivery without the pilot touching the controls. The delivery consisted in a sharp pull back on the stick, followed by a half loop before it rolled out for the escape maneuver. The system didn’t work so well so it was deactivated. Unfortunately they didn’t remove all the wiring that went with it, and after months of exposure to moisture and salt air they became corroded and when they shorted out, the aircraft could go into this maneuver before the pilot knew what was happening.
Is the F100 the plane that I once heard of as ‘The Widow Maker’?
I’ve heard it called that and other models too. Flying was a dangerous business in those days. We used to have a saying, “flying is hours and hours of boredom followed by moments of sheer terror.”
Authoring is like good drugs, once you have one book, you have to have another! What is the next book going to be about?
I just started it. The key words are archeology, suicide, kidnapping, murder, and one hell of a treasure hunt. And oh yeah—sex, lies and betrayal.
If you could wind the clock back, would you do it all again? As I recall your bio says that you flew 200 combat missions, each one of those could have been your last.
I’d do it in a heartbeat. It was a fantastic experience. Look at it this way—today could be the last day of your life—or mine for that matter.
For the fighter pilot, death is a way of life, I am sure that in your real life you have lost friends. Is it really possible to just dust yourself off, and climb back into the cockpit?
Absolutely. It was all about compartmentalizing. We felt it was always the other guy that was going to get killed next, not us. So when the other guy got killed—or bought the farm—-as we used to say, we went to his funeral, honored his memory, looked after his family, and then, it was business as usual. Ask any race car driver and I’ll bet he or she will tell you the same thing.
Postscript: Ron is a most entertaining guy, I suspect that we will be hearing more about this new writer in the near future.