A Good Stick
A Good Stick
An Airline Captain Lives the History of 20th Century Commercial Aviation
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Forced by federal regulations to retire at age 60, Jerry Sorlucco had served as an airline captain for nearly forty years and was probably the senior pilot on the planet. During that long career, he flew everything from DC3s to Boeing 767s. His memoir documents that experience professionally, personally and to some extent technically. Anyone with any curiosity about the life, work, gear and training of an airline pilot will find something

engaging in this book. The story begins with an Italian kid from Brooklyn''s early love of flying and ends with his final flight from Frankfurt in 1997. Photographs of the aircraft Sorlucco flew, crewmembers, and his friends and family enhance the lively narrative.

Given the sorry state of the airline industry, this story is especially timely. Sorlucco discusses some of the reasons for the industry''s collapse and offers some possible solutions. In fact, the entire narrative is framed in its historical context, so the reader will be constantly reminded of the wider world surrounding a personal journey.

A Good Stick is a must read for the thousands of fellow pilots who shared an era with Jerry Sorlucco, for young pilots trying to keep afloat in a sea of airline red ink, and for anyone wondering what on Earth happened to America''s airline industry.

For the aficionado, the historical and technical data in the narrative is not merely anecdotal; it is thoroughly researched and accurate.


US Airways shared flight operation at Frankfurt with British Airways. They were mostly German nationals who were highly professional and did a great job. Over time I got to know them and they knew they could count on me to help them in any way that I could. An aloof or uncooperative captain could screw up an on-time departure in countless ways and imprecise flight planning would sacrifice revenue.

Flights from Frankfurt west were always up to maximum gross takeoff weights because of the extra fuel needed to counter the prevailing easterly jet streams. US Airways computerized weight and balance system limited the gate release weight to 351,000 pounds, the maximum certified gross takeoff weight. The computer simply didn’t understand that the maximum certified taxi weight is 352,200 pounds and that the additional 1,200 pounds is always burned off taxiing out to the runway. That additional weight could translate to six or seven passengers or revenue freight being left behind. The only one with the authority to override the computer was the captain and I did it routinely.

The bottom line is that by doing my job properly I enabled others to do theirs. That’s the kind of captains I tried to train as a line captain and for a while as a line instructor/check airman. As was taught to me, authority must be coupled with responsibility and leadership to be successful.

At any rate, the guys at operations were very thoughtful. I wound up with a basket of trinkets and memorabilia, but had no idea what else the station manager had up his sleeve. I would find out soon enough.

In the meantime, cabin crewmembers had their own ideas. The flight was full and I know those passengers didn’t have any idea in the world what they were in for. The crew had prepared for a party across the Atlantic: papier-mâché, cake, the whole works.

Now you have to understand that a pilot is only as good as his last landing. Last flight or no, it would be safe and professionally conducted. The cockpit routine was done by the book, except that I asked Larry, the first officer, to handle the PA welcome aboard and so forth. He needless to say mentioned the significance of the flight. Fortunately, nobody asked to get off!

I thought it was sweet that the station manager personally gave the wave off salute, although I thought his grin was a little shit- eating. I would soon learn why. As we turned down the taxiway toward runway 07L, the ground controller asked us to deviate to a parallel taxiway, and then politely suggested that the Frankfurt Airport Fire and Rescue Crew would like to salute the captain. Up came fire engines abreast of the aircraft on both sides of the taxiway; out came a bridge of water over the aircraft. Somewhat further down was the commander standing at attention with a dress salute.

Now you have to understand: I was commanding a U.S. flag carrier at Frankfurt, Germany. Such a tribute had never been given before.

Abeam of the fire chief, I stopped the aircraft and with tears in my eyes returned a military salute that General Patton would have been proud of. Wow! It is a memory I will always cherish. Thank God for Larry. I asked him to assure the passengers that we weren’t on fire and tell them what had occurred. I sure couldn’t have done it right then.




Jerry Sorlucco was a commercial airline captain for nearly forty years, until federal regulations forced him to retire at age 60. From seat-of-the-pants flying to huge, computerized airliners, his career encompassed most of the history of commercial aviation in the 20th century. He began flying when he was 14. By age 18 he had his commercial pilot''s license, although he was too young for any airline to hire him. He was a captain at 23.

Despite some near misses, Sorlucco ended his long career with no accidents and no major damage of any kind to the aircraft he commanded. That record earned him the reputation for being what pilots call "a good stick."      Sorlucco was a founder and vice president of the Professional Pilots Federation and an officer in the Airline Pilots Association. His flying career and professional activism, combined with an intense involvement in current and historical events, gave him the scope he needed to write A Good Stick.

Since his retirement, Sorlucco has run for the New Hampshire Senate twice and has become a leader in the state Democratic Party. He is at work on a new book titled The Politics of Passion. He lives with his wife Sue, two dogs and two cats in Littleton, NH.


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