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"Top San Jose flight instructor Amelia Reid dies"



Monday, March 5, 2001

Top S.J. flight instructor Amelia Reid dies
REVERED PILOT, 76, DEFENDED AIRPORT NAMED FOR FAMILY
BY FRANK SWEENEY
The San Jose (CA) Mercury News


Amelia Reid, a Santa Clara Valley aviation icon whose name is synonymous
with teaching flying, air shows, antique airplanes and Reid-Hillview
Airport, died Saturday of complications from a stroke. She was 76.

Reid, one of San Jose's best-known pilots who operated her flight school at
Reid-Hillview since 1960, taught thousands of people how to fly. She flew
aerobatic performances at countless air shows -- most recently last year.

A fierce defender of the East San Jose airport that bears her family name,
Reid was disdainful of politicians who periodically sought to close the
62-year-old airfield despite its remarkable safety record.

Until she was incapacitated by a stroke on Jan. 16, Reid seemed
indestructible despite her age, her friends said.

She flew daily, except on Thursdays. She was a familiar sight around the
airport, teaching students in aircraft often older than they, riding her
bicycle around the ramp or driving her white 1966 Mustang.

Men half her age marveled at how she could wear them out on the dance floor
at a hangar party.

``Really, when you get down to it, everything is fun,'' she said in a 1996
interview.

Reid taught flying the old-fashioned way, in tail-draggers,'' the
difficult-to-land old-style airplanes with a tail wheel. ``I've always liked
the feeling of being up in the air,'' she once said in an interview. ``It's
the greatest sensation.''

When she went up, Reid wore black cloth gloves and took a large pillow to
sit on in the cockpit. She also took her purse, for the flight school office
doors were never shut during business hours, even when everyone was out
flying.''

``She loved to teach,'' said her son, Robert ``Robin'' Reid III, who soloed
five airplanes on his 16th birthday and is now a Boeing 747 pilot for
Northwest Airlines. ``One of the things my dad always said was you can be a
great pilot or a great teacher, but it's a real gift to be a great pilot and
a great teacher. She thought that about him, too.''

``She taught me so much, to cherish flying,'' said internationally known air
show pilot Sean D. Tucker of Salinas, who learned aerobatic maneuvers from
Reid in 1974.

``She was a gift to aviation,'' Tucker said. ``She didn't die in an
airplane, and being an air show pilot, there's something to be said about
that. She was the grand dame of aviation.''

Reid logged more than 55,000 hours flight time -- the equivalent of spending
more than six years in the air. She also had a reputation.

``Who she was and what she accomplished so intimidated some people, but as
tough as she seemed to be she really was a sweetheart,'' said Susan Larson
of San Jose, a longtime friend and fellow member of the Ninety Nines, the
women pilots' organization founded by famed aviator Amelia Earhart.

None of that was expected of then-Amelia Lola, growing up in Ord, Neb.,
population 2,000 and no airport, in the Depression. Her father ran a
hardware store.

But in 1938, Evelyn Sharp, the first female pilot in Nebraska, took Reid on
a flight in a Piper J-2 Cuba, the first airplane she had even seen. It
changed her life.

She started flying lessons while a student at Kearney College in Nebraska,
where she graduated in June 1945 with a degree in mathematics. But she
wanted to work in aviation, not teach school in a ``Podunk town with no
airport.'' So she moved to Washington, D.C., and landed a job with the
National Bureau of Standards.

On weekends, she'd take a streetcar and then hitchhike to Congressional
Airport to work as a ``gas boy'' in exchange for flying lessons. She got her
license in 1946.

She came to California shortly afterward to work as a mathematician at
NASA/Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in Mountain View -- actually
NASA's forerunner, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, she
emphatically pointed out -- a job she held for 15 years. She earned a
master's degree in math from San Jose State University. She played violin
with the San Jose Symphony.

And she met Robert ``Bobby'' Reid Jr., a crop-duster pilot and son of one of
two brothers who had founded Reid's Hillview Airport in 1939. They married,
and son Robin was born in 1959.

A few years later, Reid divorced, and the Reid brothers sold the airport to
Santa Clara County, which renamed it Reid-Hillview.

Because the Ames center would not guarantee her job while she was on
maternity leave, Reid had resigned, earned her commercial and flight
instructor's certificates and started her own flight school at Reid-Hillview
from the trunk of her 1959 Ford. Later, she ran the business from two
trailers. In 1967, she decided to build a permanent business.

There were obstacles. Two officials from the department of public works told
her she should be ``home raising your little boy'' instead of building a
hangar, ``just because I'm a woman. . . . It made me determined to build.''

She mortgaged her house to put up the building where she operated her flight
school for the rest of her life.

Her determination showed again in her fight to keep Reid-Hillview Airport
open. The light-plane field was founded when East San Jose was nothing more
than orchards and farmlands. But in the 1950s and 1960s, developers
surrounded it with housing tracts and Eastridge Shopping Center.

Several crashes prompted Santa Clara County supervisors to move toward
closing the field for safety reasons, even though no one on the ground
around the airport had ever been hurt by a crashing airplane.

The county commissioned a $330,000 safety study by SRI International of
Menlo Park. In a 1994 report, SRI said Reid-Hillview Airport has only half
the national accident rate for small airports and that the risk to airport
neighbors would be far greater if stores, industry or housing were built on
the land, vindicating her position. The supervisors narrowly voted not to
close the airport.

Her greatest pleasure, she often said, was flying aerobatics. She taught it
to many others but, ``It's the thing I do for myself.''

At air shows such as the Watsonville Antique Aircraft Fly-In, traditionally
held on the Memorial Day weekend, Reid flew a low-level aerobatic
performance in what basically is a primary training aircraft. In the Cessna
150 Aerobat, she started with loops and finished just a few feet above the
ground with a series of graceful lazy-eight maneuvers she called the
butterfly.

It was an act no one else dared duplicate, Reid said. The only reason she
could pull it off in such an underpowered aircraft -- only 100 horsepower --
is because she weighed so little.

``I just feel the airplane and make it do what I want to do,'' she said.
``It's like being the airplane itself, pulling on the wings and flying.''

On Jan. 16, after attending an evening meeting of the Santa Clara County
Airport Commission, Reid went back to the airport to close the office. One
of her mechanics found her collapsed the next morning.

She never recovered. She died early Saturday morning at a convalescent
hospital.

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