What sparked your interest in aviation?

It's the only thing I can remember ever being interested in. For some reason that is unexplainable, all I ever wanted to do was fly. I remember when the Boeing 707 came out in 1959, and I thought: "Man, to some day be able to fly those!"

How did you get started?

The first thing I did when I got out of high school was to go to aircraft mechanics school and earn my A&P (airframe and power­plant) licence to be able to start flying private, commercial, instrument, multi-engine, then CFI and "double-I" (instrument instructor).

When I finished that in 1970, I picked up a bad number in the first year of the draft lottery for military service. I was about to be drafted for military service so I enlisted in the US Navy and spent four years as an aircraft mechanic.

Steve Johnson 
 © AA

I also had a night job working on small airplanes at the local civilian airport, which is how I could afford to start flying. I earned all the ratings and embarked on the "five year plan" when I returned to civilian life.

My goal was within five years to have a four-year college degree and 2,000h of flying time, which I hoped would make me competitive for an airline pilot job. Working my way through college by flying, I was hired by American Airlines four years and two months later with 3,600h flying time and one semester short of a degree.

What year did you start flying for American and what aircraft did you first fly for them?

My date of hire was the anniversary of "a day that shall

live in infamy" - 7 December, Pearl Harbor Day, in 1978. I was fortunate enough to start my career as a flight engineer on the 707.

The next step was flight engineer on the McDonnell Douglas DC-10, then engineer on the Boeing 727, and then getting furloughed when the air traffic controllers went on strike in 1981.

A few miscellaneous flying jobs later, I was recalled by American in late 1983. After a short stint on the panel and right seat of the 727, I moved to the right seat of the 767 in 1985, a year and a half after getting recalled. I flew the 767 as a first officer until I upgraded to captain on the Super 80 (MD-80) in 1989.

As a junior captain, I usually worked three-day trips doing three, four or five legs a day.

Did you enjoy the job?

Yes, but I really wanted to get back on the 767 glass cockpit and longer hauls as soon as possible. I was able to bid to fly the 767 in 1992. By then we had 757s as a common type so I flew those too. I always felt like I could retire flying the 767 because it is such a magnificent airplane.

But then other things came along. I flew the MD-11 for a year in 1999 and 2000, then went back to the 767 for a year. In 2001 I qualified on the 777 and have been flying it since. It is the best airplane, by far, I have ever flown.

What do you think of the prospects for the 787?

Boeing will get their problems worked out and chances are it will deliver on all the promises. If it does, it will be a game-changing airplane.

Do you want to fly the 787 when American brings the airliner on board in 2012?

Of course. But what does it pay? Where will it be based? What routes will it fly? I started my career on the 707 and if I finish it on the 787, my career will have spanned the entire spectrum of the jet age. What a ride.


Source: Flight International