Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Battle Creek, Madison County, Nebraska: Family has flying in its blood

MARV STAHL (left) passed his love of flying to his son, Matt, who is a pilot for Delta Airlines.

Marv Stahl traces his love of flying back to a childhood in South Dakota full of clouds and “Sky King.”

“I’ve always enjoyed it since I was a kid,” Stahl said. “I remember as a young child laying out in the pasture in South Dakota on my back on a summer day watching the clouds go by and wondering where those things were going.

“I always liked crawling up on the silo on the farm just so I could get a better look. I think, as I look back over the years, that it might have had to do with ‘Sky King,’ the TV show in the days of black and white.”

As a result, Stahl started flying airplanes in November 1962, but he hasn’t kept his love of flying to himself — he has passed it on to his children and grandchildren, as three generations of his family have flown, including his son, Matt Stahl, who is a pilot for Delta Airlines.

“It’s been amazing — without accident or incident, which is pretty good — kind of a milestone there,” said Marv Stahl. “I’ve been proud of my grandkids especially. The boys tend to take to flying pretty good, but my granddaughter that I soloed, she was actually an excellent pilot. She did a very good job handling an airplane, a very good job.”

Marv Stahl started out flying in a Piper PA-18 Super Cub and eventually began flying for North Central Airlines, where he flew DC-9s. He moved to Nebraska in 1975 from Minnesota and eventually began doing charter work.
However, Marv remembers his first solo flight very well.

“As my son says ... ‘You always remember your first solo by yourself. You never forget that — never,’ ” Marv Stahl said.

Marv soloed all three of his children in flying, and Matt eventually decided to follow in his father’s footsteps. After going to the University of Nebraska at Kearney to wrestle, he eventually gravitated toward flying.

“It was crazy because he had no idea he was going to go into flying when he went down to Kearney to UNK,” Marv Stahl said. “He was (part of) the second graduating class at UNK. He was a good wrestler — he took third in state in high school in Class C — so he wanted to go down there and try college wrestling, but he did not like that at all. ... They had an aviation program out there, and he got through that college with his degrees in flying in 3½ years.”

After graduating from UNK, Matt Stahl went to Wichita, Kan. — the “flying capital of the world,” as Marv calls it — but Matt found that the only job available when he got there was pumping gas for airplanes. Eventually, a chance to fly for Delta opened up, and the rest was history.

“When my son finally got to Delta, he made all the right choices,” Marv Stahl said. “He’s fairly charismatic, and that helped him a lot to get where he is. He’s really great with people. He started off as a commuter pilot when TWA was still flying — he was flying a turboprop for TWA Express. He became a captain on that, and then he got enough time and stuff that he went over to TWA, where he flew DC-9s.”

Since going to work for Delta, Matt and his family have been all over the world. He took his daughter to Paris for her ninth birthday, and Marv has had the chance to visit such locales as Rome and London.

One of Marv’s favorite memories was from the late 1990s, when he and Matt stopped in New York before visiting Israel. The Stahls had requested tickets to a taping of “The Late Show With David Letterman” and had a memorable time when they attended the taping.

“With Letterman, when they send you the tickets, you don’t get to pick the date — they pick the date — I think Jan. 18 was the day of the show,” Marv Stahl said. “(Matt) flew me, as a pilot, from Cincinnati to New York, and we went down and got tickets then and stuff. We came back later for the show, and we were standing outside and a producer looked along the line and picked out certain people, and they picked him out as one of the people (to be featured from the audience on the show). ...

“Letterman came down to talk to him, so we both stood up and stuff. Matt was wearing a jacket and a tie at the time and Letterman reached out (with his hand) and got the tie, so they shook hands and the tie was going up and down. That broke the ice right away.”

Matt now flies a Boeing 777 to such locales as Tokyo and Singapore. On those long flights, more than one pilot is on board to keep a fresh captain at the helm.

“When they go that far, they have four pilots on board,” Marv Stahl said. “They rotate them through — it depends on how long they’re going to be in the air.”

Now the third generation of the Stahl family is going into what arguably could be called the family business. Kacey Christiansen, a 24-year-old recent University of Nebraska graduate, earned his private pilot certificate last month and might be following in his Uncle Matt’s footsteps, as he, too, is eyeing a career as an airline pilot.

According to Marv, Christiansen logged the 40 hours he needed to earn his private pilot certificate in less than three months, something that often takes a year or more.

“He really went after it,” said Marv Stahl. “He spent about 2½ months in Omaha in a hotel on the weekends. I was glad when the weather was bad sometimes — it kept him home.”

In his 50-plus years of flying, two flights that Marv took as a pilot stand out, the first of which involved a dead body.

“I took a 172 from here out to near Scottsbluff to pick up a body,” Marv Stahl said. “It was just wrapped in a sheet, and that was it. It was sitting right beside me as I flew back to Norfolk over the Sandhills. That was an interesting one.”

The other flight took Marv to a dark place, in a manner of speaking.

“Another one was we came back at night one time from Casper, Wyo.,” he said. “On a Monday, we would leave Norfolk and fly out to Greeley, Colo., and drop a salesman off there. He would work Denver, then me and another guy, Roger Bauer, we’d go up into Wyoming into Casper and Rock Springs. We were coming back one night from there from the Casper area, I believe, back to Norfolk. ... It was dark before we hit the Nebraska border. We were flying long enough and all of a sudden there were no lights down there and I thought it was just a cloud layer below us, but it wasn’t — there was just nobody there, no lights.”

Story and photo:  http://norfolkdailynews.com

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