Roger Lee was the Chief Pilot for KING Aviation-Mansfield for many years before retiring to Maine. I learned of Roger’s passing on social media a few weeks ago, however it wasn’t until just recently that I found his obituary and was able to take the time to craft this post the way I wanted to. Roger was a character and a great teacher. He had a distinct teaching style and it worked well for me and my learning style.
After I made my first solo flight on my 16th birthday, my flight training slowed down as I focused on my Air Force JROTC studies and extracurricular activities during high school. During this time I bounced from flight instructor to instructor, while flying sporadically and completing my needed solo hours and cross country experience. Then it came crunch time, I needed to finish my private pilot license before I started a collegiate aviation flight program. Dave and Kelley who ran KING Aviation recommended I work with Roger to knock out my training. It was during this time that I got to know Roger.
Roger and I flew together once so he could see what I needed to brush up on to finish my training and see what needed to be accomplished for me to meet the time requirements for certification. After this first lesson and a review of my logbook he looked at me and said, “It’ll take 5 flights and you’ll be ready for your check ride.” True to his word, five flights later it was time for my check ride. Roger was stern in the cockpit, he held his students to high standards, it was tough but this was ultimately rewarding for those of us that excelled with that style of training.
I remember when we were heading back to Mansfield at the end of my last private pilot lesson and he set up the GPS for an RNAV approach to Runway 32, just so I could see what was next… He was a good salesman, knowing that he had a captive audience to show me the capabilities of the GPS unit in the Cessna 172S. My private pilot check ride was a two-day event thanks to a monsoon-style rain storm on the first day. But it didn’t matter, I passed with flying colors! All the while, Roger was there, confident in my abilities, rooting for me.
Two years later it was time to do my commercial pilot training, in the vaunted Piper Arrow I on the line with KING. Roger was my natural choice for an instructor. We flew together in the Arrow and his same high-standard, quick-witted, no coddling style of flight training paid off for me again. The highlight was the day we started power off 180 approaches in the Arrow. For those that haven’t flown an Arrow with the under-powered 180 horsepower engine and the Hershey-bar style wings, the concept of a glide is essentially nonexistent…
In a lot of ways Roger was stoic in the cockpit similar to Bill Belichick, he never really got worked up. But after my first three power off 180 approaches were all virtually perfect to the second stripe on Runway 32 at Mansfield that day, Roger, with a smile, said “One is luck, two is a trend, three is a sure thing.” We ended the lesson on that note and called it a day.
My commercial pilot checkride was on a frigid December day and preceded the company Christmas party. As Roger put it, he didn’t even need to ask at the party how the check ride went, he was that confident. It was with great exuberance that I glowingly explained my power off 180 approach to landing. I could tell that in his own way, Roger was proud of my performance thanks to his mentoring and instruction.
During 2007 the Boston Globe visited KING Aviation and the Mansfield Airport and shared a story and photo series about Roger, you can read the full article HERE.
Roger, in addition to being a great teacher of flight, was quite the character. For years he would wear a different baseball cap each month. Naturally there was a story to go with each hat, often with some bizarre unexpected twist. In addition to his cap of the month was his flying vest. A converted fishing vest, the man had everything with him. I can recall specific examples of Roger producing all of the following items from his vest:
- batteries (multiple types)
- instrument covers
- business cards
- whiteout (yes, whiteout!)
- eye glasses screwdriver
- scotch tape
- paper clips
It was truly incredible, often times it seemed that Roger had more office supplies in his vest than the flight school dispatch desk and the airport maintenance shop combined.
Roger was a fixture at the Mansfield Airport during the 2000s and early 2010s, and for many years before that at the now defunct Norfolk (MA) Airport. Roger was my flight instructor when I earned my private and commercial certificates, for that I will always be thankful and appreciative. He was a great teacher and always willing to lend a hand to help.
Blue skies & tailwinds Roger – @MTElia1B9