Bill Signs: Following in Lindbergh's Footsteps
As Bill Signs explains it, he's an expeditioner, not an adventurer. I think as you read his interview you'll agree with me that his aviation exploits go far beyond normal cross country flights. I had the opportunity to sit with Bill as he prepared for his commemorative flight honoring Charles Lindbergh's great achievement that took flight 70 years ago.
Texas Flyer: Bill, you've got a passion for long distance flight. Why?
Bill Signs: I guess it's a test for me personally and also a test for the airplanes that I put together. It's a continuing test of my skill levels and maintenance expertise to keep the airplane flying in good condition.
Texas Flyer: It seems that the more I get to know you, there's something ticking inside you that's not ticking inside a lot of other pilots. Have you ever been able to put your finger on it?
Bill Signs: I don't think so. I just want to go out and see things, I guess. I don't want to do it in a sailboat. It's too slow.
Texas Flyer: Is this a form of therapy for you? Where other people go out and jump in a sailboat, and other people go climb a mountain -- you fly long distance flights?
Bill Signs: That could be. Maybe it's something that I have to have that says that I'm in control. I recall being on the ground in Egypt having all these Egyptian soldiers around the airplane and giving me a hard time. Once the wheels were off the runway and the gear was up -- at that point I was at ease. At that point I was in control.
Texas Flyer: You've made about a half a dozen friendship flights in the past few years. Has there been one thing that stood out as far as the most exciting thing, most unique, most dangerous?
Bill Signs: I'd say there are probably four areas that I've visited that I'd classify as the most interesting. The first would be St. Petersburg in Russia and being able to travel all over Russia. The next would be Manaus, Brazil, which is on the Amazon River Basin. Third would probably be the Falkland Islands and after that the Pribilofg Islands off the coast of Alaska in the Bering Sea.
Texas Flyer: Take us through each one of those location and tell us what made it stand out?
Bill Signs: Russia is interesting. Ever since I was born, the Cold War between the USSR and the USA has basically been going on. For all those years our government has told us how horrible and evil the Russian people were. But going over there and seeing the neat museums that they have and just really how nice the people were and, I guess, the sense of adventure that I had in going into the enemy's back yard - I learned that people are people. I think there was some mystique to it, some adventure and probably an ill-conceived threat that our government has worked so hard for all of us to think how dangerous those people are. But no matter where you go in this world people are just looking for a safe place to raise their kids. That's it. No more, no less.
Texas Flyer: It doesn't matter if you are in the U.S. or South America or Russia, or wherever...
Bill Signs: Mongolia -- is doesn't matter. The number one objective -- to raise your kids, and/or your grandkids in a safe, peaceful environment.
Texas Flyer: Was it an eye-opening experience for you?
Bill Signs: I think so. The people in Russia are just so generous. I'd just give them a simple business card with a picture of my airplane on it and they were pulling off personal items like watches, and sunglasses, to give you something back. They have so little and yet they are very generous. Whatever they have, they are going to share it with you. I also found that in the South Pacific cultures and the Native Eskimo cultures up in Alaska -- you just share everything.
Texas Flyer: Second location was the Amazon Valley?
Bill Signs: Manaus, Brazil, is right smack in the center of the Amazon River Basin. There are about a million people who live there, right on the joining of the waters of the Negro and Amazon river. What's really interesting is that onve you get about ten miles out of town the paved road turns into a dirt road that turns into a dirt lane, and that's it. Because most of the people there are poor, they travel by river boat. It's what our river boats on the Mississippi would have been like 100 years ago during Mark Twain's time. It's just so remote. If you fly out, say 50 or 70 miles to some neighboring air strips, you'll see people walking out of the jungle with shorts on and a spear and nothing else.
Texas Flyer: In other words, you saw National Geographic first hand.
Bill Signs: I guess this is what I find unique in my travels. When I take some pictures of something, like I did recently in Tarwa in the Gilbert islands in the South Pacific, I'll find a very similar picture in the National Geographic, which of course we all look up to. I find the folks traveling on the river boats to be real interesting. They normally get to the boad dock, which may just be a spot on the beach, about two hours before the boat will leave. They bring their hammocks and food because there are no rooms and no restaurant on board. Since there's no refrigeration on the boats and if they want to eat fresh meat, they bring it along with them. And that includes live chickens in cages. They usually have a community slaughtering and cooking area on the back of the vessels. So they arrive at the boat docks with their cages of chickens and their hammocks over their shoulders ready for the four or five or six day voyage up or down the Amazon.
Texas Flyer: Okay, third. The Falkland Islands.
Bill Signs: There are about 2,000 people that live on the island area that runs about 150 miles east and west, 100 miles north and south, located about 400 nautical miles off the coast of Argentina. These folks were just minding their own business, raising their sheep and doing a little fishing when they were invaded by Argentina in 1982. Twelve hundred people live in the town of Stanley, which is on the eastern area of the Falkland Islands and the other 800 folks are sprinkled over the vastness of these islands out in the South Atlantic.
It was interesting to see their old ships. One in particular, a three-masted sailing vessel that was built in the 1860's, was there stuck in the mud - just abandoned there. Side paddlehwheelers are sitting there, docked up, that were abandoned years ago. The Falkland Islands are right smack in the middle of what they call the "furious fifties," one of the most horrific areas for weather in the world. These vessels would get damaged going around Cape Horn of attempting to pass around Cape Horn. They would just kind of chug back to the Falkland's if they were damaged and couldn't make it wherever they were going to go, and end up abandoning the vessel there. It's interesting that the Falkland Islands did originally belong to Argentina as a posession and it seems that approximately 150 years ago, a British sailing vessel was damaged attempting to go around Cape Horn and the vessel made it back to the Stanley area. The captain said, "Well, I know we were trying to get to New Zealand and this kind of looks like New Zealand here, so why don't we just stay here?" At that time, there were not many inhabitants on the Falkland Islands so that started an influx of British people. They basically squattedon the area. Initially the Argentine folks were hospitable and let them stay there, but more and more people came. Then the British decided to use their gun boat diplomacy to take the Falkland Islands away from the Argentines. So I can understand a little bit why the Argentine people were miffed at the Brits. If they'd just gone in an killed the first Brits 150 years ago instead of being hospitable, they would still have the islands today.
For five miles around Stanley, 80 percent of the area still has active land mines. The land mines are virtually made out of all plastic. The only piece of metal in there is in the detonator about the size of a ball in an ball point pen, just miniscule, probably fifteen thousandths of an inch across, so when they try to find them... they cant.
Texas Flyer: Your fourth area was another set of islands.
Bill Signs: Those were the Pribilof Islands about 300 miles north of Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Island chain and about 300 miles off the west coast of Alaska. The people who live thgere are Aleuts, native Americans. Not Eskimo people -- the Eskimo people live on land and the Aleuts live more on water areas. But it is a little town of about 300 people just in the middle of nowhere. It is a fishing villiage and it was just kind of neat to see -- it was an active culture left in our United States because it was so isolated from anything. The only folks who come out are bird watchers -- virtually all of the women tourists there look like Ms. Jane out there from the Bevery Hillbillies, looking for those birds. It was just so unique to see people who were so preserved. There were probably, out of the undreds that I saw, maybe only one or two white people. It was very unique to see a culture still intact.
Texas Flyer: What kind of response do you get when you drop into these isolated cultures in a modern Cessna 210?
Bill Signs: Well, a lot of the areas are so remote that the only airplanes that service their airports are multi-engine airplanes. Because most of these places are so remote, like the Pribilofs, or like the interior of Russia, you are treates a little bit like a mini-Lindbergh. The mayor would normally come out and they would take you out to dinner and show you around town and show you the special sites of the area. Maybe that is one reason I like going to these areas -- I get treated well.
Texas Flyer: Have you had some strange food served to you in some of these locations?
Bill Signs: During my last trip six months ago up to Churchill, Manitoba, I shared a caribou leg with an Eskimo family. We just passed it around the table and cut chunks off it.
Texas Flyer: Cooked or raw?
Bill Signs: Semi-cooked. In Thailand, there were some special bugs that they served which I passsed on and in a little area in Thailand you could pick out your fresh frogs and eels from the case and they would cook them right there for you. But I passed on those, too. Probably one of the most interesting dinners I had was in Luxor, Egypt. I met a local shop keeper there and he invited me to his house. After talking to him for a while, he offered to let me marry his niece and take her back to the United States for $1,200. I though she was about 20 years old but it ended up she was 15. During dinner, the man (who was about 41) would not allow his wife (who was about 20) to ocme out of the kitchen. He threw a piece of pita bread, like a frisbee, into the kitcken and it landed on the floow and she was expected to eat off it... and she did. She fed herself and the kids right off the floor with the pita bread. I didn't know exactly what everything was there but I ate it and smiled.
Texas Flyer: Did the food or water ever upset your system?
Bill Signs: Normally I'm very careful about the water. I carry a little Clorox with me and put a little drop in any water I'd suspicious of. I know a lot of people get upset about having chlorine in their water but ewhen I'm on the road and I run into water that's chlorinated, I just guzzle it down. Chlorinated water is the best drink on the road since I know that I'm not going to get sick. My worst case of dysentery would have been on San Andreas, off the coast of Nicaraqua. (It is a Colombia posession.)
I met a man who was living under a four by eight piece of tin. He lost his job in the hotel, so his brother let him borrow a horse and the cugar cane press to make money pressing sugar cane. The horse's job was to be attanced to the press and to keep walking around in circles while he fed pieces of sugar cane into the press and squeezed it for juice. He had a coleman cooler there and some little cups. I bought a cup of this juice for 25 cents. We were standing by his press jabbering since he was one of the few people there on the island who spoke English andmy Spanish was pretty poor. I took one little sip of it and it was like drinking sugar water mixed with housing insulation. Just like the pink stuff in your attice -- and there were wads of it in the juice. When he turned his head, I threw it oon the ground and went "..mm, boy, this was good." I was there for three days, with the worst case of dysentery I've ever had... It was horrible. I couldn't leave the hotel room for more than about 15 or 20 minutes at a time.
Texas Flyer: In 1996 you, along with Ruth Jacobs, flew an around-the-world expedition called Friendship Flight '96 where you touched down in all seven continents. Was there a time during that flight when you thought, "Why am I here?"
Bill Signs: I think the most concern I had for an extended period of time was after launching out of Honolulu for the non-stop flight to Van Nuys, California. We picked up a tremendous 70 knot tail wind at altitude, what's called the "pineapple express." We took off at 10 o'clock at night from Honolulu so that our arrival would be at 2 o'clock in the afternoon for a media event in Van Nuys. I don't like flying at night over strange areas in a single engine airplane. I prefer to fly over the water during the day and over ground at night. During this extended night flight I imagined that the sea, due to the winds, was very rough and I was really concerned that if we had to ditch down there we wouldn't survive. The sun finally came up and I could see the ocean 13,000 feet below us, hundreds of square miles of the sea having from swells that we 50 to 60 feet high with 10 foot white caps on top of those swells. It was like the ocean was in super slow motion with everything moving up and down and around.
Texas Flyer: When did you start flying?
Bill Signs: I started flying in 1969. I lived in a small farming community in Ohio until I was 11 and was pretty much isolated from aviation. However, we lived under an airway departing out of Cleveland. I'd see the old Convairs and DC-6s; and as I got a little bit older, there would be jets going over, climbing out and heading west. When I was 11, we moved to Orlando and I learned that Florida has a very active aviation community. Then one day I figured out that I didn't have to hang on the outside of the fence around the airport but that I could go in there and look at the airplanes and talk to the people. At that time I was working in a boat yard, and during my junior year of high school I enrolled in an adult education program for aircraft mechanics and that's when I got my first general aviation airplane ride. I went up with a guy in a Piper Tri-Pacer and we flew aaround practicing stalls at about 1,000 feet. I didn't know any better and I though, "Boy, this is fun." He had his wife and kids in the airplane along with me and he was flying around practicing his stalls at 1,000 feet AGL. That was my first flight.
Texas Flyer: Did you complete the aircraft mechanics course?
Bill Signs: I got my power plant license when I was 18, and I was 22 or 23 before I went back for some more schooling to get the airframe license. But I had my private license at 17, my commercial license at 18 and ended up flying processed and unprocessed film at age 18. When I was 21 I was running a flight school in Massachusetts with 10 airplanes. It's been a wonderful opportunity for me to live all over the country.
Texas Flyer: When was your first long distance flight that was more than just a typical cross country?
Bill Signs: The first long distance flight was in 1987. I was in a Cessna 150 and I flew it to Venezuela, South America and back. It had standard fuel tanks so I had about four hours of fuel, enough for about 300 miles with one hour of reserve. I met a lot of people along the way and island hopped through the Caribbean. I had a single nav-com, with no loran, no ADF, and of course no GPS at that time. Once I got past St. Thomas, there were no more VORs so I just grabbed headings for island to island. I was gone for about six weeks, just hopping and skipping around the Caribbean.
Texas Flyer: What brought that on?
Bill Signs: I had always wanted to go there, down through the windward and leeward islands, and it was time for a vacation. So I decided to go and see what was there in a 150. I'd have to say that that trip was the toughest trip I have ever flown in my life.
Texas Flyer: Because I had no range beyond the normal fuel load and my radio equipment was minimal for flying over water and over the hostile jungle terrain of South America. Landing at St. Lucia I learned that there were no tie-downs available. So I took my screw-in-the-ground tie downs but with the volcanic soil on St. Lucia I couldn't get the screw in the ground, it would just fall right out so I pointed the nose of the 150 into the wind. That night there was a tropical depression going through with blowing reain and wind and with no tie downs all I could do was try to find a ditch and put the nose of the 150 down into the ditch to break the lift on the wing. I went to the hotel and with the wind and rain beating against the window all night I laid there just trying to figure out how to get the engine and the good pieces of the airplane back the the United States. I figured I'd go out in the morning and find a shipping pallet, get a hacksaw, and cut the good airplane pieces off to ship home. I went out to the airport the next morning and was amazingly surprised -- there she was, still sitting there waiting for me. She didn't blow away.
Texas Flyer: Looking back at that flight, were you as prepared as you should have been?
Bill Signs: I was prepared in that I had brought a locator beacon and a life raft, but the trip did open my eyes to the fact that I needed a bigger airplane. As soon as I got back home I started looking for one. I ended up getting a Mooney, and with the auxiliary fuel tanks that I installed it increased by range from my 300 nautical miles with an hour's reserve to about a 1,200 nautical mile range with an hour reserve.
Texas Flyer: When did the concept of Friendship Flights begin?
Bill Signs: Unofficially in 1990. That was the first flight I made across the North Atlantic and into the European countries. When I travelled to Europe (and even with the 150 flight to South America), I wanted to make sure that I didn't portray an image of the "Ugly American." I wanted to make sure that wherever I went I would have something, a momento of the flight, to give to people that I met. So I had cards and pictures printed up that I could give out wherever I went. As Americans, we travel to so many countries now and the only thing we do is take from them and demand prompt service. We have a tendency to travel to countries with a superiority attitude chip on our shoulders. When I go through customs or immigration, I'm the dumbest guy you've ever seen. I just don't know anything, and "Can you help me?" becomes my most used phrase. Many of the government officials I deal with just shake their heads about how ignorant I am because I don't portray an image of superiority in any way. I always answer and repond, "Yes sir," "No sir," "Si senor," "No senor," and just be very polite. And I don't have any trouble.
Texas Flyer: Have you seen examples where other Americans have had problems because of their attitude?
Bill Signs: Oh, absolutely. There was a gentleman who flew across Russia, I believe in 1991, and he ended up in a Russian jail. All of his Russian support crew quit and bailed out on him. He was a video available and part of the video is him sitting in the Russian jail. In Magadan, Russia, he was forced to sleep in a shipping container because he was told there were no hotels in town. He was staying in that shipping container and at night at that lattitude in the summer the temperature still gets down to 35 degrees or so. When I landed at that same area I stayed in the ex-communist party's executive suites in the hotel in downtown Magadan.
Texas Flyer: What do you attribute the difference to?
Bill Signs: I didn't arrive there with the American superiority attitude chip on my shoulder. I wnet over there to learn about them and their country and I behaved as a very thankful guest. The key to going through other countries is to act like a guest and adjust your flying to whatever their needs are. I see pilots trying to fly VFR over Russia instead of IFR. The Russians can accept you flying VFR, but it creates a work load of four or five times as much for their system and they don't like that. So you need to go with the flow. What I try to do is basically copy airline operations. Fly IFR, stay high, and no scud running. As an example, on my first trip to Alaska I called every place I was going to land at and talked to pilots about flying in their area. For every person I talk to I would ask them, "Now tell me one thing not to do in Alaska that would get me in trouble." And virtually every time their answer was: "Don't circle around the mountain tops looking at the goats. We loose more tourists up here looking at those damn goats." So I followed their advice and did not get into trouble. Most places in the world can accept IFR a lot easier than VFR. So I copied an airline type operation and didn't circle around the mountain tops looking at the goats.
Texas Flyer: When you leave on your trips do you have to put on a different mindset?
Bill Signs: Oh, definitely. And you're going to spend a lot of money in areas such as landing fees. One day Brent Lemon and I were departing Guayquil, Equador, heading out to the Galapagos Islands and then returning. There were three landings involved and airways fees, and the government collected $659.00. Our total flight time for that trip was about ten hours in the air so our fees alone were over $60 an hour paid to the government of Equador. I had one gentleman who was a multi-millionaire travel with me on a trip; and in Caracas, Venezuela they hit us for about $180.00. The fuel was cheap, about 80 cents a gallon, but by the time we paid the landing fees and the handling fees and everything else our bill came to $180.00. We paid the bill and were crawing into the airplane getting ready to leave when a soldier came up and said, "I need $10.00." He said, "You can't take off until you pay me $10.00." So the gentleman I was with, who could easily afford to pay the $10.00, hadn't had his nap that day and got kind of rude with this young soldier with an automatic weapon and told him, "I am going to leave. I am not going to pay any more here at this place." So the soldier said, "Well, if you start to leave I am going to shoot the airplane." And my friend stands back and says, "Go ahead. Shoot that airplane." So I ran up there with the $10.00 and said, "No, no, no, no, no, no. Don't shoot the airplane. Gracias senor." So be prepared. Things are much different outside of our borders. It's going to cost you an arm and a leg to travel around other countries. Fuel on the Antarctic Peninsula will generally cost $25.00 a gallon. If you can negotiate a good deal, you might be able to get it for $12.50 a gallon. It's very expensive to fly in other countries so the number one rule is to "be prepared." Every time Ruth and I were on short final about to land in a foreign place, I'd call out "attitude check!" That wasn't for the attitude of the airplane or the landing gear or even the configuration of the airplane, but for our personal attitude. What we did is make a little game out of it. We both put on a big, toothy smile, and for just a few seconds smile at each other so we'd remember to be prepared for what was about to meet us... including the challenges of getting through customs, immigration, agriculture, bug spraying, commandants at the airport, flight plans, whatever. Normal turnaround in a foreign country to park, put on a load of fuel, and leave will take about three hours. That's three hours just to get a load of fuel.
Texas Flyer: Friendship Flight '97 is a little bit different than your previous flights. Tell us about Friendship Flight '97.
Bill Signs: Operationally, Friendship Flight '97 will be simpler than the seven continent expedition. When I started thinking about commemorate rating Lindbergh's flight I believe I was somewhere over the South Pacific flying one of those 15 hour legs coming back from Australia and I though, "What am I going to do when I get home? What am I going to do for '97?" Then I realized that 1998 is the 70th anniversary of Lindbergh's flight and thought that it would be a neat idea to commemorate his flight. The Experimental Aircraft Association has the Young Eagle program to get kids out to the Airport and I wanted to create an environment where more kids could come out to the airport -- rich kids, middle income kids, poor kids -- and have the opportunity to be a part of recreating a historical event and also get to sit in and touch a variety of aircraft from antiques to airliners. I wanted the kids to be able to actually crawl inside and see how they are built and held together. I initially though, "Well we might be able to get maybe a thousand kids out to the airports, wouldn't that be nice?" Well, Friendship Flight '97 has natured. I learned recently that two days after my arrival at LeBorget Airport in Paris, there will be a national model flying contest at LeBorget with more than 2,000 kids taking part and Friendship Flight '97 has been invited to be part of the festivities.
Even though Texas was not on Lindbergh's itinerary, my departure from Love Field in Dallas will also be part of the celebration with school children coming out to the airport to take part in the start of Friendship Flight '97.
In San Diego, California, I'll spend four days working with the San Diego Aerospace Museum and taking part in their celebration of Lindbergh's historic flight. Friendship Flight '97 will depart San Diego on May 10th at 4:55 in the afternoon (exactly when Lindbergh lifted off) from N.A.S. North Island on its non-stop flight to St. Louis, Missouri.
I have a full day in St. Louis, and even through it's Mother's Day, there are plans for Young Eagle flight and aircraft displays at the St. Charles County Airport. The Missouri Historical Society will also be on hand with a Lindbergh presentation. Then on May 12th, the next leg of the Lindbergh recreation will begin form Lambert Field with departure at exactly 9:13am.
At Republic Airport on Long Island, New York, we have more than 30 organizations including NASA and the FAA that will be putting on workshops and seminars for adults as well as kids. At each of the stops the Friendship Flight coordinators are planning Young Eagle rallies to get young kids up in the air for the first time. I think that over the 10 day period of Friendship Flight '97 you'll see more Young Eagle flights in that 10 days than any other 10 day period.
Departing from Republic Airport at exactly 7:52am on May 20th, I'll set off non-stop for Paris, France. After 23 hours of flying, my landing will be about 11am Paris time at LeBorget Airport just north of downtown Paris. The Friendship Flight '97 France coordinator Pierre Berg has organized an arrival celebration and has scheduled school children to again attend the airport and help celebrate the historic Lindbergh flight. The flying on this Friendship Flight is not the difficult part. The difficult part is all the arranging and coordination of the individual ground locations. Operationally, the aircraft will be operating heavier than it ever has.
Texas Flyer: What's you're gross weight going to be on take-off from New York?
Bill Signs: The normal gross weight of a 210 is 3,800 pounds. My takeoff weight in New York will be 4,750 pounds. So I'll be running 25 percent overweight. The airplane has been inspected more thoroughly than it has been for any other Friendship Flight. Due to that high gross weight on take off from New York, I had the wheels eddy current checked to make sure that they were mechanically sound. There are over 500 volunteers involved in Friendship Flight '97 and I don't want to let anyone down. Of course I don't want to get killed either with all that fuel on board. So from that standpoint, I've spent a lot of time on the airplane. I don't want anything to go wrong.
Texas Flyer: I understand that your New York to Paris flight time is about 23 hours nonstop. How are you going to fly it?
Bill Signs: Early in my career I used to fly freight and also used to crop dust where I'd put in a tremendous number of flight hours. Psychologically I believe I'm prepared for it. I'm even prepared for hallucinations, which you can get from sitting in the cockpit for such a long time.
Texas Flyer: There is no one traveling with you, correct?
Bill Signs: That is right. I do have a guardian angel and hopefully he or she will be with me on this flight. They haven't let me down yet. I've been wearing contact lenses and I'm going to get a pair of glasses so I can get the contacts out of my eyes for part of the flight. I always carry extra contacts in the airplane and I'll carry eyewash. During the flight I'll be drinking a lot of liquids, probably tea and no colas or anything like that. One positive thing is that the darkness will only last about four and a half hours. That time of years is only one month from the longest day of the year and since I'll be flying at such a high latitude and heading east going into the rising sun I shouldn't have more than four and a half hours of darkness.
Texas Flyer: Take us along the flight path. What time do you lift off from New York and what is your flight path?
Bill Signs: I lift off from New York at 7:52am. At each of the stops we have planned our departure itinerary based on Lindbergh's actual departure times. The plan is to take off exectly 70 years to the minute, weather permitting of course. Again we want to make it a safe operation. I don't want to give general aviation a black eye. I'm not going to push the envelop of the airplane. So my takeoff at 7:52 in the morning from New York, will be weather permitting. Due to the arrival routes around sities such as Boston, my route can't exactly match that of Lindbergh. After departure I'll head toward Nantucket and then on an airway from Nantucket up the coast to Nova Scotia. I'll be following the coast up to St. Johns, Newfoundland and at that point al probably be eight hours into the flight and my weight will be down to about 4,000 pounds so I'm hoping to do a climb to get up to at least 14,000 feet to start out over the ocean. I want the altitude not for gliding purposes, but for avoiding icing conditions. I found that at very high latitudes the tops of the clouds are normally 14,000 feet or below. I'll continue step climbs probably all the way up to 17,000 feet. At 17,000 feet my fuel burn is only 11 gallons an hour. Over the ocean I'll start checking the possible arrival routes. Lindbergh made landfall very near Dingle Bay and depending on the weather I'll have five flight paths to choose from. One will be the great circle route. One will be 200 miles north. Another one will be 400 miles north of the route of the midpoint of the great circle route and also to the south. So if I have to deviate due to high or low pressure I can either get on the top side of the high or the bottom side of the low pressure area and if I have to go around bad weather, will hopefully get a tail wind to make up for the longer distance. With zero wind, I would land at Paris with more than four hours of reserve fuel. So I have the luxury of deviating from the great circle route.
Texas Flyer: What's in the future, Bill?
Bill Signs: I've been invited by the alumni of the University of North Dakota to commemorate Mr. Carl Ben Eilson's flight over the North Pile to Spitzbergen, Norway from Barrow, Alaska. In April of next year it will be the 70th anniversary of that historic flight so I'm kicking around to do that flight for the University of North Dakota. That's the only thing I have planned now, but I'd like to get back more toward flying rather than administrative duties because for the last six months I haven't been flying, which is what I love the most. So maybe I need to get focused back into taking leisurely trips down the Amazon River or leisurely trips up to Alaska and a short hop into Russia and things like that. Another trip that I've been approached about is from a World War II Navy veteran who's getting up in years and would like to go back and visit battle sites in the South Pacific. It would take maybe two months and we would go through the battle areas of the Pacific. But other than that, not much planned, I guess.
Texas Flyer: When you get back from a trip is there a re-adjustment period?
Bill Signs: Absolutely. Flying to different countries and flying over water, the old animal instinct turns on and that turns on the adrenaline. I can tell you from personal experience that when you're out on the road for a month or six weeks with that flow of adrenaline flowing all of the time it's no different than any other powerful drug. And as soon as you get home and you crawl into the safety of your own bed that adrenaline turns off. I've talked to other long distance flyers and many of them didn't realize what was happening. I've also talked to people who have been in fire fights and combat and they also experience adrenaline withdrawal. When I get back home from a flight and my body has shut off the adrenaline I go through about 30 days of depression like symptoms before things seem to level off.
Texas Flyer: Do you think of yourself as a "control freak?"
Bill Signs: I think of myself as more of a perfectionist. I like nuts and bolts. I like them all working. Especially 24 hours nonstop to Paris.
Texas Flyer: What do you do for non-work, non-flight activity? Recreation?
Bill Signs: Lately, nothing. This has been all-consuming for the past six months. Weekeends, nights, days... But normally I'd spend more time on the boat maybe go water skiing or drag the old boat down to Florida and so a little diving down there. But here lately, not much.
Texas Flyer: Do you do any reading or go to movies?
Bill Signs: Reading -- all the time. There hardly isn't a moment during the day when I am not reading something.
Texas Flyer: Books, magazines -- what do you focus on?
Bill Signs: Lately I've been reading a lot of books that Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Ann, had written. Then I read the normal aviation and boating magazines and of course, National Geographic -- I like looking at maps. Like that map behind you. Some days I'll stand at the map and just start looking around -- like I found Robinson Crusoe Island on the map one day. I didn't know there was a Robinson Crusoe Island.
Texas Flyer: You flew there?
Bill Signs: I have flown down there. I like looking at maps and finding new, interesting places to go.
Texas Flyer: Were you a good student of geography in school?
Bill Signs: Probably not.
Texas Flyer: How about history?
Bill Signs: No.
Texas Flyer: What piqued your interest then in world travel?
Bill Signs: My grandparents always had a National Geographic around the house and when I was a kid I always enjoyed reading them. As far as a formal study of geography -- that didn't really turn me on.
I was in my first semester of college when one day I received a call from a man who wanted me to fly airplanes so I had to make a decision - school or flying. I called him back 10 minutes later and said, "I'll be there tomorrow morning" and I didn't go back to college after that. One thing I'd like to bring to light is that just because you didn't do well in school doesn't mean you have to give up. It doesn't mean you can't have interests somewhere else and be a success of some sort. I'm the guy who barely got through high school and I have 10 employees working for me. I have mechanics working for me that make as much as $80,000 a year being a car mechanic. I have people working for me who didn't go to college, but they're honest and hard working. I was a horrible student at school and I only went to college for half a semester. So college is not always the answer. The answer is to simply apply yourself. You have to have a skill -- I hate doing this, but Bill's Rules for Success is that you have to have a skill, you have to have motivation, and you have to do what you say you are going to do. If you lack any one of those three things you're not going to make it. Unfortunately, I see a lot of people who go to college and other higher learning facilities and they lack one of those three principles. They get the skill from school bit they lack one of the other two -- motivation or doing what they say they are going to do.
Texas Flyer: You mentioned earlier that you've been giving talks in schools and you were dismayed to find that the kids knew very little about Charles Lindbergh, knew very little about his historic flight, and even knew very little about World geography. What's going on?
Bill Signs: Simply, it's a weakness in the educational system. It's just basic knowledge of basic stuff and it's not being taught. It's important that our schools get back to the basics and get away from wild math situations. I'm confronted by people all the time that can do the school math but they can't balance a checkbook. The other thing I think is missing is a hands on approach to learning. A school presents either a visual media or an oral media but they don't give them a hands on media. That's why I encourage children to come out to the airport and see and touch the airplanes. That's their hands on learning that works in conjunction with oral learning. One thing that I believe affected my lack of motivation in school is that they couldn't connect a real life situation with what they were teaching me in school.
One of the neatsts sites I have ever seen was while I was flying over the Detroit river. On the river sits the River Rouge Steel Plant -- I believe Ford runs it to make automobiles -- and cruising along the river there was a long freighter coming from the north loaded up to the gunwales with iron ore. And coming up the Detroit River from the south, and going to the same plant as the iron ore was a ship loaded with the coal to heat up the iron ore to make the steel. I got goose bumps looking at that -- and it's all from our country. You've got to build things with your hands. You have got to have a product.
One area I do not have postive feelings about is the informational systems that we have. I have employees working for me that would love to turn my company into a data processing firm. They loose sight of the fact that we are here to turn out a product. We are here to take off the old broken pieces of steel and replace them with new parts made of that good American steel.
Texas Flyer: Do you think of yourself as an adventurer?
Bill Signs: No, I don't think so. My definition of the difference between an adventure and an expedition is planning. I think of myself more as an expeditioner. I don't cut any corners and I know pretty much what's going to happen. There are firm plans laid out. So the difference between the adventurer and an expeditioner is lots and lots of planning. I don't go off "half-cocked" and to date there have been no surprises.
Texas Flyer: Thank you for talking with me today, Bill. Good luck with your upcoming flight.
Bill Signs: Thank you.