Clayton Osbon, Flight Standards Captain for JetBlue Airlines
by Christine S. Lucas
Published in Richmond Hill Reflections: Guys in the Sky Issue, 2011
Ask a member of the general public about air travel, and you’ll likely see them start snorting about delays or the way their over-sized carry-on bumped every passenger’s shoulder on the way down the aisle. Were one to meet Clayton Osbon, Flight Standards Captain for JetBlue Airlines, however, one might–say–meet him at a gas station, follow his truck down a winding road and talk with him at a secluded air strip to see what’s what.
They might even meet him for breakfast a few days later.
A resident of Belle Island, Clayton lives with his wife of six years, Connye, and enough animals to make a lint-brush essential. He’s come dressed in flight attire, and we find a seat in his uncle’s hangar off Chevis Road. It’s a funny set-up including cushy patio furniture, a propane heater and Cessna 182 whose wing reaches for my shoulder like the paw of a cat.
There is much I don’t know about flying, so we begin with his first flights at the age of 6 or 7 in a plane similar to the one looming over us. “I’ve been instrument flying since before I could see over the dashboard–sitting on phone books eventually,” he tells me. Instrument flying is navigation by referencing instruments rather than the topography outside. Clayton’s father was an electrical engineer and used the plane for business. “I didn’t even know I wanted to do it for a living until the end of my sophomore year in college,” Clayton says thinking back.
Clayton received a Bachelor’s of Science in Aeronautical Physics and all of his flight ratings from Hawthorne College and Carnegie Mellon University. The native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin couldn’t afford post-graduate degrees which would allow him to make a living in that field. For a while, he considered doing a stint in the Navy to fund it. He was even offered a slot in Officer Candidate School. Clayton dreamed of flying F-14 Tom Cats which, he hoped, would lead to him becoming an astronaut. “They weren’t issuing any waivers, at the time, for eye sight, and they threw me out on the physical–on the seventh stage–for a slight astigmatism in my right eye. That broke my heart a little bit,” says the forty-seven year old who, like the rest of us back then, had just seen Top Gun.
Clayton isn’t one to wade in what could have been. He remained a civilian and continued flight instructing. He’s flown in 35 different types of airplanes in general aviation and is approaching eighteen thousand hours. It was his job at Net Jets, where he was hired in January of ‘94, which allowed him to fly the Gulfstream IV, the predecessor of the G450 and G550, all over the world. During this time he lived, for a few years, in Lisbon, Portugal and Lyon, France.
“Gulfstream pilots are very proud to fly Gulfstreams,” Clayton explains. “When they get to that level in their career–when they are flying Gulfstreams–they feel good about themselves.” A Gulfstream means a lot to folks in our neck of the woods, but Clayton says pilots like the Gulfstream IV for different reasons. “It’s fun to fly,” he says, but more importantly, “If you’re going to finish your career or get to the top of the ladder as a corporate pilot, Gulfstream would be one of those plateaus. You’d say to yourself, ‘I’ve arrived.’”
Clayton has been in Savannah since 1997. JetBlue took its first commercial flight in February of 2000. They hired Clayton to fly their Airbus 320 three months later. He flies out of JFK Airport in New York, and a good day at work is when he get’s to see a new pilot’s first day out of the Level D simulator, the Federal Aviation Association’s designation for its simulated visual and full-motion training tool. “…Going from a deer in the headlights–wow–to, twelve weeks later, at the end of that [training] cycle, where light bulbs are going off. Oh, I see how this works now.”
When Clayton is not flying for JetBlue, you might find him flying his L-4 Grasshopper up and down the Georgia Coast. The plane helps Clayton engage with members of the community, and he’s investigating ways it might benefit local charities. This summer he hopes to take his 10-year-old grandson, Gabriel, up for his first flight. On the fourth Saturday of every month he’s at the hangar where we are sitting for a regular pilot’s pancake breakfast. Should you attend,–strangely enough–you will be hard-pressed to find a pancake. You will rub shoulders with pilots of all sorts. One might even take you up.
At home, Clayton is working on leadership coursework. “Putting it down on eight and a half by eleven sheets of paper,” he says. He wants to be a motivational speaker down the road. “It starts with a greater enhanced knowledge of one’s being…you know, I’d like to think the world is more than just getting up in the morning, making a cup of coffee, going to work, coming home, kissing your wife good-night and going to bed.”
From the sound of things, it most definitely is. Clayton and his wife have purchased a Wii System. “It’s so accurate,” he says of Wii Bowling. I tease him for “nerding” up bowling with physics lingo. After all, I’m an alumna of the Pee-wee League at Blue Hen Lanes in Delaware. “What’s your high score?” I ask.
“Two hundred and something–the same as what it is on the lanes,” he laughs. When I press him to pin it down, the man who believes you should offer whatever talent you have to make the world a better place says, “Just make something up.”