At 80, Santa Rosa's Bob Archibald hangs up his flight-instructor wings

  • Bob Archibald of Santa Rosa at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport, Friday Nov. 24, 2012. For many years, Archibald taught students to fly planes at Dragonfly Aviation which he recently shut down. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2012

If there's anything more rewarding than to buckle into a sleek machine with wings and power up to bank and glide and revel in a bird's-eye view of the neighborhood or the coast or the Earth, it may be to teach another person to fly.

Bob Archibald has taught many through the 31 years the former Air Force pilot ran the now-grounded Dragonfly Aviation flight school at the Sonoma County-Charles M. Schulz Airport.

"After many years, I look back at the dozens of former students now sitting in the front seat of major airlines," said Archibald, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars who sports a white handlebar moustache and doesn't look his 80 years.

He savors replays of a favorite moment for someone in his line of work: standing on the tarmac and flashing a thumbs-up to a student about to take off on his or her first solo flight.

But Dragonfly has trained its last pilot. Archibald has closed the flight service, having run out of money and been evicted from the county airport.

He's regretful and also a bit bitter. He said he believes that though his business has struggled, it might have survived had airport management not thwarted his efforts to expand his services, most notably to restore a former aspect of his business and once again sell fuel at the airport.

"There were ways we could have been supported by the airport, which we were not," Archibald said. "There were opportunities we weren't allowed to carry out."

Airport manager Jon Stout views the demise of the landmark flight service differently.

"I don't think we dealt with him in an unfair manner," Stout said. In fact, he added, "we felt we bent over backwards" to accommodate those proposed expansions of Dragonfly's services that met airport standards.

Ultimately, Stout said, the problem with Dragonfly was that Archibald too often failed to pay his rent.

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