Bob began his aviation career at the tender age of 16 when he decided there was a more enjoyable way of going through life than pounding nails for his father. While going to school and working with his father, he still found time to visit the nearby airport. Bob started filling in for a gentleman who enjoyed a nip or two fueling planes for Ozark Airlines for $1.00 a flight. Soon the local FBO took over the fueling contract and Bob was the only one around familiar with the process of gassing up those huge DC-3’s, Convair 440’s and Martin 404’s. So, Bob went to work in 1963 for Ohio Valley Aviation and the man who became his mentor and second father, Mr. Vance Moyers.
During this time Bob begged many, many rides and flew as much as he could afford. His first solo was in a converted tricycle gear Cessna 140, known by some as a C-140TG or C-145 by others. Recently Bob located this plane on a private strip in Wingo, KY. He and Bill Kight flew down to Paducah in the Mooney, picked up one of his original instructors, Mr. Harold Howard, and the three of them went to look at the airplane. It’s still going after 44 years and has the original paint job and engine.
Bob’s first passengers were his brother and two friends. Then he proudly took his mother (Sue) and father (Cotton) for a ride. These trusting souls have flown with Bob over the years in small and large planes.
From 1961 to 1965 Bob “had a blast” and it is all documented in his logbook as he built up time and earned his commercial/instrument ratings. With a gleam in his eye, Bob says, “those were the days!”.
Bob realizes there has been a little angel on his shoulder his entire life and is still there today. It was his good fortune to be hired by Delta in March, 1966 as a flight engineer for the Douglas DC6/7. After a couple of months training he made his first line trip in May. In October of that year he was in flight engineer training for the Convair 880. By November of 1967 he was bouncing off the runway in Macon in the right seat of a Convair 440. One day late in that same year he was told that he had 30 minutes to get to the airport and report for copilot training in the DC6/7. One hour later he was “tearing up the runway” in Chattanooga.
In June, 1968 Bob was back in school in Jackson, Mississippi studying hard to catch up with a DC-9. “Seems like I was always in school”, says Bob as he reflects on his past. “In those days they furnished us with hard folding chairs, not the modern cushioned chairs we enjoy these days.”
“In those days, things were sure different than today. We could be qualified on as many aircraft as we wanted. I moved from Atlanta to Houston in December of 1968 to fly the DC-9. I loved Houston. It was a small base and we had a ball. When I moved, I was flying and maintaining my qualification as flight engineer on the DC-6/7, Convair 880 and right seat on the Convair 440, DC-6/7 and the DC9. Dumb, but I didn’t know any better. By a stroke of luck I got to fly the inaugural Jet flight into Paducah in April of ’69. What a blast! There were an estimated 4000 people there and I probably new most of them!”
Things settled down for Bob in Houston where he flew the DC-9 until January of 1970 at which time he checked out in the right seat of the Convair 880.
In 1973 Delta bought NorthEast Airlines. He came home from an 880 trip and was told by friends that he had a B-727 Captains bid. “We at Delta didn’t even know what a 727 was, much less have a school for it.” Soon Bob was up in Dallas at the American Airlines Flight Academy for 727 ground school. Bob recalls that this was much different from Delta’s schools but he survived and flew his first Captains trip with Jim Bruce as his co-pilot who was also on his first 727 trip. Jim and Bob had been in the same 727 class at the Academy. The flight engineer on that trip was Kenny Mathews who had two months experience on that plane. Bob spent 14 years flying the 727 and thinks of it fondly as “a great work-horse”.
As a sideline to his Delta job, Bob owned an FBO in Montgomery, TX for three years, 1979-80-81. It was known as Executive Aircraft of Conroe, Inc. and according to Bob was a “wild ride good for several hours of stories” plus a few that shouldn’t be told. March, 1988 found Bob flying the B757 and 767. In 1993 he trained on what he thought was going to be his retirement airplane, the Lockheed L1011. He was flying from Dallas to Honolulu. After Delta pulled the L1011 from Dallas, Bob commuted to Atlanta from where he would fly it to Europe and Hawaii.
In 1998 Delta bought the B-777 and Bob was able to get in the third class for training. He flew this until his retirement in March, 2002. At the time of his retirement he was number 11 on the seniority list and would have been number 1 in six more months had he not taken early retirement. He retired 17 months early (before his 60th birthday). He reasoned that 17 months wouldn’t buy him any additional retirement income and he was looking forward to sleeping in his own bed for six month’s in a row thinking it would make him feel like he was 30 again! He says, “It didn’t work, feeling younger that is”. He ended up with “37 ½ fantastic years of service with Delta”.
When asked what brought him to the great city of Louisville, Bob smiles and says, “the fairer sex”. His brother, Bill, invited him to the PGA Valhalla tournament in August, 1996 and joining them for the outing was a lovely lady by the name of Susan. You guessed it. Bob and Susan hit it off. Bob moved to Louisville, they married and have “been together ever since and will be for ever more”.
Bob started flying at Bowman Field when he first moved to Louisville. He bought into a partnership in a M20C Mooney in 2000. “It’s a great little airplane and I fly it quite often to Paducah to visit my mother”. “In 2002 I met a great bunch of guys on Bowman who had formed a club known as the Bowman Eagles. They have only tailwheel type planes which require considerable practice in takeoffs and landings. I think it took me as many hours with Jack Kuhns to get checked out as it did for my first solo way back when.” Bowman Eagles now has 60 members and three planes: a Champ, Citabria, and a108-1 Stinson. “I have had and hope to always have more fun than a man should be allowed to have flying tail wheel aircraft. Landing on grass, eating great barbecue and ice cream at the fly-in’s is great. Not to mention all the great people associated with that type of flying.”
Bob Allen is one of a kind. He always has time for everyone. Even with all his experience he still loves to fly and looks forward to what tomorrow will bring. Take him up on his standing offer: “Buy me a beer at the Aero club or split a trip to Rough River for lunch and we can swap stories forever more.”