09 August 2007

A Local Aviation Legend Passes


Sadly, the nation's longest-serving television anchor, KTLA's Hal Fishman, passed away this week. Although Hal was known primarily as a television persona, I was a bit surprised that few of the tributes given to him have mentioned his passion for aviation. Hal was a truly impressive fellow, apparently as cool and calm in the air as he was in front of the television cameras, and an accomplished pilot. In 1969, Hal shared the storied Fédération Aéronautique Internationale's Louis Blériot Medal with his friend Barry Schiff. The two went on to write a number of books together, including the aviation thriller "Flight 902 is Down!". Fishman held thirteen world records for speed and altitude, most recently (I think) hitting the mark of 943.97 miles per hour with pilot and friend Clay Lacy in a Gulfstream G-II. You may not have heard about it, of course, because I don't think Hal ever mentioned it in his newscast!

Photo (above): Hal Fishman with his good friend and co-author, Barry Schiff, courtesy of Barry Schiff. (below) Fishman at an aviation event, in front of a B-17, also courtesy of Barry Schiff. See www.barryschiff.com for more.

Aside from holding all those records, Hal Fishman was a promoter of aviation here in the Southland. He'd occasionally bring a TV camera aboard his plane, and show viewers at home his unique perspective of Los Angeles. (At one point, to dramatize the need for increased aviation security and scrutiny of applicants for licenses, he went into the air to point out the vulnerability of certain landmarks to airborne attack.) He was also an ever-present figure at local air shows and events, and appeared in the film "One Six Right" celebrating the Van Nuys Airport (see earlier production journal). I spoke to him on the phone about "Pancho" at one point, and he provided a lot of encouragement, and a number of leads. Then, a few months later, I met him at a ceremony at the Santa Monica Airport to mark the re-birth of the Museum of Flying. He spent a few moments with me, encouraging progress with the project and saying he hoped to be there for the premiere. He was gracious, and gregarious when it came to talking about Los Angeles aviation history. He was certainly a part of it.

Incidentally, a nice write-up about Fishman's passion for aviation and automobiles appears on Steve Parker's blog, The Car Nut