‘Flight of Passage’: Dos and don’ts

On a recent trip to Long Beach, California, aboard a JetBlue Airbus, I finally cracked open Rinker Buck’s Flight of Passage. It’s an engrossing story of two brothers who flew a refurbished Piper Cub from New Jersey to California in the summer of 1964.

I say “finally” because this was long overdue. I’d recently interviewed a pilot who was so inspired by the book that he completed a Flight of Passage of his own. You’ll read more about Nate Foster in the January issue of Flight Training.


The Bucks completed their trip at the tender ages of 17 (Kernahan, the pilot in command) and 15 (Rinker, who was the navigator). They flew the entire trip using pilotage and dead reckoning. (Chew on that the next time you hit “direct to” to go 40 nm for lunch.)

The Cub they flew didn’t have radios–not for communication, nor for navigation. Even at that time, when aviation was a lot more accustomed to NORDO than it is today, older pilots couldn’t believe they had the nerve to do what they did.

It wasn’t a completely uneventful flight. Without ruining it too much in the event you plan to read it, here are some places where the Buck boys could have been headliners in a “Flight Lesson” column:

  • Mountain flying. They had never done it before, and they had never learned about density altitude. The part where they tackle the Guadalupe Mountains will stand your hair on end.
  • External pressures. The boys’ dad, a gregarious former barnstormer who understood the power of the press, had engineered a media campaign that dogged the Bucks as they made their way west. Keeping on their dad’s schedule created a lot of pressure to be certain places at certain times, so they could be interviewed by the local newspapers.

There’s a lot to learn from the Bucks’ trip, and a lot to absorb from Rinker Buck’s snapshot in time. It was the 1960s, after President Kennedy was assassinated, and aviation was quite different. But it was also kind of the same, as you’ll learn if you read the book.

Would you like to make a trip like the Bucks and Nate Foster? Maybe you already have? Tell me about it in the comments section.

–Jill Tallman

6 Responses to “‘Flight of Passage’: Dos and don’ts”

  1. F. Leyva says:

    Great book, I enjoyed and laughed so hard. my wife enjoyed the passages I read to her.

  2. Tracy Rhodes says:

    I agree, great book!

    You might also want to try: Zero 3 Bravo by Mariana Gosnell. ISBN 0-679-40025-7, published in 1993. She flies her Luscombe 8F around the country solo.

  3. David Jack Kenny says:

    I’d love to fly a light single cross-country, but not NORDO! Not now, not even in 1964.

  4. Rick Sheppe says:

    I made a similar trip from Vermont to Florida in 1998. I was inspired by “Flight of Passage” and also by “Coast to Coast in a Cub” by Ed Byars.

    Everyone should do this, at least once. There is no other way to gain a proper perspective on aviation before the electronics revolution.

  5. Felipe says:

    I’ll be taking a 172 with a buddy from South Florida to Central California in January!

    This book is fantastic!

  6. I loved this book, even though I’m not an aviator. Such an adventure, and so well-written. Hilarious in parts, too.

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