OVER FIVE DECADES OF COMMITMENT TO AVIATION SAFETY
Distinguished careers that span decades spent working for and representing the same company provide a window to an individual’s passion, loyalty, dedication and character.
The window into the 60-year career of current Chariman, President and CEO of FlightSafety, Bruce Whitman, shows a legend in the aviation industry who has helped steer the world’s leading professional aviation training and simulation systems company for over five decades. During this remarkable tenure, Whitman’s commitment to advocating aviation safety across the globe has been proportionate to his philanthropic endeavors and involvement in the larger aviation community.
Whitman’s fascination with airplanes formed at an early age. “I made models and I would go out and watch the wonder of airplanes as they took off into the sky, so I was always interested. I never really knew that I would be able to fly airplanes or be involved with them,” he recalled.
After graduating from Trinity College in 1955 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree, Whitman entered the United States Air Force, where he earned the triple ratings of pilot, navigator and bombardier. He later served in the Strategic Air Command. His desire to pursue a law degree at George Washington University followed. “I wanted to go to law school because I thought I would combine aviation with law,” Whitman explained. “I went during the day for a year and I flew at night in either the Reserves or charter. After a second year, I switched to night school and I also took a job with National Business Aircraft Association, as it was called in those days.”
Aviation safety during the 1950s and 1960s was often scoffed at, as pilots did not see value in professional training – that is, until Al Ueltschi, known as the “pilot’s pilot” who served as the personal pilot for Pan Am founder Juan Trippe – launched FlightSafety in 1951.
His deep aviation experience, entrepreneurial persistence and vision flourished over the next several years. According to his personal reflection on FlightSafety, entitled “The History and Future of FlightSafety,” Ueltschi said, “Soon FlightSafety training centers were going up in Kansas, Georgia, Texas, Missouri, Florida and New Jersey. We bought a lot of bricks. We bought a lot of simulators as well. But the investment, almost all of which was internally financed, paid off. We were in the right place at the right time with the right stuff.”
“I came up to FlightSafety to take a three-day course and I met Al Ueltschi. We went to lunch three days in a row, I went back to work at NBAA and he called and he said, ‘Look, I’m looking for a number two man. If I send you some resumes would you look at them?’ and I said of course.” When Ueltschi called Whitman for his honest professional opinion on the candidates. “I told him I thought the resumes provided didn’t show any knowledge of business aviation. Ueltschi said, ‘I suppose you think you do?’ and I said well, I do work for the National Business Aircraft Association. I’ve been doing this a year and a half so I may
Whitman’s confidence and background impressed Ueltschi. “I came into the company as his number two and it stayed that way for about 42 years – which may be a record to being promoted,” Whitman chuckled.
Whitman’s promotion to FlightSafety CEO in 2003 provided a platform where he felt he was in a better position to do more to help others. “I believe in giving back. I’ve been very proud of being able to Chair the Medal of Honor Foundation and help the recipients. I’m Vice Chairman of the USO Board here in New York, Trustee of the World War II Museum and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum – things like that have always appealed to me and I think those of us who have been fortunate enough to be moderately successful have an obligation to give back when we can.”
During the 2014 Living Legends of Aviation Awards Dinner (learn more about this event on page 88!), before introducing Whitman for the Lifetime Aviation Industry Award, General Jack Daily referenced the importance of safety in aviation, describing how its profile is traced by the Smithsonian saying, “From the first powered man-controlled flight to walking on the moon in 66 years is a profile that can’t be matched by any other industry. The keystone that enabled that type of performance is safety – and the exponential improvement that we’ve had in the last 60 years is attributable to several factors – one of them is training.”
Among Whitman’s many passions are his devotion to and love for this great country and its veterans. This deep-seeded pride of country motivates his ambition “to foster patriotism.” Whitman was instrumental in the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2009, which includes a provision to allow veterans and military members out of uniform to render the proper military style salute during the raising, lowering and passing of the flag and singing of the National Anthem. The law was unanimously approved by the Senate and signed by President George W. Bush on September 27, 2008. “One of my passions is to support our veterans and those who currently serve in uniform,” Whitman explained. “It is the responsibility of each one of us to help ensure that all Americans now and in the future develop and demonstrate their patriotism and pride in this great nation. The courage, sacrifice and patriotism all Medal of Honor recipients share, represent and hold precious need to be fully understood and embraced by current and future generations.”
Whitman credits his father, a World War I Army veteran, for instilling in him at an early age the importance of honor, duty, country and service. “The experiences he shared with me and his deep love for this country and those he served with had an enormous impact on my life,” Whitman stated. “Any success I’ve enjoyed is also attributable to the training and life lessons learned while serving in the United States Air Force. I’m most grateful for that invaluable experience.”
In his efforts to pay it forward, Whitman served as a member of the first board of governors of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) – a congressionally chartered non-profit organization that serves as the official civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force. Membership includes individuals from all backgrounds, specifically catering to cadets aged 12 to just under 21. “It is now our obligation to encourage young people to consider aviation for their careers – after all, they are the future.”
Whitman’s extremely rare and special tenure – as well as his philanthropic spirit – are admired by many in the aviation industry across the world. “Those of us who work in this industry are most fortunate,” Whitman stated and concluded, “We share a passion and do what we like with people we like. How great is that? I’ve really had a great experience all my life doing what I love.”
THE WORLD OF WHITMAN
- Chairman Emeritus of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation
- Chairman of the Audit Committee and member of the Executive Committee of Orbis International
- Director Emeritus of the Civil Air Patrol and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
- Board Member of the Aerospace Industries Association, Corporate Angel Network and General Aviation Manufacturers Association and National Aeronautic Association
- Trustee of the Air Force Academy Falcon Foundation
- Trustee of Kent School
- Trustee and founding member of the Board of the National World War II Museum; member of the Executive Committee and Vice Chair of the Development Committee
- Member of the Board and Audit Committee of Business Executives for National Security