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World Travelers

Author, pilot Pirtle to speak
at Village Lights Bookstore

Pirtle, late Dr. Riley flew
around the world in 1986

By Laura Goodwin
Contributing Writer

(August 2010) – April 19, 2010, was a very shocking and disappointing day for pilot Jim Pirtle. It was the day that his best friend and co-pilot, Dr. Schirmer Riley, died in an airplane crash. When asked about his first thoughts upon hearing of the accident, he simply replied that he felt “total devastation.”

Jim Pirtle

Photo by Laura Goodwin

Pilot and co-author
Jim Pirtle recounts
his travels with the late
Dr. Schirmer Riley.

“Sherriff Bill Andrews called me and told me that the crash involved an orange plane. He said that only the No. 5 was visible,” he said. “I had to confirm that it was his plane.”
Pirtle and Riley co-authored the book, “Two Pilots, One Engine,” detailing their 1986 trip around the world. Pirtle is scheduled to speak and sign the book beginning at 1 p.m. on Aug. 14 at Village Lights Bookstore at 110 E. Main St. in Madison, Ind.
The trip was undertaken in Riley’s 1958 Piper PA24-Commanche 250 hp airplane, the same plane involved in the 2010 accident. Pirtle also owned an airplane, a 1966 Cherokee. But they decided to make the trip in Riley’s airplane because it would be more suitable for the planned adventure. It had a larger fuel capacity and more horsepower.
“We left as friends and came back as brothers,” Pirtle said. “It was either that or return as enemies because there was that much togetherness. We came back as close as brothers.”
The two friends would meet approximately three times per week at Hinkle’s Sandwich Shop for coffee and conversation. They became a regular fixture to the employees and residents, around 10 a.m. on any given day. Upon deciding on an adventure, the pair would meet more frequently. They would drink coffee and draw their plans out on a napkin, taken from their table’s dispenser. The rough drawn maps and plans would later be transferred to actual maps and flight plans.
The actual trip, as described in their book, was from July 20, 1986, through Aug. 29, 1986. They originally planned for the trip to be 40 days but had forgotten about factoring in the International Date Line. They had to be extremely precise in their planning. Some countries required over-flight permits, landing permits, and permits just to “be” at the airports. All of these permits had time constraints, requiring small windows of time for arrivals and departures. Pirtle reported that they stayed on schedule all the way up until they reached India. They decided to leave India early after they tired of dealing with an issue with the Indian government. They flew on to Australia’s Ayers Rock, circling it a few times before landing.

Two Pilots One Engine

Pirtle and Riley’s trip was one of three total excursions. He said it was the “biggest, but probably least dangerous than the other two.” He said their 1993 trip, where they flew around South America, was probably the most dangerous. “The danger was in getting reliable aviation reports ahead of their flight plan, more so than the possibility of encountering drug traffic.”
It was during this trip where they flew into a hurricane. It took them a few hours to get out of the bad weather. The hurricane slowed them and shook them so much that the plane only traveled eighty miles in two hours’ time. “Weather like that really gets your attention,” he recalled.
The conclusion of their adventures always found them back at Hinkle’s, drinking coffee. Pirtle recalls that he and Riley would talk about their trips, pausing occasionally to ask each other, “Did we really do that?”
The book did not come about until Dr. Robert Trimble, a Hanover College professor, encouraged them to write it. He told the pair that they “owed it to their community.”
Village Lights Bookstore owner Nathan Montoya said, “I think he’s a remarkable man, with amazing energy. I regret not meeting Dr. Riley, but we’re excited to have Jim come to the Village Lights Bookstore. We have a lot of personal admiration for them both over their memoir.”
They took the cassette tapes that they had made along the 1986 journey, transcribing them over a long period of time, before the book began to take shape. The original manuscript was much larger than the finished product. The book was finished in 2009 and published by Farley Printing Co. of Louisville, Ky. Most of the sales are through local promotion of the book, promotions at aviation events and mail order through promotions in aviation magazines.
Pirtle currently bides his time in between flying, being a “gentleman farmer,” taking professional little league photos and spending time with family.

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