Hard to imagine. The guy behind the desk, in a den decorated with aviation history, has been retired for 42 years. Doing the math induces some head-scratching, until you learn that Lyle Bobzin is 102.
So, Lyle, what’s the secret?
A pause as he shifts in his chair. Then the answer.
"By the grace of God."
If you are a believer, as Lyle is, that means he spent 36 years about 35,000 feet closer to the Almighty than the rest of us.
Lyle was not just a pilot for some airline; reason enough for a list of accomplishments.
Nope. Capt. Lyle Bobzin was the most eminent and respected pilot in the history of TWA, the groundbreaking, iconic company in air travel history.
Reared in Wisconsin, his life was forever altered when he was 9. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew the Atlantic, forever changing travel. It had a profound affect on young Bobzin. He made it clear: "Lindy was my hero. Still is."
In a few years, Lyle obtained a pilot’s license and became a flight instructor.
"Things were different then. Flying without a license was not uncommon,” he added.
In 1944, Transcontinental Western Airlines (the original TWA name) called and offered an opportunity. They were seeking pilots. The 36-year stint with TWA had begun. In the late 1940s, billionaire Howard Hughes bought into the fledgling carrier.
Hughes had an obsession with flying. He wanted to make TWA into an international carrier with around-the-world connections. Hughes soon learned that rival Pan American did not want any competition. Hughes pressed on. He was fighting the powers of Washington as well. Pan Am was, shall we be polite here, well-connected and well-protected. Enter Lyle Bobzin.
His mission was to set up global destinations for TWA. It was a large undertaking.
"We flew into Israel in 1948, to establish a base,” Lyle recalled.
Keep in mind that there was a war going on; Israel was fighting for its new existence. Not exactly the safest spot on the planet. Lyle was in the forefront in the battle for TWA to carve out international routes. "I had to get Howard Hughes off the hook,” he recalled.
Needless to say, TWA staked a big claim in world travel, in no small part due to the missions of Capt. Lyle Bobzin.
When queried about if he ever met Howard Hughes, Lyle laughed and told this story.
"I liked Howard for his passion and believed in his plan for TWA. One of our headquarters was in Kansas City. He would fly himself there in a B-23 from L.A.
“I entered the reception area and saw this sprawled-out disheveled man on the couch. His clothes were dirty and he was unshaven. I told the receptionist we will remove him.
“Ruby looked up and said, Lyle, that is Mr. Hughes.
"He was a really strange man.”
His favorite ride
Lyle's role in TWA went beyond piloting. He was sought out by TWA management for a variety of reasons. The Boeing company's major engineers asked for his thoughts on plane designs and corrections. His favorite airplane was the 747, best known as the "Jumbo Jet.” This monstrous aircraft dwarfed the popular 707. It weighed over 300 tons and had a 210-foot wing span. The trademark look involved a second deck where the cockpit and a lounge were located.
Bobzin was no stranger to notable passengers, mostly on his coast-to-coast flights. Liz Taylor and her most recently acquired husband, Eddie Fisher, were frequent flyers; so were Cary Grant, Tyrone Power and Edward G. Robinson. He also met his prominent forerunners, war-time aviators Eddie Rickenbacker and Jimmy Doolittle. Andy Devine, the portly, raspy-voiced character actor of a legion of movies and TV shows, was a close friend.
When you spend decades defying gravity, some strange and dangerous situations can occur.
Lyle was transporting oil company personnel in the Middle East. The plane suddenly lurched upward. A crew member was dispatched to check out the rear. Every passenger was huddled in the back, drinking and throwing dice, causing an imbalance of the aircraft. Despite protests, they were ordered back to assigned seats.
In June 1960, there was a very close call. Lyle, piloting a 707 to Los Angeles, spotted a speck on the horizon. He was in manual control of the plane. The speck got much larger in a hurry.
Things happen quick at 600 mph. It was a trainer. Lyle did a sudden roll of his aircraft.
The two planes were so close he could see two stricken faces in the other cockpit.
A lot of people had no idea that they were saved by the quick action of their captain.
When asked if he felt any fear, Lyle answered, “No, I was composed."
In 1980, Lyle was retired. It was not his idea. It was an age mandate by the FAA. Lyle's take? "It was stupid.”
TWA suffered through a period where corporate raiders like Carl Icahn gutted the assets and increased the debt. In 2001, TWA swooned and crashed.
Lyle and Rita, who were married in 1968, settled in with their hobbies. Lyle enjoyed his bird hunting. Rita had been a hostess for TWA and later she set up the Admiral's Club for American Airlines. He hunted all over the world, Ireland and Israel stood out for him. Israel? Well, it seems that the British had introduced pheasants years ago.
They moved to Green Valley in 2018. It was an eventful year.
Lyle got an infection, a bad one.
"I thought, at 100, this could be it. Everything left me, including my conscious mind.”
From somewhere came a voice. It said, “Take the pain.”
“I was jolted. Recovery came quickly. It was Christmas 2018."
Rita added, "I got this call from the hospital, not knowing from whom. The call came from Lyle. Unbelievable! Prayer answered."
Lyle Bobzin gets by. He has some issues but mental acuity is not one of them.
He frets over his loss of some vocabulary. Maybe so, but his standards are lofty.
A tip of the wings to the Captain.
Next drop of the wheels, 103.