Dressing for Success

It started with the disco shirt. Well, that’s what I call it anyway. For years I’ve enjoyed the pilot/safari guide/globe-trotting photographer look in my wardrobe. But shirts with epaulettes on the shoulders fall in and out of fashion, and when they are out of fashion you need to haunt sources of used, vintage clothing to find them. Places like, say, eBay.

That’s probably how I found the disco shirt, but to be honest, I really don’t remember anymore. But anyway, a number of years ago I found a shirt on eBay that looked like a military flight jacket. It was covered with various wing logos. It was totally over the top. I doubt it was created for pilots. The intended market for the shirt was probably young Euro-trash night clubbing in the discotheques of Belgrade.

I fell in love with it at once.

I bought two. One for me and one for Rio. We wore them when we flew the Plane Tales plane. All the fun of a flight jacket without the heat stroke (remember that we are based in New Mexico, where the summers can get pretty darn hot).


But as anyone who has kids knows, they grow fast and it wasn’t long before my “little” boy couldn’t get his Flight Shirt to button up anymore. I went back to eBay to buy a larger one for him, but it was in vain. The disco shirt was gone.

What to do?

In the spirit of “if you can’t find it, build it,” I designed a similar shirt, using the logos of all of the flying organizations we belong to, and had a pair of custom shirts created at a local embroidery shop. We had such fun with them that when winter rolled around we had the same layout embroidered on some heavy weight air force-style flight jackets, and again on some light weight ones in the spring.


Now on a flight jacket, you can literally get away with anything. I suspect you could cover every inch with patches and logos and the response from your fellow pilots would be, “Nice jacket.” Flight shirts, however, aren’t usually seen in the first place, and ours, admittedly, are a bit over the top in the second place. No problem for our normal playing around in our own back yard, but now that I’ve joined an air-racing league, I have to think about how other pilots will react to me.

Why does any of this matter? Well, as a person who has been largely self-employed all my life, I understand the power of “dress for success.” There is power in appearance, and if you dress professionally then you look professional. If you look professional, then you feel professional. And if you feel professional, you’ll act professional. It’s simple, but it works.

What all this boils down to is that I felt that in order to air race well, I needed to feel like an air racer, and that meant that I needed to look like an air racer, and to do that I needed to dress like an air racer. That’s just the way my mind works. Our shirts actually fit the bill, but only if we were at the Red Bull Air Races. Looking at photos of race award ceremonies online in years past, the SARL crowd is a bit more laid back. Polo shirts and T-shirts seem to dominate. I wanted to dress in a way I was comfortable, but as the newcomer, I didn’t want to stand out too much or make tongues wag in a negative way. After much back and forth with my crew (a.k.a. the family) we decided a new, lower profile Flight Shirt was the solution. Something more middle of the road. Something less over-the-top. Something a bit more subtle.

But not too subtle.

So for several nights we sat in the library until late at night taping printouts of various logos onto a plain white shirt to come up with a new design. It was fun. Well, fun for me and Rio and Grandma Jean and Lisa. Debbie got so frustrated with us she nearly divorced us all.

We agreed that less was more this time. We went for fewer logos and less color. First we chose the SARL logo, which is cool, and makes sense as we were making the shirts for SARL races. I contacted the chairman of the League to make sure it was OK to use the logo (it was). Next, we felt we needed a way to brag on our World Speed Record to intimidate the competition, as our plane is not likely to. After that, we thought it was appropriate to have our Race Number on the shirt, and of course we needed some sort of pilot’s wings. In the end—thanks to a very talented Russian graphic artist we found online—we combined the race number and the wings into one logo:

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The final result is a shirt that is simple, with only black thread and some red accents, and a lot of “white space.” It has a clean look, I think, but screams air racer in a subtle way.

Uh…. Can you scream subtlety? Well, I think so.

What do you think?


Check your underwear

The checklist is in my left hand. “Oil,” I say.

“Check,” says Rio.

“GPS,” I say.

“Check,” says Rio.

“GPS battery,” I say.

“Check,” says Rio.

“Clean underwear,” I say.

“Check,” says Rio.

No, we’re not getting ready for landing. I’m a good enough pilot that no one needs a clean underwear check as part of routine operations. Instead, we’re packing for our trip to the first air race of the season, and we’re running through the “checklist” to make sure we didn’t forget to pack anything important. Like the keys to the plane. Actually, that’s not on my checklist, but I think I’ll go add it right now. I can think of nothing worse than driving to the airport at four in the morning for a daylong flight and discovering that you forgot the keys to the plane.

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As we have a long journey in a light plane, we can’t take much with us. The solution is a ground crew, who will actually leave a day ahead of the plane and meet us in Nacogdoches, Texas. The ground crew will carry everything we need at the race, and everything we need to get home again, saving us weight on the flight out—which in turn allows us to carry more fuel, which allows more time between fuel stops, which gets us to our destination faster. After the race, the ground crew will (hopefully) carry all those heavy trophies back home for us.


This checklist is simply my way of figuring out what goes in Debbie’s car for the long drive to Texas, and what goes in my car for the short drive to the airport.

“Sun screen,” I say.

“Check,” says Rio.