King Air Owner Frank Singer is Still Flying at 83
Californian Frank Singer is living life to the fullest at age 83, and that includes flying his King Air C90B. He explained that every year he goes to get his medical for insurance requisites and, so far, he has no exceptions. “When I go in to get my medical, they always ask what medications I’m taking and I tell them nothing. They always reply in disbelief commenting that I’m over 80 and reaffirm that ‘surely I must at least be taking something over the counter,’ and ask what I take for a headache. I told them that I think I may have had a headache a few years ago and taken something.”
He continued, “I still run two miles every morning, I love to ski and when I look in the mirror I wonder who that old guy is!” Crediting his mother’s side of the family for his health and longevity, he explained that she lived until the age of 97, her mother was 104 and her grandmother lived to 114.
Singer has led an interesting life from the start. Born Jewish in Vienna, Austria, he and his family fled their country for America on the last peace-time sailing of the Queen Mary before World War II. They settled in New York and since he had a former nanny who spoke English, Singer became the translator for his parents when they arrived.
When he was about 16, his mother worried that he could eventually get drafted to fight in a war, so she told him to start applying and taking entrance exams for colleges. He got accepted to four without his high school diploma and chose Purdue to study engineering. After gaining a degree in engineering, he went on to earn an MBA and then joined the workforce.
From Rocket Scientist to Entrepreneur and Philanthropist
Singer’s first job out of college was with Sperry Gyroscope Company, known for its advanced aircraft navigation equipment; his work there entailed various projects with gyroscopes, as well as some basic rocketry. It was there that his interest in becoming a pilot was piqued. A technician that was assigned to him had been a Flying Sergeant in World War II and shared, as Singer describes it, “wonderful tales of flying the P-51.” Soon after, he went to a close-by airport and signed up for flying lessons. “I learned in a Piper J-3 Cub from an instructor who had one eye and had been a fighter pilot in World War II! I got very good training from him and acquired my PPL in 1956, at the age of 22,” Singer explained.
After leaving Sperry, Singer worked on programs involving propulsion, navigation, rocketry and even Polaris missiles for various companies including Honeywell, General Dynamics, and Dayco While at Dayco, he was living in the Los Angeles area and was picked to oversee one of their conglomerate companies in Costa Mesa, California, that manufactured flexible metal hoses. Dayco decided to sell the company and Singer asked to buy it. He purchased the company and after about seven or eight years, in the mid-1980s, he said he got bored. His company ended up in a joint venture with a company from China that had 500,000 employees in one location. He was surprised that the Chinese company would reach out to his small company of 80 employees. He said the Chinese company had searched out certain types of technologies and was interested in the way Singer’s company manufactured the hoses. Eventually, a large company wanted to buy his flexible metal hose company and he told him he wasn’t interested at that time. He still wanted to build up its equity and said he’d probably be ready to sell it in at least five years when it would be worth more. The company came back and offered him the amount that he expected his company would be worth later. Singer is still surprised that such a big company would want to buy his small company, but they were interested in its relationship already established with China.
After selling the company, Singer formed Tech Coast Angles with five of his friends to invest in high-tech, early-stage companies. He also is a partner in an aircraft service company, SoCal Jets, located in Van Nuys, California.
Early on, Singer found a fulfilling way to be able to fly and keep up his hours while also giving back. He got involved with Flying Samaritans, a volunteer group that operates free medical clinics in Baja California, Mexico. Singer helps fly doctors, dentists, medical specialists, nurses, translators and other support personnel to the clinic, and says that some of the patients at the clinic have traveled a long way to get there, many times on foot.
As his schedule became more flexible, a friend got Singer involved in another charity organization, Wings of Rescue, that has become very close to his heart. He flies approximately 35 hours a year transporting animals that may be euthanized in California to other parts of the nation where there is more demand. Ninety percent of the animals he transports are from Southern California, where 4,000 pets per year are transferred out of the area. Singer says he has fit up to 60 cats and dogs in his C90B, if they’re small and have two in a cage. The animals are transferred to the country’s northern states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, New York once or twice a year, and even up to Canada on occasion.
Singer has also flown for the Veterans Air Command, which flies soldiers (and sometimes their families) who have been injured in combat or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder to appointments or sometimes home from a hospital stay. “It’s much easier, and more comfortable, for them to fly in a private airplane and it’s the least I can do for them, as they sacrificed their lives for us,” Singer said. “Giving back is extremely satisfying.”
The King Air – a Personal Gift
Singer has earned instrument and commercial ratings and has kept up with their requirements. Over the years he has owned various aircraft, including a Luscombe, Piper Cherokee, an older model Beechcraft Bonanza, followed by an A36 and later a B36TC (the only one he purchased new) and a Duke which he loved to fly.
He said that owning a King Air was a dream he had for many years, so when he finally had the money, he bought himself a seven-year-old, 1996 C90B for his 70th birthday. The King Air had a five-tube EFIS, but Singer added GPS and a MPD “glass panel.” At the time, it was “state-of-the-art,” but now is a bit outdated. Singer said he will not upgrade it anymore because “you can’t teach an old horse new tricks (and I’m an old horse),” plus it is still very service suitable. He has also added BLR winglets, Raisbeck wing lockers, Frakes exhaust stacks and Pulselite anti-collision lights, as well as an in-cabin TV and satellite phone.
“The engines are getting close to having 3,200 hours on a 3,600-hour overhaul requirement,” he said. “I’m considering the possibility of buying some mid-time engines, but sometimes I wonder what will ‘retire’ me from flying first – my airplane or the insurance company!”
Singer explained that the C90B is actually much easier to fly than the Duke he owned, because everything is automatic with the King Air. “There are a lot of switches and buttons, and it’s fun to fly both hands-on and hands-off; and it’s very user-friendly,” he stated. “It has more versatility, is much more comfortable, very dependable and safe, and I pay less on its maintenance than I did with the Duke.”
In his over 60 years of flying, Singer has had no accidents and only one minor incident. He stated, “I was in the Duke, landing at night up in Big Bear, California, and a rogue whirlwind blew me off the end of the runway causing my landing gear to collapse when I put the plane in a ground loop to avoid going through a fence.”
It seems only appropriate that Singer, himself resilient, buy an aircraft that replicates the same characteristics. Steadfast, durable, versatile, and dependable are a few that come to mind. When asked how long he plans to continue flying he replied, “I passed my medical in May, so my insurance is good for another year. My goal is to continue flying as long as I can. I recently became a member of the UFO (United Flying Octogenarians). When I asked my wife if I should join, she responded, ‘yes, you should meet the other five fools.’ He continued, “Some of its members are pilots in their 90s that are still flying. Of course, they aren’t flying an aircraft as complex as the King Air, but they’re still flying.”
Here’s to getting those used engines installed when needed, so the King Air can keep up with Singer and he can retire from flying when he chooses to.