Pirtle and Madisons Riley
to present slide show of their airplane travels
The Shadow of the Buffalo festival
returns to Carrollton
(April 2001) Madison, In A doctor
and photographer meet in a hospital room, fly almost everywhere
on the planet together, are named the first honorary citizens
of Nome, Alaska, and end up presenting a slide show at
the Madison-Jefferson County Public Library.
H. Schirmer Riley
This chain of events could happen to none
other than photographer James Pirtle of Bedford, Ky.,
and retired physician H. Schirmer Riley of Madison. Their
April 22 slide presentation in the librarys auditorium
will focus on their most recent flights to points northwest,
particularly Alaska in an attempt to reach Siberia. It
is set for 2 p.m. and sponsored by the Friends of the
So how did a doctor and photographer come to develop a
flying collaboration that has taken them to pretty much
everywhere on the planet over the last 20 years?
The doctor, Riley, 72, started flying at age 16. Riley
was originally from Wheatley, Ky., but grew up in Monterey,
where a World War II flying instructor came from Lexington,
Ky., and started a nearby air strip.
I started flying then and have been interested ever
since, recalled Riley. He flew on and off through
school and then picked it back up more actively during
his years in medical school.
The photographer, Pirtle, 65, attributes his flying interest
to age 10. It was then when this Terre Haute, Ind., native
constructed model airplanes in his spare time on a Solomon
City farm. His interest in building and flying model airplanes
continued into his high school years and finally into
adulthood, which found him flying them at Madisons
I got around to looking at model airplanes and said
to myself, If I am ever going to fly, now is the
time, he recalled. Pirtle started flying
Both men flew on their own for many years but finally
met in the late 1970s when Pirtle shared a hospital room
with Rileys father. Their friendship grew from their
common interest in flying, and in 1983, they took their
first flight on a North Atlantic route, which is the International
Route called the Malta Ayre Rally.
They traveled this route to Malta Island, near Italy.
Reaching this destination entailed flying across the Greenland
To Pirtles knowledge, they were the first Americans
to fly this route. Their passion for the friendly skies,
though, proved this one taste wasnt enough to satisfy
their adventurous hunger. An invitation from the government
of Turkey led them to fly there for four days. They figured
then since they flown almost halfway around the world,
they might as well go all the way, which they did in 1986.
It is not explainable why we do it, said Pirtle.
There is a thrill that comes from using all the
skill youve got to go the ragged edge.
Going to the edge is no exaggeration, either. Over the
last 10 years, Pirtle and Riley have faced major challenges
when pursuing their passion. They could not gain clearance
in their 1991 flight to Russia because officials said
they did not have a Russian navigator flying with them.
Also, weather has many times created less than desirable
conditions for their flying. But Pirtle always remembers
the wise words of his mentor, Roger Taylor: Always
head for the light spot.
He has passed me up quite a bit, said Taylor.
Ive only made it halfway around the world.
Indeed, weather has been a factor in Pirtle and Rileys
journeys. Last summer, they attempted to fly to Siberia
once again. They made it to Alaska, where they traveled
the state and were even made the First Honorary Citizens
of Nome, Alaska.
Snow and ice, however, prevented their entry into Siberia,
despite the fact that this time they had clearance to
land and an invitation from the governor of Siberia. They
had a four-day window to get into this eastern portion
of Russia, but the weather did not hold up for their plane
to fly there safely.
Their April 22 slide presentation will cover not only
this trip but also their 1993 flight around South America.
Flying around the world is good practice for flying
around South America and Alaska, said Riley. He
said the climate differences are much more drastic when
venturing far north or south.
Weve had the opportunity to see the world
from a single engine airplane, said Pirtle. As
a child, you read a book and dream of the world, but weve