Veteran Pilot Fights FAA in Effort to Stay in the Air


Bob Watts has flown military cargo planes to China and an orchestra to Canada. He’s survived an emergency landing in Bismarck and an unexpected plunge into the Missouri River.

He’s ornery or kind, depending on whom you talk to.

Watts, 73, owns Capital Aviation, with 10 small airplanes, and runs it with his wife, Lois.

When he’s not in the air, you can find Watts in his shop, rebuilding a 1946 Cessna, along with his family--Lois, their 15-year-old dog Klondike and two cats.


Klondike has logged more than 3,000 miles in the air. The cats, Midway and Nuisance, have made a few flights by sneaking on board.

“I’ll bet I’ve got shirts and socks in at least a dozen Laundromats all over the country from living out of a briefcase,” he said. But he’s had fun.

“I wouldn’t want an airline job where I have to fly to Minneapolis to Bismarck and back to Minneapolis and back to Bismarck. I wouldn’t do that for all the tea in China,” he said.

Watts was in China during World War II, airlifting military supplies over “The Hump,” in the Himalaya Mountains to the Flying Tigers, a group of mercenaries under the command of the Allies.

“We hauled tent stakes, ketchup, light bulbs, munitions. We moved two cut-up locomotives over the Hump. Later, they were welded back together.”

After the war, he and his brother, Jack, started Capital Aviation Corp. Jack Watts retired eight years ago. Lois Watts, a home economics teacher for 29 years, became office manager and bookkeeper in 1976.

When conductor Guy Lombardo and his orchestra found their plane had engine trouble, Watts got them to Canada.

In 1982, Watts was piloting a plane carrying eight people when the landing gear failed and he was forced to bring the plane down in Bismarck on its belly. The landing was smooth; no one was hurt.


In 1956, he and a photographer escaped injury when their light plane went into the Missouri River.

“I wasn’t watching where I was going,” Watts recalled. “I just flew the plane into the water--just like the guy on the street, turns his head to look at a pretty girl and hits a lamppost. I learned to mind the road.”

His biggest obstacle, he says, is the Federal Aviation Administration, which is threatening to take away his license for flying without the proper fuel adjustment valve. Watts and his attorney are fighting the agency.

“If you don’t dot all your i’s and cross your t’s, you are subject to severe penalties and fines,” Watts said. “People in Washington seem to think a light plane is a rich man’s fancy.”


But people like Erwin Kobs of Bismarck, who did maintenance for Watts in the 1950s, think he’ll outlast the bureaucrats.

“He’s a tough master, but he’s a good pilot,” Kobs said. “Aviation is his life, there’s no doubt about that. He’s a survivor.”