Longtime pilot Chuck Leonard found his calling in the sky - Albuquerque Journal

Longtime pilot Chuck Leonard found his calling in the sky

Charles “Chuck” Leonard.

It was a life-threatening, nightmarish situation that could have turned out a lot worse.

In 1985, air traffic controllers got a call from a distressed woman, Nancy Eves, 54, a passenger in a single-engine airplane on approach to the Albuquerque International Airport from Alamogordo. Her husband, Charles Eves, 63, was piloting the airplane when he suddenly died from an apparent heart attack.

Chuck Leonard and Bob Bennett, pilots with Cutter Aviation, heard the call and within four minutes were airborne in a Beechcraft airplane.

Shadowing the other aircraft, they stayed in radio contact with the woman and had her circle the airport for 35 minutes while they familiarized her with the controls before giving her step-by-step instructions to guide her to a safe landing.

The grateful woman said at the time, “all passengers in private planes should have a pinch-hitter course in flying,” according to a story in the Albuquerque Journal and a retelling of the event by Leonard to his daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Leonard.

Charles Dittman Leonard, known to his friends as Chuck, had a long and decorated career in the Air Force before a second career as a private charter pilot. He died in an Albuquerque assisted living facility on Jan. 16 at the age of 90.

In the early 1950s, Leonard had just become certified as a plumber in Texas. A pilot friend took him out for a ride in a Cessna airplane and allowed Leonard to briefly control the aircraft.

That triggered Leonard’s lifelong love of flight, said Elizabeth Leonard. “Otherwise he would have been a plumber in Baytown, Texas…. I cannot imagine this man having that life,” she said.

Leonard was born in San Antonio and grew up in Deer Park, just outside Houston.

The inspirational first airplane ride led Leonard to join the Air Force toward the end of the Korean War, said Elizabeth Leonard.

Among the aircraft Leonard flew were B-29 and B-57 bombers and the F-86 Sabrejet. During the Vietnam war, he was part of the 13th Bomb Squadron and flew 88 combat missions.

Leonard retired from the Air Force in 1973 with the rank of lieutenant colonel and a host of honors, including the Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

He then had a long career as a charter pilot with Cutter Aviation. Leonard retired from Cutter in 2008 as chief pilot, vice president of operations and president of Cutter Air Charter, and after logging a lifetime total of more than 18,000 hours of flight time.

Leonard was preceded in death by wives Margie and Rosemary Leonard, and son Mark Leonard, Elizabeth’s husband. In addition to Elizabeth, he is survived by sons Larry and David (Linda) Leonard; grandsons Charles (Holly), Samuel, Andrew, Robert and Justin Leonard; and great grandchildren Lexi and Mark Leonard.

A memorial service will be held Feb. 4, 11 a.m., at St. Stephens United Methodist Church, 4601 Juan Tabo NE.

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