Author photo

By Cathy Hansen
contributing writer 

The stars are whispering Brian's name

Short Flights

 

June 24, 2023

Provided.

Brian in front of SR-71.

I always enjoy reading this poem titled "Because I fly" by retired Air Force pilot and Vietnam Veteran, Major Brian Shul:

Because I fly, I laugh more than other men. I look up and see more than they.

I know how the clouds feel, what it's like to have the blue in my lap, to look down on birds, to feel freedom in a thing called the stick . . .

Who but I can slice between God's billowed legs, and feel them laugh and crash with His step?

Who else has seen the unclimbed peaks? The rainbow's secret? The real reason birds sing?

Because I Fly, I envy no man on earth.

Brian Shul was severely burned when his T-28 crashed shortly after take-off in Thailand. Between 15 major operations and a long and painful recovery process, he wrote his thoughts down to preserve his sanity. He wrote a book called "Sled Driver" and was an inspirational/motivational speaker.


About life, he said in an interview, "God did not call upon you to be like the canary bird, trapped in the confinement of a cage, but rather to be like the eagle, to fly across continents and reach for the galaxies, so that in the end your life will have shown brightly - like the sun and the very stars will whisper your name."

The stars are whispering Brian's name now, as he suddenly passed away on May 20.

According to a social media post from his sister, Maureen Shul, he was speaking in front of a large military group in Reno, Nevada, on Saturday night. As was his custom, he ended the event by signing copies of his books – he wrote several, including "Sled Driver, Flying the World's Fastest Jet" that chronicled his experiences flying the SR-71 Blackbird.


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According to the post, "After his speech and after the book signing Brian suffered a heart attack and collapsed." The post goes on to state CPR was performed on the spot, and he was rushed to a hospital where he died.

I met Brian at an air show at Edwards in 2006. I bought his book "Sled Driver." What a great guy! Loved talking with him. His love of flying was infectious and so full of enthusiasm.

My husband wasn't so enthusiastic about the price of his book, but let me buy it anyway! $400! I gave the book to my son and he said that it is now worth $2,500!

According to an aviation website: Shul loved baseball and wanted to be third baseman for Yankees. He went to Andrews Air Force Base Air Show and saw B-58 Hustlers and F-106 Delta Darts flying when he was 8 years old. The seed was planted in him to fly.


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He felt his bike was an F-86 when he rode it. He built model airplanes and couldn't believe he could be paid to fly. When in high school he was on the Honor Roll and his counselor thought he was throwing his life away if he went into Air Force and flew jets! Because his dad was a Marine, he wanted to fly with the Marines. His dad told him you will always be a Marine in your heart, but if you want to fly jets, join the Air Force. His father was the senior Band Officer of the Marine Band.

Shul earned degrees in History and Anthropology. His parents hoped he would outgrow the desire to fly, but he didn't. He loved the F-104 model with the pilot in the cockpit. He said that he would visualize himself in a 104.


I love that his bike was an F-86 when he rode it. That was my favorite airplane when I was 5 years old!

Shul was born on Feb. 8, 1948, in Quantico, Virginia and joined the Air Force in 1970 shortly after graduating from East Carolina University with a degree in history. He became an attack pilot during the Vietnam War, flying 212 close air support combat missions in conjunction with Air America.

According to the website, toward the end of the war he was shot down while flying a T-28D Trojan along the Cambodian border and endured a fiery crash behind enemy lines. Badly burned and blinded because his helmet visor had melted, Shul crawled out of the burning wreckage.

According to Wikipedia: Using a combination of resources, the general area he was in was later identified and it was confirmed that no body was present at the crash site. Shul activated his radio and confirmed his identity and his general location, and an aerial search was initiated. He did not know his precise location, but he did know the approximate grid he was located within, so the search continued until his exact location was determined and he was seen by American aircraft.

The only practical way to recover the injured Shul would be by helicopter; and as it would likely be under fire from the enemy, Air Force Special Operations Command Pararescue teams were selected for the operation. Although the original plan was to extract Shul quietly without the enemy noticing, the operation quickly turned into an openly hostile mission. Nearby enemy patrols were driven back by the rescue teams using small arms, while larger groups of enemies or search parties were handled with heavy weapon outfitted operators or operators acting as forward air control.

The helicopter that was sent to rescue him hovered over him as crewmen were lowered to pick him up. He described it as being picked up like a bag of rice and they flew him out of enemy territory.

He endured many surgeries and intense physical therapy with the goal of returning to flight status. Even after being told that he would never fly again, he pursued his objective of flying and fly he did! He always admired flight demonstration teams like the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and actually flew with them later in life.

After his recovery, he flew with the A-10 Thunderbolt II demonstration team and later became a U.S. Air Force flight instructor pilot in A-10s at Davis-Monthan AFB.

Later he volunteered to fly the SR-71 a reconnaissance aircraft and had to pass an astronaut level physical. Wouldn't you know, he passed, impressing everyone who had told him years earlier that he wouldn't recover from his injuries that he suffered in the T-28 crash.

After retirement from the U.S. Air Force (20 years) and flying the SR-71, Shul focused on writing books and photography. He loved hiking around in the countryside near Marysville, California and taking photos of nature. He had a photography studio in Marysville which included many aviation photographs and wonderful shots of nature.

Al Hansen.

Brian Shul and Cathy Hansen.

I am thankful I had the opportunity to meet and visit with this aviation great, who was admired by many. He told wonderful stories that made people laugh and feel like they were in the cockpit with him. God bless Brian Shul!

 
 

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