Durango author writes of adventurous life

Courtesy of Jim Richards

By Leslie Doran
Special to the Herald

In a fascinating book, Durango resident Jim Richards has fashioned a narrative that is part memoir and part autobiography. Richards has been blessed with a life full of travel and adventure and along the way has had more than his share of excitement. The Road to Narromine is his story.

Richards opens the book in 1997 with a riveting, life-threatening account of an abrupt landing while soaring near Narromine, Australia. Richards captures readers’ interest with his near-death experience and then folds back and forth in time and place to share with readers his lifelong love of all things flight-related. He includes some fast land-related experiences, and about the only transportation method omitted is travel by water.

Richards’ passion for all aspects of soaring and flight leaps off the pages and is contagious. Readers will learn a lot about flying gliders, or sailplanes as they are known by professionals. In fact, Richards’ descriptions of all flying apparatus from his first sailplane flight to a ride in a T-38 jet are so detailed, especially about how each operates, that readers might feel they actually could fly each machine.

For instance, his FUST checklist that pilots run through before takeoff and landing includes flaps, undercarriage, speed and trim and explanations of each and their importance.

Richards was born in London just before the start of World War II, and some of his first memories are of the piercing sound of air-raid sirens that preceded the Nazi bombing runs on Britain.

When he was older, his father took him to a rural airfield to see the return of the “Dam Busters” who flew over Germany and blew up many dams, crippling the German war effort.

The huge planes flying overhead made another lasting impression. After the war, Richards and his parents emigrated to Canada, and at the tender age of 12, he got his first actual plane ride. The experience did nothing to excite his father, but Richards was hooked by the thrill.

Richards’ professional career started in radio as a teenager in Canada. To get to his first major job as an on-air talent, he flew again. This time, it was off to ZBM Radio in Bermuda. To feed his growing desire to fly, Richards pitched the idea of a documentary to his boss to do a series about the planes flying out of Kindley Air Force Base. He got the go-ahead from the military, and his fascination grew with each airborne experience.

Richards saw that a career in visual media was a better idea amid growing technology, and he started working as a cameraman and director of commercial advertising. This was a career choice that would take him to New York and ultimately Australia, where he finally would experience sailplanes and be hooked for life.

One of the most interesting and gripping portions of his professional experience was his use of a helicopter to get amazing shots for a commercial that took place near Ross River, Australia. The chapter “Dust II” details the origin and execution of an innovative and exciting commercial for Toyota. The unique rock formations at Ross River provided a spectacular backdrop for Richards’ vision.

At the time, technology had not developed far enough to help him get the camera shots he wanted, so Richards ended up splayed on a makeshift sling placed under the helicopter between its skids. This allowed Richards to get the smooth, close flying angles that practically put the viewer in the driver’s seat. This was a highly dangerous and illegal action, but the resulting footage was priceless.

Richards’ book is well-written, with humor and exciting adventures played out across many continents and through a time when commercials had to be creative and painstakingly crafted without the benefit of computer modeling.

This is a great story, especially for readers interested in aircraft and flying or soaring. The mechanics Richards employed creating commercials for public consumption also is fascinating reading. The Road To Narromine is a perfect summertime read.

sierrapoco@yahoo.com. Leslie Doran is a Durango freelance reviewer.

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