On a warm, sunny, Tuesday afternoon, Southwest Airlines Flight Number 3219, inbound from San Antonio was third in line for landing at Dallas Love Field. Being the last in the approaching group, the Boeing 737-800 made an early turn off the runway to meet fire trucks with their water cannons shooting a celebratory water arch over the arriving aircraft.
Flying in the captain’s seat of the aircraft was Captain Hugh Grandstaff along with longtime friend and fellow pilot Captain Jennifer Wise as the aircraft's first officer. The celebration was the retirement flight for Hugh, one day before his 65th birthday.
Joining Huge and Wise in the jump seat of the cockpit was Hugh Taylor Grandstaff, the eldest son of Hugh and Lynne Grandstaff. Hugh Taylor, himself is a licensed commercial pilot and has continued the Grandstaff tradition of flying as a pilot for Air Wisconsin.
Also riding for Hugh’s final destination was his wife, Lynne, son Robert Grandstaff and daughters-in-law Rachel and Sylvia Grandstaff.
Following the flight, Wise said, “It was bittersweet. I’ve known him for a long time. I’m very thankful to have known him and have him as a mentor here at Southwest Airlines. I know he doesn’t want to quit and I wish he could stay longer. It was an honor to fly with him. It was a really nice day.”
Wise commented on what it was like flying with an experienced pilot like Hugh. She said, “He has a lot of experience that a lot of us do not have. We even talked about the frequencies of the controllers in San Antonio and different controlling agencies. He has been around long enough he has all these radio frequencies memorized.”
Wise continued, “He has traveled over this part of the country and mostly Texas more than any of us ever will. It’s been really neat flying with him.”
If it weren’t for Federal Aviation Agency regulations limiting commercial airline pilots to age 65, Hugh would not be out of the job.
“When I had my flight physical at age 57, my doctor asked me what I was going to do for the next 30 years. I ask why? He said, ‘You have the body and health of a man of 30 years old.’”
This was at the time when commercial pilots were required to retire at 60. Just before his 60th birthday, the flight age was raised to 65. “I was so happy as I wasn’t ready to retire,” Hugh expressed.
While still in the cockpit, Hugh gave his flight crew and family a thumbs up of thanks for their support.
The celebration continued in the pilot’s lounge decorated by the Grandstaff family with several Southwest pilots, friends, and incoming pilots. Dallas Terminal Chief Pilot Colin Fite presented Hugh with an engraved crystal award for his 29 years of service with Southwest.
“Hugh has been a part of many programs with Southwest, and he is a very experienced pilot that we will miss,” Fite stated.
“It has been a true honor to be a part of the Southwest family, and I will miss each and every one of you,” Hugh shared with the room.
The retired pilot is known for the many stories he experienced and tells. Huge shared with Fite, “During my time at Southwest Airlines, I only totaled one aircraft.” He elaborated, “Another aircraft was turning, and his wing clipped my tail. The damage to the airframe was enough that the decision was made to total the aircraft. I asked for a piece that fell off, but I never received it.”
Hugh received his commercial certificate when he was a little over 19 years old. “It was what I gave you for your wedding present,” Lynne joked. “It was my wedding present from my wife to pay for the check ride,” Hugh said.
Flashing back to the check ride, Hugh said, “It was with Paul Camp who was the designer at the Highway 77 Airport.”
Hugh’s interest in flying began with his grandfather, Benjamin Failor Grandstaff and his father, Hugh Otis Grandstaff.
“My grandfather was flying before World War I. He built a Chennault Glider from a set of plans. He took a Model T and pulled it to get airborne. Then, he flew Jenny’s around World War I. He was an infantryman during the war, so he didn’t fly as a part of his service. When he got out, he became an instructor,” Hugh explained.
“Growing up, my grandfather always talked about the guys he knew. Many of them were aviation pioneers,” Hugh said.
“My father then flew in World War II,” he said.
“He and my father encouraged me to begin flying at an early age.” Hugh began flying at O’Brien Airfield in Sterrett, Texas and worked for Ray Daniels loading crop dusters and other services while trading out for training lessons.
Hugh received his private certificate at 17 years old at Red Bird Airport. “I began flying parachute jumpers and towing gliders. I was just enjoying life flying anything I could get into,” he said.
During his flying years, Hugh said he'd flown every single-engine Cessna aircraft made except the Air Master and all of the single-engine Piper aircraft with exception of the J-2.
Looking for his first job for about six months, he went all over the Dallas-Fort Worth area looking for flying work.
Previously, Hugh was told he would not get a commercial flying job since he had no military flying experience and he wore glasses.
Astro Airways was Hugh’s first commercial job. After Hugh was told the company was not hiring, Hugh was able to meet their chief pilot. “Our Chief Pilot is taking a Turbo Commander from here to Little Rock and onto Columbus, Ohio and back by himself,” an employee told Hugh.
Meeting the chief pilot, Hugh was told he didn’t have enough experience or flight time. After some conversation, Hugh said he offered to fly with the pilot to show him his flying skills. The pilot took him up on the offer.
“I asked him if I had time for me to call my wife. He said, ‘No we have to leave in three minutes.’ He let me go through several takeoffs and landings. When we got to Columbus, I was able to call Lynne and tell her I was not dead and had not runoff; ‘I’m on a job interview.’,” Hugh recalled.
Upon returning to Dallas, Hugh was told he did not have enough experience to meet their insurance requirements. But the chief pilot told Hugh, “I like your attitude and how you fly.”
Hugh was made an offer to come and fill out paperwork and begin flying with one of the other pilots. “I was not paid but flew in the right seat with one of their other pilots,” Hugh said.
“After six months, I was called in on a Friday and was told I had enough time and was put on the payroll flying a Piper Cherokee Six to and from Lubbock and back flying bank checks, processed photography and medical supplies from Dallas Love Field and back” Hugh explained.
During his time with Astro Wing, after gaining enough qualifying time he steadily graduated to larger and larger aircraft including a Lear Jets.
When Astro Wing went out of business, he began flying for Emerald Air flying Grumman G-I, Fairchild F-27 and DC-9’s. When they went out of business, Emerald Airlines hired him.
“At Emerald, I was a check airman, an instructor on DC-9. When I found out they were going out of business in two weeks, I was wondering how to provide for a pregnant wife and a son,” Hugh said.
Weighing on how he was going to provide for his family Hugh said, “As I walked in the door, the phone was ringing. The voice asked, ‘Hugh Grandstaff?’ I said, ‘yes.’ ‘This is Captain John Matter, do you know who I am?’ I responded, ‘yes,’ not remembering, but then recalled who he was. Telling me, he was the chief pilot for Muse Air, and he said he needed to hire 12 pilots by next week. I told him I’d be there in 30 minutes. He responded saying, ‘I’m going to lunch. Be here in two hours.’ In two hours, I had my hair cut, shoes spit-shined and my suit pressed.”
Matter told Hugh, “I was told by pilots at Emerald Air how well you fly, tell me why I should hire you.”
Hugh responded, “Well it’s not public record but the company I work for is going out of business, and I have, and a child and my wife is pregnant. And if you hire me, you will never see or hear from me unless you call me into the office to tell me how good a job I’m doing.”
Matter instantly replied, “In that case, you’re hired.”
During his tenure with Muse Air, Hugh mentored many young pilots, one of which was John Matter Jr., son of Captain John Matter from Muse. After Matter Jr. had a challenging first month, Hugh took him under his wing for his second month mentoring him. Both Hugh and Matter Jr. later became Southwest pilots.
When Muse was shutting down, Southwest hired Matter to be a Federal Aviation Agency liaison. Then Matter went and told Southwest, “I’ll come to work for you if you hire Hugh Grandstaff.”
“A week later got a call from the V.P. of flight operations. ‘I understand you are a good pilot. If I hire you will you not quit?’” Hugh responded, “’No sir I won’t, I’ll give you my word on it.’ At that point, he said, ’You’re Hired.’”
Thus, Hugh began his flying career with Southwest in 1988.
“On my 20th year with Southwest, they had an award program where they recognized the employees with five, 10, 15 as so forth anniversaries with the company,” Hugh explained. “I got a call from Herb Kelleher’s secretary saying Herb and Colleen Barrett would like for me to join them at their table. After arriving, there was another captain, a lady that I worked with at Muse Air, a flight attendant along with Herb and Colleen. There the three of us with two board members with Herb and Colleen.”
After the department awards had been given out, there was an announcement that “Now we have three awards that came from the executive office. These are awards that Herb Kelleher personally wanted to give out. At the ceremony, Hugh was awarded the president's Golden Rule Award. I was very happy and honored to receive it,” Hugh expressed.
Hugh later received another award from Gary Kelly, the CEO of Southwest Airlines. While on the way from the airport to a hotel, Hugh and a flight attendant of his crew rescued a person stuck in a car accident. At the time the car was upside down and on fire. Writing up the incident, Hugh asked that flight attendant notably recognized for his bravery.
“He reminded him of a young Marine running into a firefight,” Hugh recalled. He later found out the man was a prior Marine infantryman. The flight attendant and Hugh received the Winning Spirit Award from Southwest.
During the final approach to Dallas Love Field, Hugh said he thought,” I was hoping I would not embarrass myself with a bad landing. I was also lamenting the fact that I was not going to do something I dearly love and am good at it anymore for arbitrary reasons. There is a shortage of pilots, and there are many who have honed their skills only to be forced to retire. I wouldn’t mind continuing flying for five or more years.”
Through the years at Southwest, he was known as the “Tootsie Pop” captain. Hugh always carries a bag of Tootsie Pops and passed them out to flight passengers, crew, gate staff and anyone who needed a lift me up.
“He would pass out over a hundred Tootsie pops in a week,” Lynne said. For Hugh’s retirement, Lynne passed out commemorative Tootsie Pops along with a commemorative challenge coin.
Before his retirement, Hugh and his family began planning for the day of departure. The metal recycling business hlh&r Metals Recycling was started.
Metal recycling is not new to Hugh. In his younger days, he worked in the recycling business and later he had two opportunities to get in the business but instead continued to fly.
Approaching retirement, he had an opportunity to get into metal recycling. “After the opportunity was presented, I decided that I was not going to be like Peter in the Bible,” Hugh joked. “When God puts something in front of me the third time, I should pay attention. The third time, I put together a business plan and formed our family business.”
Even today, he is known as the “Captain” at the metals yard. “I’ve been known as captain since Astro days. It has stuck with me,” Hugh gleamed.
“All of the skills I learned at Southwest from Herb, Colleen, other people at Southwest, and watching the other pilots, I’ve been able to bring here to this business how we treat people. When Lynne met me, I was flying airplanes. She has said when I’m flying I’m much happier. If it hadn’t been for her support, that I wouldn’t have the career I’ve had.”
“Since the beginning of aviation, there has been a Grandstaff flying. It has been a lot of fun. From the first time I went up, I was hooked. I am enjoying the family legacy of flying as both of my sons Hugh Taylor and Robert continue the legacy as both are pilots.”