“Aviation is not for everybody,” he said. “When you see that runway rushing up at you at 100 mph, you know, people react differently. Let’s just say it takes a very special breed of person.”
And Gibbs is one such specimen. Since early childhood, in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, he’s been fascinated by all things airplane-related. He was one of those kids constantly building model airplanes and, when he couldn’t find plans for a design he wanted, he drew them himself. His great-grandfather owned a farm with an airstrip outside of Easton used by many pilots, and young Gibbs in the 1950s hung out there, cleaning hangars in exchange for getting rides in single-engine beauties.
Patches of turbulence
But Gibbs’ own flight path toward becoming a pilot took several unexpected dips and turns. Yet, he would not be deterred. He joined the U.S. Air Force right after high school graduation in 1961, but rather than going to flight school, he was assigned to guard an underground nuclear silo in Roswell, New Mexico.
“I ended up 200 feet underground,” he recalled, laughing, “about as far away from flying as you could get.”
After his discharge, Gibbs pooled his money and rode his motorcycle to Southern California to go to flight training school. But he had to drop out in his second year, after a motorcycle accident. After paying medical bills, he had no money left to pay tuition. He slunk back home to Easton, but a chance meeting with a high school friend, who happened to be an air-traffic controller, changed his trajectory.