Flying Tiger Line
Pilots Association

Ray M. McKenzie

In Memoriam

April 30, 1946 - April 2, 2021

We lost a wonderful Tiger, pilot, friend, and family man, quite fittingly on Good Friday this year.  The following is from Ray's wife, Judi:

"It is with deep sorrow I must tell you that Ray McKenzie, 74, died April 2nd after bravely fighting a 17 month long battle with pancreatic cancer. He leaves behind his legacy of a loving husband, father, grandfather, family, many friends and dear colleagues. He had a 40 year career in aviation starting at Purdue University, onto McDonald Douglas, East African Airways, Flying Tigers and Fedex. Many will miss his humor, his easy smile, warm personality, friendship, and loyalty! He was truly one of the good guys. He will be terribly missed.  Rest in peace, my dearly beloved Ray,  Love Judi"

Judi has asked that donations be made in lieu of flowers to one of the following groups that were very important to Ray.

  1. WildlifeNOW.  Donations for the preservation of African wildlife in Tanzania and Kenya.  Click on DONATE tab, at the top right on their Homepage.  This foundation is run by Ray & Judi's good friend, Tony Fitzjohn, who was the protege of George Adamson of Born Free fame.
    .
  2. CareCHOICES. Hospice organization in Irvine, CA. The donation page is under the tab Foundation where they list the following address to send a check to (no auto payments):
    CareCHOICES Foundation, INC
    20 Corporate Park Dr Suite 300
    Irvine, CA 92606
    .
  3. Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.  From the homepage under Honor Someone You Love click on LEARN MORE. There you will see a tribute written by his wife Judi and can write a comment if you wish. The DONATE NOW tab is upper right.

Like many other recent Tigers whom we've lost, Ray was in complete command of his life to the very end.  He departed minutes after his family came to visit and hold his hand.  He leaves behind his wife, Judi, their son and daughter, and five grandsons.

The following is a compilation of notes, thoughts, and stories collected from Judi straight from Ray's bedside just weeks before he left us.

Ray’s Chronological Airline History

1965-69  Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana.  Received a BS in Aviation Technology
1969-1970 (7/69-10/70)  Flying executives for McDonald Douglas
1970-1973 (12/70-3/73)   East African Airlines (EAA) DC-9 fleet
1973-1975 (4/73-10/75)   Flying Tiger Line (furloughed and given leave of absence by             Oakley Smith)
1975-1977 (11/75-3/77)    East African Airlines VC-10 fleet
1978-1989 (4/78-1989)     Flying Tiger Line
1989-2005    Fedex

Ray’s Flying Career at both Flying Tigers and Fedex

B727     Captain
DC8      Flight Engineer, Co-pilot and Captain
B747     Co-pilot
DC10    Captain retired November 2005

The Early Years

Ray grew up in Indianapolis. He worked for food services (actually for Judi's grandfather and before they met!) at the Indianapolis airport where part of his job was to deliver food to the airlines. He looked around, checked out the stewardesses and thought, hummm, this would be a good place to work!

He made a point to meet the Director of the Indianapolis Airport, Ed Petro, plus he and was friends with his son who was his age. He was able to talk to the Director about a career in the airlines.  He then applied for admission to Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana, in their Aviation Technology school which was a 4 year BS degree along with many of the ratings he needed. This was just the second year Purdue offered the 4 year BS degree in aviation. He got a recommendation from Mr. Petro that we feel weighed heavily on his acceptance into the program. The class only had 6 students that semester. Such a privilege. The program included his basic ratings from single engines small aircraft to even a DC-3.

While at Purdue, a representative from McDonald Douglas, Dan Colburn, who at that time was the captan for the Playboy Bunny Airplane housed at the Purdue Airport, talked with the students. He was also recruiting for someone to come to Long Beach to fly for McDonald Douglas in their executive fleet flying the executives to local destinations. Ray applied and got the job.

At McDonald Douglas, he got his twin engine and small jet rating along with his ATR with training with Dan Colburn. (Dan became a pivotal role in Ray’s career. He was his mentor and helped guide his career. At 99, they were still best of friends.) In the fall of 1970, being at the bottom of the list, he was laid off. He applied to every conceivable airline including an ad for East African Airways (EAA) .

As fate would have it, EAA was just buying DC-9’s. The Chief Pilot, Alan Ratcliffe, for the DC-9 fleet was at Douglas going through ground school. Ray received an invitation to interview in NYC. So happened Captain Ratcliffe and Ray were on the same flight and organized to sit with each other on the way to NYC. Ray had said on his application that he had attended DC-9 ground school. Which he sort of had by sneaking into the class several times to see what it was all about. When he got to the interview, it was noted that he had no flight time. So they said it was a mistake calling him there and he was no longer a candidate. At that time a Wing Commander Boswell, spoke up and said, “I say, let’s give the young chap a go!” And the rest is history.

From December 1970 through March 1973, Ray worked for EAA and based in Nairobi, Kenya. EAA was owned by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda which comprised East African community that shared many enterprises -- the airline, postal service, the railroads, banks etc. His routes were throughout countries in Africa but obviously mainly in the three East African community countries.

During that time there were several events in his DC-9 career as a co-pilot.  Once after landing in Entebbe, Uganda, he found out that they had been fired upon by a ground to air missile! Thankfully, they were at 35,000 ft and the missile fizzed out before hitting its target! Not sure if it was a training exercise or it was intentional. Another time, they were asked to participate and did participate in an air show during their approach and decent into the Nairobi airport with a full load of passengers.

In early 1973, Ray and family went back to LA on vacation. At that time, Tigers were hiring pilots and Dan Colburn’s brother was a Vice President at Tigers. Ray applied and was accepted into the April 1973 class on his birthday! (He also applied and interviewed at Delta and also was given a class date with them but chose FTL). Judi stayed with her parents with their son, Scott. She was 6 months pregnant with their daughter, Sheri, born in May 1973. Ray went back to Nairobi and cleared out our apartment and signed all the necessary documents to leave the country in a record of 4 days and during the Easter holiday. He broke a record on being the fastest to ever do that which, for a short time, was a bit of legend.

At FTL Ray flew as a flight engineer on the DC-8. However, his first year on probation drug along much longer than a year due to the fact that there were many furloughs during that period. He finally got it in though. But more furloughs came and one that looked as if it was going to be particularly long. In 1975, he flew back down to Nairobi and asked if he could get his old job back. They said yes but only if he would sign a 2-year contract. So, he came back spoke to the chief pilot, Oakley Smith, who offered him a leave of absence once he was recalled so that he could honor the contract.

 

So back to Nairobi in late 1975. It was odd that they left on vacation and then returned 2 years later to be there again through April 1977. It was like going home and all of their expatriate friends were still there to welcome them.  This time the McKenzies lived on a 10-acre lot near the wildlife game park, which only had a fence on three sides as the animals were able to come and go allowing a family of wart hogs lived on the property. Judi remembers coming home one evening to a couple of giraffes outside their home, and they even had a lion visit one time.

At one stage, President Kenyatta gave general amnesty to around one hundred prisoners from the big jail as they were overcrowded. The McKenzie house was on the way from the jail and to the main town of Nairobi, and they had several attempted break ins while there. Thankfully Ray was home each time. They were only a 1/2 mile from the local police which did not have any cars!  Luckily Ray and Judi did have an alarm installed on the house.  They set off the alarm, grabbed the kids, rushed to the car and drove to the police station. By the time they brought the police back the perpetrators had fled. Another time, more thieves showed up yelling at Ray to come out of the house. The alarm was set off again and the crooks fled. Judi had a phone, but it only worked half of the time.  This was a step up from the first time they lived there when they had no way to call anyone whatsoever!

Back at East African Airways, Ray was put back on the DC-9 fleet. But soon, he was upgraded to the British VC-10 which was the international fleet flying within Europe, UK and also as far as India and Hong Kong.  Another incident, Ray was in Copenhagen and reading the teletype telling about the Entebbe raid that was happening. His next flight was into Entebbe the following morning. They were the first flight to go into Entebbe after the raid was over. No one was at the airport. They made a quick stop and got the heck out of Dodge! For them, all was well that ended well.

Then in April of 1977, the East African community collapsed with each country dividing up and starting their own airlines. Consequently, East African Airways became Kenya Airways. Unfortunately, they did not keep any expatriates and Ray was out of a job.  The good news was that Ray was one of the few ex- EAA pilots who had a job to go to. Oakley Smith, being a man of his word, welcomed Ray back into the fold of the Flying Tiger Line when they arrived back in LA.

None of the US carriers, TWA or Eastern, would recognize them as air crew and refused to help them fly home from Nairobi. It was only SAS that helped out the stranded expatriates and generously gave them ID90 tickets and 300 pounds of freight. Ray and Judi have never forgotten their generosity.

They were now back in the States and home in Southern California for good. After their time spent in Africa, life in the United States of America seemed quiet and normal!  Ray returned to the Flying Tiger Line in the spring of 1977, continued his professional flying career as a FedEx pilot after the 1989 merger, and retired as a DC10 Captain in 2005 (below)

After retirement, Ray and Judi enjoyed attending the FTLPA reunions (right, Palm Springs 2018.)  He was ever so honored to be asked to be Treasurer and thoroughly enjoyed contributing his time and efforts to our association while he could.  Judi has also lent her expertise as a professional portrait photographer to Eliot Shulman at our annual events.

Ray also greatly enjoyed fishing, especially his annual Alaska salmon trips as many other Tigers have done.  He took a total of 25 trips up to Beluga (across the inlet from Anchorage) where a FedEx friend owned a family cabin.  The last two trips were made with his son, Scott, who will sprinkle a portion of Rays ashes along the trodden path to their favorite spot on the river.

Always on an adventure together, Ray and Judi also made several motorhome trips to Cabo San Lucas to fish the warmer waters.

Below: Judi and Ray with their two children, Scott and Sheri on Ray's 70th birthday, 2018.

As Ray’s professional career began at McDonald Douglas flying out of Long Beach Airport runway 30, he found enjoyment in retirement taking up flying again in small aircraft and became a member of the Long Beach Flying Club.  Very often Ray told great stories that began with the words "when I was on short final for runway three zero....".

Below are some wonderful pictures submitted by Judi that really reflect the love that they have for one another.

Anyone wishing to contribute to this page with archived pictures or testimonials about Ray is encouraged contact us at email@flyingtigerline.org

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