This page is for stories about Dr. Landon Spradlin, or "Doc" as he was known.  

(updated 11/26/00)

Doc's other classroom

Doc in his "other" classroom.

"...And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high unsurpassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God."

From "High Flight"


In my heart and soul will always be the life that Doc Spradlin radiated, being my mentor and instructor in my aviation carrer.  He will never be forgotten.  Still remember those days in Cherokee 6587W, flying those cross country missions in North Carolina and Virginia...  Will never forget that first cross country in which after my first landing the door latch broke and the mission had to go on so there we went.  After landing at the HMA strip my friend cadet John Oates took the plane and did his solo cross country.  Great days those where your shirt was cut in the back and the whole cadet corps would know there was a pilot in the academy...  Doc and his certain words, remember always "from hot to cold look out below".  My sincere respect for the Doc.
 - From Panama, Cap. Carlos Tronscoso '88

(The following are excerpts from the HMA alumni guestbook, with permission from the people that wrote them)

After reading the thoughts of many of my alumni colleagues, I've got to chime in with my own thoughts on the airstrip being closed. Believe me, I understand the school's need for additional practice facilities, especially now that Robinson Field has been converted to baseball, and see why the airstrip was chosen. However, as an alum and pilot, I really hope we can work toward a solution that would be a win-win situation for both the school and for the aviation community in general. HMA's strip is a valuable resource as an emergency landing spot for cross country flights. I hope we can, as others have suggested, work out a way to have the strip opened during the football off-season. If it takes extra resources to make it possible, ask the alumni, especially those who fly or learned from Doc Spradlin and I'm sure the need will be met. Depending on where the posts are on the field, only one may need to be removed. The extra trouble would require flying alumni to use the field, however, and I like Bob Richards' ideas of alumni fly-ins. The alumni could even sponsor a fly-in and invite other flying groups like the EAA. It's a great way to use the fruits of Doc Spradlin's labors as they were intended, would encourage alumni support from a whole new angle, and could re-introduce HMA to the flying community in general. Count me in for any efforts to work out a solution.
-- Lee King, HMA '90

Personally, I think the effort for a Doc memorial would need to originate entirely with the alumni. As far a Curtis is concerned, I paid a visit to his church a few Sunday's ago in Rocky Mount, VA. I can tell everyone that Curtis has not changed one bit in the last 25 years. He is doing well and looks the same as always. He preaches every Sunday morning at 11:00AM at the Oak Grove Church of the Brethren, just on the north side of Grassy Hill, outside of Rocky Mount. If anyone wants directions, let me know and I will email them to you. He also still cuts hair at home in his basement.
-- Tripp Smith, HMA '76

Dr. Landon B. Spradlin was one of the greatest man I have been privileged to know. He didn't just display, he embodied all of the traits that are noble and worthwhile in men. The three of my four children who are old enough to understand, know most of my Doc stories and all of the Doc stories that contain important lessons on life. The Airstrip was a gift from a great man who dedicated many years to HMA and all of its cadets. It was no doubt the only way he would have had it, but he clearly gave more to all of us and to HMA than we were able to give to him. I don't know of anyone who knew Doc who doesn't feel that they were both lucky and greatly enriched. I know I was. The Airstrip should be maintained as an airstrip in honor of Doc and the difference that one man made in so many lives. It would be nice to also have a statue of Doc with that silly grin that we all dreaded and loved.
-- Brad Sorrells, HMA '76

I never had "Doc" for any classes but, I was at Hargrave for Five years and I knew him well.I'm sorry to hear that the airfield has been taken away by progress, sometimes people or organizations fail to see the ramifications of taking away someones hard work and dedication."Doc" was an exceptional man and having some kind of memorial placed at the airfield will be fitting but, it will only tell a part of what we feel towards a good man.
-- David Townsend, HMA '78

Talking about Doc's "grin" when he knew something you didn't, I'll never forget when I was flying one of my cross-country flights with him. We landed at an airport (Greensboro, I think), shutdown, went into the FBO to get a soda and relax for a minute. When we came back out, I preflighted the plane, we climbed in, started up, but the plane would not move. I realized right away what was wrong -- I forgot to pull the chocks. I did not want to look, but I had to -- Doc was between me and cockpit door. Sure enough, I turned my head to ask him to let me out, and there it was, that GRIN! That was one of the nice things about Doc. He was willing to allow his students to make a mistake because, unfortunately, sometimes the best way to learn something is by making a mistake. He could have easily reminded me to remove the chocks, but he knew that letting me get back into the plane, starting up and not being able to move would make me remember it next time -- and every time. Lesson learned!  The airstrip is a big part of the history of Hargrave, and is an example of what one man can accomplish. It should be left as a monument. Hargrave should be proud of it and celebrate it.
-- Bob Richards, HMA '76

Tripp, Bob, and others...I too, was an admirer of Doc Spradlin. It is certainly true that he used the "other classroom" a lot to teach young men. I spent time on the skeet course and wrestling. I will always remember that he loved to teach students there was no such word as "can't." Certainly such an influential man deserves a memorial on the HMA campus.
-- Fairfield Bain, HMA '75

See, it is things like this that we all remember about Doc. The stuff Doc tought us is applicable everywhere, all the time, for the rest of your life. When I was at Hargrave, Doc was a big part of it. So were a lot of other people, but nevertheless, Doc was major part. He built a lot of things at Hargrave, in addition to cadet character. The high ridge of the campus, the area around the air strip and the skeet range that always overlooks the steeple of the chapel. It was Doc's other classroom. The things he built up there, the air strip, maintaining the skeet range. It all seems to be in disrepair and suffering from neglect. I guess I always thought that if I took up flying again, and was in the area of Chatham, I could not pass over without at least one touch n' go out of memory of Doc. It would feel bad about it. After my last visit to the field, that would be rather dangerous with the goal post in the middle of the strip. I always thought that the only restriction to landing at Hargrave would be the length of the strip or the amount of rain the night before. That, I am sorry to say, is not the case.
-- Tripp Smith, HMA '76

Some of us cadets from the 60's had Maj. Spradlin for Bible. While we were studying Genesis, he actually played a Bill Cosby LP excerpt called "Noah" one of us brought in. He laughed with us and taught us great life lessons. When my children ask how to pronouce a difficult word, I always remember those Old Testament names and Doc saying "it depends on which syl-la'-ble you put the em-phas'-is."
-- Steve Church, HMA '67

One more story about Doc…I was in his Algebra class once and Doc was explaining something, I forgot what, but a cadet questioned that which Doc was explaining. The cadet used a metaphor in attempting to disprove Doc by saying that, "Doc, it’s like putting water on a toothbrush before the toothpaste, it is just the way things work." Well, Doc simply responded, "If one is familiar with the latest data from the American Dental Association, one would know that it is recommended that water not be applied to the toothbrush prior to the application of the dentifrice." As a side note and it has probably been said before, and I do not know if the record still stands, but while he was a student at Georgia Tech, Doc fired a perfect score of 400 while on the pistol team.
-- Tripp Smith, HMA '76

Tripp, I don't know if you were in this conversation with Doc or not. He was covering engine-out procedures, and got to the part about "look for a good place to land". Someone (I think it may have been Brad Sorrels) asked "what if it is at night and you can't see the ground?". Doc said "Turn the landing lights on. When the ground comes up into view, if you don't like what you see, turn the lights off". We all laughed, but Doc still had a serious look on his face. He said "At that point, you have probably done everything you can do. There is no point in worrying yourself about something you have no control over". I did not realize the full depth of what he said until years later. It is a philosophy that he lived by right up until his death. And it is one that I try to use whenever life gets me frustrated. When Doc taught us to fly, we got a lot more than just flying lessons. Sorta like Curtis English, we always got a lot more than a haircut!
-- Bob Richards, HMA '76

Yes, that was Brad. And I did see Doc worried about something he could do nothing about and that was none other than Brad's fault. He was ready to flare 6587W after completing final at Danville. Doc and I were standing on the ramp beside the door to General Aviation. A gust hit Brad and he ballooned and crabbed a bit. For about a second I think Doc thought Brad and the Pittsylvania County Businessmen's Flying Association were in trouble. Brad straightened everything out and touched down without incident. I looked back at Doc and there was that grin albeit maybe a shaky one. I also remember in Doc's Algebra class, someone asked if they could get some extra credit. It was getting toward exam time. Doc replied, "Extra credit? You haven't got credit, yet."
-- Tripp Smith, HMA '76

While we are talking about Doc, I cannot help but remember the grin on his face when he knew something that you did not know but he knew you were about 1 to 2 seconds away from finding out what it was. I was in the left hand seat of 6587W with the hood on. Doc told me I might want to look up. I did look up and quickly decided to throw up the hood. I then proceeded to check a 65% bank to the left and a rate of decent that made the altimeter look like a cheap watch running backwards. All the while there was Doc, grinning from ear to ear with that knowing smile that he just taught a flight student a lesson in paying attention to the matter at hand such as don’t spend to much time concentrating on the airspeed indicator. As Bob might have mentioned one day, if anyone ever sees an angel do a touch ‘n go, you'll know Doc’s close by.
-- John R "Tripp" Smith III, HMA '76

I am wondering if we should not place a PERMENENT plaque or marker of some type up around the airstrip or the entrance to the field on the side of the road. I would envision the funding coming only from former cadets or people who admired Doc for his interest in the cadet and the friendship, support, knowledge, and guidance he imparted on those who were fortunate to have the opportunity know him and have him as a teacher and friend. I agree with Bob Richards entirely. We need to see that Doc is not forgotten.
-- John R "Tripp" Smith III, HMA '76

I heard that the airstrip has been decomissioned and now there is a football gridiron with goalposts on it. Sad, really. I was one of the cadets that helped to clear the land for it, and was (as far as I know) the first cadet to get my pilot's license while still attending HMA (way back in 1976). 6587W is no more, the hanger is gone, no more planes parked on the runway, no aerospace science class -- no more Doc Spradlin. It hasn't even been 5 years since he died and already some of the visual evidence that he was there is gone. Well, none of that would have been there in the first place had it not been for Doc, so I guess HMA was really lucky that Doc was there at all. I consider myself to be extremely lucky that Doc was there. We miss you, Doc.
-- Bob Richards, HMA '76


If you have any favorite memories about Doc that you would like to share, email me.

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