Tuesday, February 9, 2010

An Appreciation of K.O. Eckland

Sometimes, someone you don't really know affects your life and you don't appreciate them until they're gone. That's the case for me with K.O. Eckland, who "went West" last May. So now, this belated heartfelt appreciation for an amazing man.

Regulars at this blog may have noticed the link to Aerofiles in the "interesting links" list in the sidebar. If you've clicked thereon and spent any time at all poking about, you know that it's an amazing resource - a compendium of incredibly detailed information about nearly every aircraft ever built in the United States. It's where I've gone for years to turf up the goods on any obscure flying machine of interest. Aerofiles is the product of the remarkable knowledge and passion for aviation of K.O. Eckland.

I found the following biographical information here (scroll down):

K.O. Eckland, 83, passed away Monday, May 4, 2009, at his home in Paradise, Calif. K.O. was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in Berkeley, Calif. While in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, he met his future wife, Lucille Callison, a USO girl, in Spokane, Wash. They lived in Shell Beach for a few years where K.O. was a freelance commercial artist, then they moved to Los Angeles where he became a commercial artist for the Los Angeles Times. In 1976, K.O. returned to Pismo Beach, where he contributed articles to the Telegram-Tribune. He became active in the local traditional jazz community...

K.O. Eckland left behind a large body of work - a favorite part of which was the Aerofiles.com website, as his greatest love was flying airplanes. He illustrated Richard Bach's book "A Gift of Wings," and contributed articles to aviation magazines over the years. K.O. was proud to be a member of the San Luis Obispo Sheriff's Aero Squadron and had been active with the Paso Robles Estrella Warbird Museum.

K.O.'s second greatest love was traditional jazz. After hearing Turk Murphy at Earthquake McGoon's in San Francisco and Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band in Berkeley after the War, he wanted to play jazz piano. He played piano in several bands over the years, notably the Firehouse Five Plus 2, the Desolation Jazz Ensemble & Mess Kit Repair Battalion and the Pismo Experimental Jazz Band. K.O. produced two compendiums of jazz bands and musicians, Jazz West and Jazz West 2. He enjoyed writing tunes which have been recorded by contemporary traditional jazz bands.

K.O. had moved to Paradise in 2004 to be close to family members, where he also shared the remainder of his life with Waldo, the cat. K.O. leaves his children Daniel and his wife Faye Eckland, who have adopted Waldo, Nancy Berkley and Taina Eckland; ex-wife, Lucille Eckland; and two grandsons Ryan and Beau Berkley. A memorial will take place at the Pismo Beach "Jubilee by the Sea" October 2009.

The dust jacket of my local library's somewhat battered copy of "A Gift of Wings" ((c)1974) tells us that: "K.O. ECKLAND, who illustrated this book, is a Graphic Design Consultant in Van Nuys, California, with an inborn love for drawing airplanes. He flies his own J-3 Cub." And the book is profusely adorned with beautifully shaded pencil renderings of airplanes...and of gulls, and of clouds, and of aviators going about their business of slipping the surly bonds...

K.O. Eckland was a noteworthy jazz musician. He was a talented illustrator. He was an author. But it seems that at his core, he was an aviator. One of his close friends from the world of jazz, Will Connelly, added this:

A dimension of KO Eckland - he spelled it "Eckl&" - with which jazz people may not be aware is his involvement in aviation. A bombardier in WWII, KO was later to own a 1920's vintage biplane and flew in flowing silk scarf and goggled helmet for Talmantz Aviation. That company is famed for its aerial work, including classic combat dogfights with Spads, Fokkers and other First WW aircraft in Hollywood epics.

But KO's legacy in aviation rivals his contributions in the jazz milieu. He founded, and was curator of, the internationally acclaimed Aerofiles Museum, an online compilation of descriptions, technical and performance specifications and photographs of thousands of civil and military aircraft since the beginnings of the age of flight. The archives include data on engines, notable events and people.

Ron Dupas, webmaster of 1000 Airplane Photos offers this recollection of K.O.'s input as he was setting up his site:

He gave an additional piece of advice which ran contrary to the prevailing attitudes at the time: he told me that our function was to preserve aviation history and that we should not act as though we were in competition with other aviation sites; that airplane photos and information were for sharing. K.O. had an amazing vision about how the internet should be used, and the result was a web site recognized and valued by aviation enthusiasts throughout the world, Aerofiles.com.

If you delve into aerofiles.com you'll find many examples of K.O. Eckland's wry wit. Indeed , tongue firmly in cheek, he shared (here (be sure to read the URL) his "vision" about the Internet, saying:

This is the projected site for my Home Page.
However, before I go through a lot of needless work,
I'm waiting to see it this Internet thing ever catches on.

K.O. normally updated the aerofiles.com site at the beginning of each year, noting how many visitors had been hosted in the preceding twelve-month. (It was the absence of this update that twigged me to the notion that something was amiss and got me google-ing after the news - which proved unhappy.) So now, aerofiles endures, bereft of its soul. Since the content is largely historical, it can continue to offer inestimable value as a static resource (as long as somebody pays for the bandwidth). But I hope that someone who shares K.O.'s passion will pick up the torch and carry his work forward.

Dave English's Great Aviation Quotes site has one entry attributed to K.O. Eckland. I like it a lot:

Within all of us is a varying amount of space lint and star dust, the residue from our creation. Most are too busy to notice it, and it is stronger in some than others. It is strongest in those of us who fly and is responsible for an unconscious, subtle desire to slip into some wings and try for the elusive boundaries of our origin.


TK said...

I had an association with K.O. for several years in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I supplied vintage airplane photos to Aerofiles and he would identify them for me. We conversed via email on varied subjects, but our common ground was love of aircraft, art, and coffee. He was such a tough old Nordic type, gruff but kind. I found some very cool and interesting early Curtiss seaplane photos I wanted to give him, and a few early Ford aircraft, and no one answered my email query on the site, so I Googled him and found N631S' blog entry and knew. I am bereft. My thanks for such a thoughtful post on his behalf.

Frank Van Haste said...

TK, I wish I'd had a more personal interaction with K.O. before he "went West". I'm glad you had the chance to get to know him.

Thanks for commenting,


Guillaume Ravery said...

I exchanged a few mails some years ago with Mr Ekland. Being in France, his website was more than welcomed for overseas aircraft nuts. No updates on his website and some strange ads on the home page bottom made me feel the website was no longer maintained... Sad news.
Thanks for your blog.

Frank Van Haste said...

Hello, Guillaume!

I'm glad my web site could answer the question for you, though still sad about the fact of the answer. I still refer to K.O.'s site and am still grateful that someone is paying for the costs of hosting it.

Thanks for visiting,


Guillaume Ravery said...

Hi Frank,

Times flies. I have not been on Aeroflies for a while and it seems, although still on line, the site is no longer maintained.
Any info regarding a potential takeover ? I'am overseas but if anyone in the US plans to keep it alive, I'am ready to contribute.
Food for thought...