My predecessor, Bruce Shields, MD, explored what our colleagues are doing as avocations and hobbies. In this issue, we continue the series with pilot Dr. J. Geoffrey Slingsby, who has nurtured and passed along his passion to his family.
Dr. Slingsby’s flying career took off after he finished his ophthalmology residency in 1980. His wife-to-be, Jacalyn (“Jackie”), came from a flying family and was already a pilot.
J. Geoffrey Slingsby, MD
One day, Jackie’s father influenced Dr. Slingsby to join the family tradition. Dr. Slingsby was already an accomplished sailor, but Jackie’s father feared that he and his daughter might be caught in open ocean during a storm and pitched flying as safer because you could outrun or circle around a squall in an airplane.
“Flying will change the way you live your life,” he told Dr. Slingsby.
That advice proved to be golden. Dr. Slingsby and his family now travel by air extensively and flying to a destination has become just part of the journey as well as an efficient use of time that allows them to enjoy family vacations.
Dr. Slingsby grew up as the son of an OB/GYN specialist in Rapid City, S.D. He went to medical school at the University of South Dakota and then finished his MD at Emory University in Atlanta. He did his residency in ophthalmology at the University of Colorado and a fellowship in retina at the Doheny Eye Institute at the University of Southern California under the direction of Stephen J. Ryan, MD. He completed the residency in 1982 two years before I got there and returned to Rapid City to begin a comprehensive ophthalmology and retina practice.
Dr. Slingsby with his sons, Jason and Taylor, and their float airplane on land.
After being in solo practice for 15 years, Dr. Slingsby took on partners, allowing him to evolve to a predominantly vitreoretinal surgery practice. His son, Taylor Slingsby, MD is now a retina fellow at the Cincinnati Eye Institute after completing his residency in ophthalmology, also at the University of Colorado. He hopes that his son will join him in practice next year in Rapid City.
Taking to the Air
Dr. Slingsby started with a small, single-engine training Cessna 172 and worked his way through a large number of larger and more advanced aircraft. The Cessna 210 had a more high-powered engine. He then acquired a twin-engine Cessna 340 and then a 421 aircraft. He satisfied the “need for speed” with a turbo-charged engine and pressurization, eventually settling on a Cessna Citation that is a twin-engine jet.
Recently, Dr. Slingsby moved on to a TBM 850. This is a turbo-prop jet with a single engine and with capabilities that include modern avionics and systems. Indeed, Dr. Slingsby flies the TBM turbo-prop as part of his profession as well. He uses it to fly to satellite ophthalmology clinics. It’s large enough to take along five members of his staff and the appropriate ophthalmology equipment. Dr. Slingsby routinely flies to the Academy and American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS) meetings. One day, I hope to hitch a ride with him.
However, flying for Dr. Slingsby remains primarily a hobby and a pleasure. He has pursued competitive aerobatics, which for the uninitiated means feats of daring and drama done before judges on the ground. It involves extreme maneuvers not used in normal flight. For this, he started with a Decathlon aircraft and then moved on to a Pitts S2B, an aerobatic biplane that is even more high-powered. The aerobatic competitions have provided Dr. Slingsby with a focused search for excellence and precision. He is challenged by, but enjoys the time required for repetitive training for safety and precision and disciplined concentration. He also flies an amphibious Cessna 185 which can be altered to use floats in the summertime and wheels in the wintertime. With this, he and his family take trips into Canada to go fishing.
The range of these planes allows Dr. Slingsby to access every state in the continental United States. They are fortunate, insofar as South Dakota is fairly centrally located, allowing them to go, for the most part nonstop, to their favorite destinations, including New York City, Miami, Los Angeles and Seattle. But they also fly to the Bahamas and most of Canada, including Vancouver for meetings, and Ontario for fishing trips.
That is not to say that Dr. Slingsby is unfamiliar with flying commercial. Long, international flights require going commercially. However, he prefers using his own planes for domestic flying. This saves him time. But it also converts the down time of getting there to a pleasure consisting of adventure and excitement. He calls his plane a “time machine” for the cost savings in time.
The newest addition to the family-the TBM 850.
We are all familiar with the fact that in addition to the time in the air, we lose much time going to and from airports, not to speak of the delays and lost time with waiting for or missing connections. Most simply Dr. Slingsby would rather pilot himself.
A Family That Flies Together …
When I asked Dr. Slingsby what was most special about his chosen avocation, he said that it’s because flying involves the whole family. It is a lifestyle that he shares with them. Once a pilot herself, his wife retired once they had children. Now they all fly together. Both of Dr. Slingsby’s sons became pilots and use the Cessna 185 for the adaptability of the amphibious floats. They will eventually transition into the TBM 850 pressurized turbo-prop.
Dr. Slingsby takes pleasure in watching his kids learn the demanding skills of flying and of inheriting his enthusiasm for aviation. His influence is not just limited to his children. He has been able to pass along this excitement to others outside of his family as well. His son, Jason, has an aviation-themed brewery in Denver called the FlyteCo Brewing Co. that’s a hangout for many pilots. He enjoys visiting the brewery for the interesting flying conversations that he can reliably hear.
As his photographs attest, Dr. Slingsby is not just an accomplished pilot. He has embraced flying as a connection to his profession, other hobbies (like fishing), aerial acrobatics (aerobatics), vacation travels and most of all, as a tie that binds his family.