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Planes and automobiles

January 11, 1999|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Jim Baird has two loves - airplanes and cars - and when he's not flying one, he's selling the other.

Baird, 51, of Chambersburg, flies big jets, from McDonnell-Douglas MD-80s to giant Boeing 767s for American Airlines. He also owns Heritage Highway Motors at 1061 Lincoln Way West.

It's not unusual for airline pilots to have businesses on the side, other interests or avocations, Baird said.

Most fly three days a week or less. "That gives us four days to do something else," he said.

"Some have businesses, like me. I know a pilot who owns an Italian restaurant in California. One does woodworking and another raises canaries. One I know is a financial planner," Baird said.

Pilots must retire at 60, an age at which most are still in good shape. "You have to pry some guys out of the seat with a crowbar," he said.

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"We get a phenomenal retirement, so we don't need to work," he said. Most pilots get their pensions in a large lump sum, he said.

Baird's passion and that of his wife, Linda, is playing golf, something they do a lot of now that their two children are grown. She also helps in the used-car business.

It started out in 1981 as a rental car business. Baird had five cars and ran the operation out of his houses. The business soon moved to its own lot.

Baird hired Alan Barges to manage the rental business in 1986. In 1994, Barges and Baird started to sell cars at a lot Baird bought on Lincoln Way. He built a new building there last summer.

Baird grew up in Weirton, a West Virginia steel town. He enrolled at Fairmont State College in Fairmont, W.Va., dropped out and was drafted into the Army."They grabbed me right away," he said. "I didn't know anything about the military other than what I saw in John Wayne movies. The first time I flew in a plane was when they sent me to Fort Jackson (S.C.) for basic training."

Halfway through basic training, Baird learned he was eligible for officer candidate school.

"I didn't know what OCS was, but I figured I'd better go," he said.

Encouraged to take flight training, he earned his wings as a helicopter pilot and was sent to Vietnam, where he flew combat missions, he said.

He stayed in the Army for 10 years. When he was discharged in 1977, he never considered applying to work for the airlines even though he was qualified.

He had picked up a bachelor's degree in the Army and he got his fixed-wing certification on his own and took a civilian job flying military VIPs at the New Cumberland Army Depot. He moved to Letterkenny Army Depot in 1980 to do the same thing.

"All I did was fly generals around," he said.

Baird applied to American Airlines in 1986 and has been flying for the company ever since.

Among his favorite craft is the wide-bodied 767. He flew them for five years in Europe and looks forward to getting back into them.

"Seniority is everything in the big airlines," he said. "You get more time off and you get to fly bigger planes. I'll get to fly 767s again before I retire.

"They're a wonderful airplane."

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