Slim Cox Cockes

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Most Important Update! It seems we’ve been wrong all these years. My excuse is I only ever heard his name—I never saw it in print. It turns out to have been a homophone, and here’s his obit (sent by a friend):

Otho M. ‘Slim’ Cockes Jr., 82…pilot

Mr. Cockes, Leesburg, FL, died Monday, Oct. 25 (1999). He was a pilot for Eastern Airlines. Born in Elberon, Va., he moved to Leesburg from Miami in 1976. He was a member of the Airline Pilots’ Association and the Silver Lake Golf and Country Club, Leesburg. Survivors: wife, Helen D.; sons, Jon A., Ocala, Douglas C., El Paso, Texas; three grandchildren; three great-grandchildren.

Not all legends are air traffic controllers, despite what some of us may claim. There are some legendary pilots, too. Oh, I'm not talking about Chuck Yeager or Bob Hoover, Gabby Gabreski or Joe Foss, Butch O'Hare or, well maybe Butch—there is a pretty significant airport named for him, after all. No, I'm talking about pilots who were legendary in the system. Arthur Godfrey, Arnold Palmer, Slim Cox Cockes…who?

There was an old time pilot for Eastern Airlines named Slim Cox Cockes, who was famous up and down the East Coast (and other places Eastern flew). Apparently, he didn't much care for controllers and took every opportunity to give one a hard time. He would question everything, from the reason for a vector to a controller's phraseology. Legend says he carried an ATP (our procedures handbook) in his flight bag. I heard Slim Cox Cockes stories from the day I got downstairs after Flight Data School.

For all the hype, however, I only had one encounter with Slim Cox Cockes. ZTL had implemented STARs into the ATL area and the one from the southeast began at JAX. The route previously flown was J45 to ATL (JAX-AMG-MCN-ATL), but the new arrival called for a radial off of JAX to the north of J45 until intercepting a radial off DBN and then a low altitude airway the rest of the way to ATL. The purpose was to get the arrivals offset from J45 which was used as a southeastbound departure route.

The STAR had probably only been published for a week or so and most of the carriers were filing it already, but those that hadn't got a clearance onto the DBN1 Arrival before they made the turn at JAX. It was pretty simple, “Delta 935, cleared to ATL via the DBN1 Arrival.” Simple until Eastern 321 (not the actual number, which has disappeared in the mists of time) came on my frequency.

I said, “Eastern 321, cleared to ATL via the DBN1 Arrival.”

“Uh, what's the readout on that, Jax?” Obviously Slim Cox Cockes, but I was prepared.

JAX 337 radial until intercepting the DBN 157 radial, DBN, V267,” I rattled off.

“Roger, Eastern 321.”

It seemed the guys Slim picked on were the ones who were unprepared or had other chinks in their armor. I never heard of him again until years later when the legend continues that he over-rotated an L1011 in SJU and that he was requested to put in his papers as a result.

My son-in-law’s father, also an Eastern pilot, knew him. I'll have to ask for some stories from the airline side. Someone like that couldn't have been a pain in the ass just for controllers.

Update! I did check with the co-father-in-law. He was quite a bit junior to Cox Cockes and didn’t fly the same routes or equipment, so he didn't have any experiencce in the cockpit with him. He also didn’t have any specific stories and his only response to the SJU story I spoke of above, was that Slim was apparently an old piston airplane guy who never fully grasped the transition to swept wing aircraft. Volumes are spoken with that observation.

Further Update! I recently joined a small group of FAA retirees (mostly controller) for a weekly lunch. At one of the lunches, the conversation was about an email I had received from a friend which referenced Eastern Airlines Captain Herman Wilhelmi. After sufficient exposition, one of the other attendees, a former ZNY controller started to say, “there was an Eastern Pilot…” and before he could complete his sentence, I said, “Slim Cox Cockes.” He immediately affirmed my identification and went on to relate that there were numerous stories about Cox Cockes extant, including a standing refusal to accept vectors off course (I’d forgotten about that) and refusing routing changes, even to the extent of delaying his departure.

As I pen this addendum it strikes me—what a contrast between the legacy of Slim Cox Cockes and that ofHerman Wilhelmi.

Even Further Update! Doing some snooping around on the internet and learned O.M. (Slim) Cockes passed away on 25 October 1999, age 82.




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Last updated: 30 March 2013