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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Changing of the Guard

Ernie Stephens

Frankly, it feels pretty weird. After five years of looking into this very same office to find James T. McKenna banging away on his computer, he is gone. The walls are stripped of his journalism awards, the shelf is relieved of his satellite radio, and the wire mesh desk set his wife gave him is absent.

Jim McKenna left this office for the last time on Friday, September 19, 2008, taking with him a half dozen boxes of personal stuff and five years worth of experience reporting on the rotorcraft industry as the editor-in-chief of Rotor & Wing, the finest helicopter magazine in the world.

Rotor & Wing bids farewell to Editor-in-Chief James T. McKenna. May good fortune follow your flag!

The good news is that Jim’s boxes of belongings will be unpacked in his new office when he launches his career as director of internal communications for Bell Helicopter. Judging by the incessant, almost annoying grin that he was wearing during the weeks prior to his departure, I’d say it’s something he’s really looking forward to doing.

So here I am, sitting behind Jim’s old desk in my new role as Rotor & Wing’s editor-in-chief. It’s a lot different from a couple of weeks ago, when I was just a humble writer stopping in to get my assignments and drop off my expense vouchers. Back then, I paid little attention to the grease board behind his desk where he used a rainbow of colors to scratch out the intended contents of future issues. After a couple of years, one board became two, and Jim had to begin taping past, present and future magazine covers all over the wall outside of his office. You would almost think they got there as the result of a paper explosion from within the confines of his workspace.

But, it wasn’t until you actually saw Jim at work among all the clutter and ringing telephones that you realized his office was the center of the rotorcraft universe. Massive volumes of information would flow over and around his desk like a wild river, courtesy of a brigade of writers, hordes of corporate communications executives and bands of trustworthy industry informants. He would then tirelessly channel all of the valid incoming intelligence into the colorful pages of this magazine, while allowing streams of useless chum to float on past with only the mildest regard. It was impressive, to say the least, and may have been fueled by the side effects of the room-temperature coffee he always kept on hand.

The only complaint I ever had with Mr. McKenna was that it took days for him to return phone calls and e-mails. But after one day in his spot, I discovered the reason for the maddening delays. Today alone, more than 30 press releases from all across the world electronically landed on the desk that I inherited from him, each one requiring careful consideration for inclusion in (or exclusion from) the magazine. Spend a day or two on the road, and those 30 e-mails can swell to more than a hundred. It’s little wonder that he still hasn’t responded to a note I sent him last February.

What it all boils down to is this: Jim McKenna is a talented journalist and magazine editor, mostly because he has the interest, experience and stamina to examine nearly everything that’s worth reading about helicopters, then putting the most important, informative and entertaining pieces into a world-class magazine that we all enjoy reading each month.

So, here I sit, a retired police pilot with a few years of writing under my belt, surveying my new assignment. And while I’m concerned about my ability to channel that raging river of information into 64 pages of news, opinions and entertainment as well as Jim did; I’m excited to try. The entire staff and I are looking forward to delivering to you, our readers, timely, accurate and useful information that’s easy and sometimes fun to digest and put to use. That means doing my best to meet as many of our readers and others in the helicopter industry as possible.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask a favor of you.

If you read Rotor & Wing magazine, I have an obligation to make this the publication you’ll wait by the mailbox to see every month. And in order to accomplish that, feel free to contact me with your comments, questions and criticisms whenever they arise. You can do so by e-mailing me at estephens@accessintel.com or www.rotorandwing@accessintel.com.

I’m going to miss working for Jim, but I’m looking forward to working for you! So make sure to look for me around the Rotor & Wing booth when you attend a helicopter show, and I’ll try to stop in and visit your place when I’m in your town!

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