Becoming a Commercial Aviation Historian
AVJobs History Interview

Becoming a Commercial Aviation Historian

DALLAS – While some of us are interested in commercial aviation from a travel perspective, Shea Oakley made it a passion that turned into a career as a historian. 

Mr. Oakley has been a commercial aviation enthusiast since childhood. He first joined the World Airline Historical Society (WAHS) in 1983 and has served on its board for the past 14 years. In 1987, he was co-founder of the former Tri-State Airline Historical Society.

Oakley joined the staff of the Aviation Hall of Fame and Museum of New Jersey, US, in 2001 and was the museum’s Executive Director from 2006 to 2018. He has written many articles for airline history and enthusiast publications.

In 2017, he started The Commercial Aviation History Consultancy, an organization devoted to fact-checking and research for commercial aviation projects in every form of media.

He currently serves as the Pan Am Historical Foundation’s Principal Contributor and Historical Advisor for Social Media. Oakley is also a Principal Contributor for Social Media to the Fellowship of Christian Airline Personnel (FCAP), with which he became involved over twenty years ago (Oakley sponsored advertising for this organization in an airline enthusiast magazine during the 2000s).

Airways had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Oakley about his beginnings in aviation, his journey as a commercial aviation historian, and the importance of the field.

WI: It’s good to have you in this interview. At what point in life did you take an interest in being an aviation historian?

SO: As far as the enthusiast aspect of it and my general interest in commercial aviation, I can’t remember a time when I was not interested, and there’s a reason for that.

The first time I flew, I was four months old, in 1968. We were on a BOAC Super VC-10 flying from New York Kennedy to Bermuda. And my father was given a packet for something called the BOAC Junior Jet Club, and it included a logbook for children to log their flights. My father got it for me on that flight.

He got it signed for me on each flight by giving it to the flight attendant, who would then give it to the cockpit crew, who would fill it out and sign it. He did that for me until I got old enough to hand it to the flight attendant myself, at four or five years of age.

The FA would often tell me to take the logbook to the captain, and I would find myself in the cockpit, as a young boy, getting my logbook signed.

I actually kept that up until adulthood. I’m on my sixth logbook. Now I’ve logged virtually every commercial flight on which I’ve traveled since June 1968, and so that’s really where it began.


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Featured image: Fritz Rethage, used with permission. All photos: Shea Oakley, unless otherwise noted.

A proficient writer, social media manager, and educator having expertise in a variety of disciplines. She's based in Kampala, Uganda. Follow her on Twitter @WinifredItungu. Email: winifred@airwaysmag.com.

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