This week has been full of loss and of love for a lot of us. The losses are wrenching. But I'm finding comfort in the love. Because, after all our collective tears have been shed, isn't that what really matters?

This week has been full of loss and of love for a lot of us. The losses are wrenching. But I'm finding comfort in the love. Because, after all our collective tears have been shed, isn't that what really matters?

I know my friend, Sky Billy, would concur. I can just see his ready smile and the twinkle in his azure blues.

"What's up with the waterworks, Scoop? I'm finally flying free. Nothing but blue skies and strong tailwinds."

The news that my 64-year-old pal had died at his Rogue River home of natural causes on Sept. 29 came as a shock. We'd recently sent a flurry of text messages about getting together. My first thought was that he couldn't be gone. My next was that he'd never really be gone. Not really. (Correction: Billy's age has been corrected.)

This amazing man and legendary aviator went by the moniker "Sky Billy." Big on nicknames, he quickly tagged me "Scoop." There was no shaking it.

His fascination with flying began before conscious memory. He got airborne in 1950 when he was only 4 years old. He bought his first plane when he was 17. The two-seat, high-wing cabin monoplane was a 1946 Taylorcraft BC-12D. It was the same year, make and model of his last plane, "Simply Magic."

Sky Billy joined his first air show at age 19. His own air show followed, featuring a bevy of wing-walking beauties, The Daring Damsels.

His name landed on the ears of Hollywood producers. He flew under overpasses and freeway signs in the Kevin Costner movie "Fandango." And he doubled for Charles Grodin in "Midnight Run," flying the biplane with Robert DeNiro's stunt man hanging from the struts.

Earlier, there were less glamorous but equally exciting assignments in Medford. In the summer, he'd often worked as a crop duster. In the winter, he'd get calls to fog seed.

But the life Sky Billy knew and loved stalled once diabetes took away his medical certificate in 1997. It effectively grounded him, for the Federal Aviation Administration's medical advisers did not allow any leeway if a pilot was insulin dependent. He eventually got the disease under control. But he still wasn't able to fly solo. For a while, he tried to find another passion. But nothing fit.

We met in 2000 — a dark period for both of us. I was recently widowed. He was bereft over the loss of his one true love, as well — flying. We tried to perk each other up. But we were two sad sacks who were just too sad for words. So we parted ways — for a bit.

I soon found a new love in journalism. Sky Billy would get a break, too, a few years later. The FAA was making changes in the sky. Insulin-using diabetics could receive a special-issuance medical certificate.

Sky Billy was back. And he had a new mission. He'd take his lifetime of studying what makes the difference between a great pilot and a not-so-great pilot and teach those secrets to anyone interested in learning. And there were plenty who wanted to learn from this high-flying guru.

Flying "ain't no thinkin' thing," Sky Billy said. We all have instinctual knowledge of flight. The key is to tap into that knowledge, he said.

The other day I found the photos from a day he took me flying in 2004. My editor thought it would add a certain something to my article were I to join Sky Billy in a little sky-high toodle before writing about his triumphant return.

I was, to put it mildly, resistant to the notion. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!! I'm scared of heights. What if I puke? What if I freak out?"

I'd seen a 16-minute clip of him as a 30-year-old stunt pilot filmed for the TV show "Breakaway" with William Shatner. He'd landed his plane on top of a car driven by Shatner at 60 mph. The clip closed with my friend enjoying his own brand of cross-country flying — dipping his plane's wingtips into the Rogue River, performing aerial maneuvers over Table Rock and more. I also knew he still specialized in teaching controlled corkscrew spins — a maneuver that sends pilot and plane hurtling toward the ground. Dear Lord!

"Please don't do anything crazy," I begged, as we squeezed into the cockpit of his small blue-and-white two-seater.

He squeezed my trembling knee, offered up his sweetest smile, then flew us high above the Rogue Valley. We followed the river toward my cottage and safely back to the airport. I kissed the ground. Then I kissed him.

I will always love Sky Billy for his kind, gentle, generous spirit. I also wish I'd let him show me his mad, magical skills. Maybe in our next flight.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.