If Andy Keech Doesn’t Impress You, You’re Unimpressable -- And He’s a Gosh-Darned Nice Guy, Too

Let’s face it: We all want to be Andy Keech when we grow up. As it turns out, so did Andy. That worked out well for him.

“It was 1943,” he remembers, “and I was a little boy, standing with my mother at the intersection of the two main streets in my little country town in Australia, waiting to drink from a water bubbler. My mother was standing to my right, and her hip was level with my face. As we waited, I saw this shiny silver thing above me. I looked up and didn’t know what it was, and I said, Mum, what is that? She said, That’s an aeroplane. Well, I didn’t know what an aeroplane was. She might as well have said elephant. So I pressed her and she told me it was like a truck, but found in the air, and there were men up there driving it around.”

“Well, that just knocked my socks off,” he laughs. “I was just awed by the very idea, and so that was the start of my interest in aviation. That conversation was my very first permanent memory, to boot. To this day, I can go on Google Earth and put my finger on exactly where I was when it happened.”

That sunny little Australian boy certainly ran with the idea. That he grew up to be a parachuting champion -- jumping since 1959 -- almost goes without saying in these circles. Beyond that, however, he’s one of those guys that seem to have done literally everything it’s possible to try in the sky and on the ground alike -- and done it well, besides -- and come out swinging on the other side.

Lots of people know Andy from his photography. (He published a very well-known set of three books of his freefall photography -- the product of a ten-year multi-continental mission -- called ‘Skies Call’, as well as a flurry of worldwide assignments for TIME, Sports Illustrated and the London Times.) With Lawrie Trotter, he pulled off the first successful relative work; later, with Col King in Australia, he did the first night relative work. He was on the first four-way formation that had ever been done. He has a certificate, signed by Carl Boenish himself, earned for jumping off El Capitan in 1980. He bagged -- of course? -- Australia’s Master of Sport Parachuting award, as well as oodles of competition achievements, reaching back to his very first parachuting comp in 1961 -- which he won.

He’s been a very various jump pilot since back in 1966. In fact, Andy has flown for 60 years as a pilot, holding private and commercial licenses, instrument, single and multi-engine ratings -- plus helicopter and autogyro licenses.

It was in the latter -- the fascinating aviation subculture of autogyros -- that Andy made his most serious flying impression. The story of how he cottoned to autogyros is delightful in and of itself.

“I found when I was jumping,” Andy begins, “when you are at altitude, you don’t feel like you’re really up there. You’re so separated from the ground that it doesn’t have much relevance to you. When you get down to the last 200 or 300 feet, you realize you’re -- wouldn’t you know it! -- up. You can hear chickens and that sort of thing. But it only lasts 10 to 15 seconds before you’re back on the ground.”

“Well, I thought it would be nice if I could loiter around at this altitude and take pictures,” he smiles. “So I wrote to a fellow in England. He had been a WWII bomber pilot, and became a master of the world in all this autogyro business. My letter said that I would like to know more about auto gyros. I sent him a copy of one of my books. He wrote back, invited me over to London and I flew on the back of one of his two-seaters. It was electrifying. Those images will stay in my head until the day I die.”

After that zapper of a flight, Andy was on fire. He went about setting no less than three transcontinental speed records across the US in his autogyro (earning the very first Spirit of Wiley Post award for the achievement) -- and 29 world class performance records in general. He is one of only two pilots since the Wright Brothers to hold world class records in all four realms of performance (speed, distance, rate of climb and altitude). Oklahoma City even declared February 28, 2005 "Andy Keech Day.” Seriously.

Besides all this, Andy has run multiple marathons, circumnavigated Iceland on a bicycle and competed at the national level in off-hand rifle shooting in both Australia and the US. Indeed, Andy Keech has competed at the world level in four totally different sports: parachuting, aircraft, indoor rowing and Crossfit (the latter, at age 80.)

Ridiculous, right?

Yeah. Andy is a cool guy.

Today, Andy lives in San Diego with the love of his life. (They got hitched half a century ago, and they’re still going strong.) His singularly lovely way of looking at the world -- and his desire to keep pushing out the edges -- is still going strong.

“We are showing allegiance to a sport in which rank, wealth, awards, degrees, and other measures of success are absolutely meaningless,” he smiles. “It doesn’t matter how rich you are, or how well educated you are, or how good-looking you are when you’re skydiving. The playing field is even. We’re all in this together, and that’s just the way it should be.”