News 9's Jim Gardner takes to the skies to chase storms for us in Bob Mills SkyNews 9. His career, which spans more than 36 years, has also taken him over some of the most historical events in the U.S.
“I just wanted to fly," said Jim Gardner, as he looks through his pilot log book.
Gardner trained to become a pilot in California and started his career flying some famous passengers.
“Here's Prince Andrew and Charlton Heston,” he said noting the entry in his log book. “I started doing a lot of movie stuff, like spending a whole day with Diana Ross and her kids out on picnic, flying them out to Catalina Island and flying Jack Nicholson and Goldie Hawn.”
When he flew record-setting test pilot Gen. Chuck Yeager though, he says he could have quit right then and there a happy man. However, his flights with legends like Yeager wer just the start of a long career ahead.
“Eventually, I got the KCAL Channel 9 contract, and I became the morning pilot,” he said.
Flying for KCAL in Los Angeles sent him over some of the biggest events in history, from wildfires and earthquakes to the 1992 LA Riots and the OJ Simpson chase in 1994.
“They were all just huge national stories,” Gardner said. “With any breaking news, it’s very fluid. Things are going to change all the time. The main thing is getting it on the air, getting it reported.”
After 11 years of covering news in California, the Wynnewood native decided to come back home to Oklahoma where it was calmer. Or so he thought.
“I get back here, and May 3, ‘99 happened,” he said.
Oklahoma’s first EF5 twister hit the Oklahoma City metro area that day, killing 40 people and leveling more than 3,000 homes.
“If people could see what I saw from the air, you would have thought thousands and thousands and thousands of people would have died,” Gardner said. “I realized after May 3rd, 1999, that what we do is really save lives. That's what it's all about.”
Gardner has flown the Oklahoma sky since 1996. During that time, the constant changes in technology help give him an edge.
“StreetScope has been the biggest tool for me ever,” said Gardner. “Instantaneously, we know where we’re at.”
In 2016, News 9 was the first television station in the country to bring StreetScope technology to its viewers. The advanced mapping technology can pinpoint the exact location of breaking news from a fire to a tornado, over real time video.
“I mean, it's just a huge help,” he says. “If it's in a rural area, we know what county roads we're at. Like before, you would have to fly around for a long time and try to find a sign or try to figure it out on a map.”
As for retiring, Gardner said, “If you love what you do, retirement isn’t even in the picture.”