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After Crashing His Plane, Al Pringle Applied the Lessons Learned to Managing a Business

by on February 26, 2018 5:00 AM

In May of 2001, local businessman and community volunteer, Al Pringle, crashed the plane he was flying into a soybean field, near Brush Valley Road, on this side of Tussey Mountain.   

Needless to say, the crash was unintentional.

Pringle and his co-pilot were returning from Hagerstown, Md., where they had earlier that morning dropped off a second plane for repairs. With clear skies and visibility for miles, they were approximately 10 miles from the University Park Airport when they heard what Pringle describes as a “loud mechanical crashing noise.” Within a very short time, he realized he had total engine failure and that they were going down.

I met with Al last week for coffee and he described the harrowing seconds and minutes after realizing they had no engine. The initial panic followed by the systematic review of the cockpit indicators. The mental review of lessons learned in flight training. The search for a place to land and readying the plane for a crash. The plane hitting the soy bean field and then a dirt road that intersected the field. The hard landing. Running from the landing site in fear of explosion. Eventually waiting on the wing for emergency personnel (and the soy bean farmer) to arrive.

A reminder of how our lives can change in seconds.

Pringle has taken the lessons learned from his crash and applied them to business. He has turned those lessons into a management strategy and a newly published book entitled “May Day! May Day! May Day!”  

The book talks about Pringle’s upbringing in Bradford, Pa., his passion for aviation, his career in a variety of business settings, and how the skills in the systematic review of cockpit indicators can transfer to a business setting.

In the weeks and months after the crash, Pringle said his confidence in the cockpit took a hit. It changed how he flew. He developed a laser focus and was distracted by any rattle or hum of the plane. He stopped chatting with other people in the plane so he could concentrate. He renewed his focus on the primary flight instruments – the attitude meter, the altimeter, the directional gyro and the airspeed indicator. Check and recheck. By going back to his pilot training and practicing the recommended step-by-step, systematic review of the indicators that he had learned, not only had he been able to save himself and his co-pilot, Al was able to regain his confidence and trust in his skills and in himself.

Over time, Pringle came to realize that cockpit management skills could be applied to “the business of management.”

With an undergraduate degree from Bucknell, an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh,and  more than 25 years of experience in business, Pringle developed what he calls the four pillars, following the instruments that pilots rely on in the cockpit. As President of Keystone Real Estate Group, LLC in State College, he worked with other members of the executive team to enhance their management strategies through the application of policy and practice based on the four pillars. Like those instruments in the cockpit, they would implement management monitors to help them meet team goals.

The plane attitude indicator would symbolize the corporate culture. The altitude indicator would be the people. The directional gyroscope would be the strategy for implementation. The airspeed indicator would parallel the execution plan.

Just as Pringle checked and rechecked those indicators in both the successful flights and the not-so-successful flight that landed him in a soybean field, he would work with his colleagues to check and recheck the pillars that would help the company soar.

Success in the air could translate into success on the ground.

The book serves as a manual for management. A lesson reinforced in the final minutes before a plane crash for which he and his co-pilot were able to walk away. Pringle wrote the book with hopes of helping others to manage not only their business but also their business culture and the people within that culture.

The writing style mirrors Al’s conversational style – intense, knowledgeable and peppered with humor. The stories of growing up in Bradford in the decades after the manufacturing boom, when the city’s population dropped from 20,000 to about 9,000, are reminiscent of growing up in a small town and of days that were somehow slower and more simple. The book is an easy read and even offers some concrete management tips  (i.e. how to manage one’s calendar). Pringle has taken his May Day theory on the road and serves as a consultant and speaker to many businesses and organizations.

I am fascinated by the stories behind the people with whom we live and work – the people who live in our community. The wisdom that we gain along our life’s journey can come from the most unusual places. For Al Pringle, it was in the skies over Happy Valley and from a landing in a soybean field. Pick up “May Day! May Day! May Day!”  It’s a good read.

The book is available at

Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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