The first time he met his wife, Melodie, United Airlines pilot LeRoy Homer Jr. flew out to see her. It was 1995, and Homer, who earned his first pilot’s license at age 16, had just left active duty as a captain in the Air Force.
They lived on opposite coasts – he in New Jersey, she in California – and had been carrying on a brief telephone relationship after being introduced by friends.
Homer had seen her picture, but she hadn’t seen his. How, the former Melodie Thorpe wondered, would she recognize him on their 3,000-mile blind date? Easy, he told her: He’d be the one in the United uniform.
Eight months later, she moved to New Jersey. They became engaged on Valentine’s Day in 1997 and married in 1998.
One of nine children, seven of them girls, Homer grew up on Long Island. If there was a baby shower at home, or any other event where men weren’t invited, Homer’s father would take him to McArthur Airport near their house, where they marveled at takeoffs and landings.
He attended the Air Force Academy, graduated in 1987 and specialized in flying C-141B Starlifters, mammoth heavy transport planes. During the Persian Gulf War, Homer flew them to the Middle East from bases in Europe.
Non-judgmental, easygoing and polite, Homer immediately put the men at ease in the 18th Military Airlift Squadron at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey.
He had always planned to leave the military and join a commercial airline. Homer was hired by United in 1995, following several of his old cronies from McGuire. After a brief stint as a flight engineer, he became a first officer on Boeing 757s.
From time to time, he and his fellow globe-hopping pilots would catch up with each other, meeting in Argentina one month, London the next. Homer exulted in discovering good restaurants and then leaving business cards from the establishments in his colleagues’ mailboxes at home.
Sometimes, he and Melodie adventured together, packing in trips to Tahiti, Bora Bora, Greece, London, Germany, Canada and the Caribbean during their nearly six years together.
Whenever he was at the controls during those trips, he always had one question for her: How was my landing?