The Aviator

By Hannah Wallace December 31, 2005

When Peter Branning isn't handling medical-malpractice and personal-injury suits at his law firm, Branning & Harrison, he's taking his RV-8 experimental airplane out for test runs. This low-wing, high-performance, aerobatic machine gives 58-year-old Branning the freedom he craves. "I get terribly focused and highly pressurized in the office sometimes, so getting out in the wild blue yonder at 200 miles per hour is a welcome relief," he says.

Branning, who grew up in Miami and began his career as a firefighter, had always yearned to attempt commercial piloting. He accepted a brief stint with US Airways a few years ago, taking a few months off from his law practice to fly the routes between Dayton, Ohio, and Baltimore. When he returned to the firm full-time, he still found a way to incorporate his high-flying passion.

"In law, the plane makes it awfully convenient to get around the state when I deal with extra witnesses," Branning says. "I recently had a case where the extra witnesses were in Tallahassee, Orlando and Miami. So I could go down, get the depositions from every place, and be home by noon."

The licensed pilot of 30 years had his RV-8 privately built by Jeff Ludwig, an aviation lawyer in Jacksonville. About 500 people own this particular model, which runs upwards of $100,000. On weekends and vacation breaks, Branning flies solo or with friends and relatives to Atlanta, Albuquerque, the Florida Keys and El Salvador.

Before taking up experimental piloting, Branning was a competitive sailor, winning several national and international championships with his single-handed Laser sailboat. He heads to sea about twice a month on his 21-foot racing boat, and also bikes nearly 200 miles a week. But lately, he's just been "in flying mode."

"For me, it's mostly about freedom and self-exploration. But it's also very handy to be familiar with the terminology and the general operating characteristics of aircraft, because I've dealt with a lot of cases involving that," Branning says. "It certainly enlarges one's perspective, being outdoors. I've always tried to have a little of that in my life."

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