After more than three decades of reporting on space, aviation and defense—28 of them here, first as a space reporter, the last 14 as executive editor—I am throttling back. I retire from Aviation Week with this issue.

It has been quite a ride. I have flown in—and sometimes actually flown—a wide array of civil and military aircraft. I have floated in NASA’s weightless training aircraft, landed on an aircraft carrier, looked out the open end of a V-22 tiltrotor into the Pacific below, docked the space shuttle to the Russian Mir space station in a simulator, and evaluated U.S. and Russian space suits (that’s me on the left on the 1995 cover). 

My logbook is not much compared to many of our editors. But for a guy who is not a pilot, it has been truly amazing. As a non-pilot, my favorite words have always been, “Want to fly it?” I’ve taken turns at the controls of aircraft as varied as an F-4 fighter, a Goodyear airship and an EC-130 helicopter. (I found flying helicopters way more fun than flying fixed-wing, by the way.)

I have witnessed the construction of the International Space Station and the rise of UAVs, missile defense and electric-powered aircraft. And I have met people of incredible passion, inventiveness and generosity.

One of the first things I had to learn in writing about aerospace was not to jump to conclusions about radical “new” ideas. I can’t count the number of times, after I learned to probe for background, when someone said something like, “Well, actually, back in the 1950s this concept was explored, but new technology now makes it practical.”

I also learned that failure is inevitable in our field. Who among us does not know the old joke about how to make a small fortune in the aviation or space. (Start with a large fortune, of course.)

Unfortunately, I have seen tragedies, too—the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle accidents, the Concorde crash, TWA Flight 800, ValuJet Flight 592 and the mysterious disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines 777.

And I learned the code words of our tribes. I was among the 40 semifinalists to be the first journalist to fly on a NASA spacecraft. Then the Challenger accident happened. A year later, a friend with McDonnell Douglas asked me, “Jim, whatever happened with your thing? Did they  cancel that?” I said, “Oh, no. Not at all. It’s just on hold,” to which he replied, “You haven’t been around aerospace very long, have you?”

Along the way, I have made some goofs. I once sent a spacecraft to the wrong planet in the pages of this magazine. I’ve asked plenty of dumb questions. (Journalism is a poor career choice if you are embarrassed to reveal your ignorance.) Once I was interviewing a half-dozen scientists and engineers simultaneously about a balloon experiment launched from the South Pole. Deep into the interview, trying to sound erudite and professional, I asked, “After it launched, which direction did the balloon go?” In unison, everyone responded, “North!”

But we have won some awards, too. The most gratifying was in the last round of Jesse H. Neal Awards for Business Journalism, the business-to-business media equivalents of the Pulitzer prizes: This year Aviation Week was named “best brand” for overall editorial excellence and awarded the Grand Neal, the equivalent of “best in show.” All the credit goes to my brilliant and hardworking colleagues.

The job of journalism has gotten tougher. We are now expected to write for print and online, tweet, post on social media, record podcasts and videos, and do it all quickly and often. And the internet has made the barriers to entry for competitors much lower. The demands are greater, but the rewards are, too. Feedback from readers is instantaneous. Detailed metrics offer a check on the “editor’s gut” that is a double-edged sword. But some things have not changed. Our commitment to accuracy, fairness and usefulness to our audience will never change.

Our readers are extraordinarily knowledgeable and tremendously loyal. You hold us accountable, telling us about even subtle errors. I will confess, you bothered me for the first few weeks I worked here. But I quickly came to appreciate how your expectations help us maintain high standards.

I have great confidence that aviation and space technologies and practices will make enormous progress in the future. Some lament the passing of “the good ol’ days.” Where are the Juan Trippes, the Wernher von Brauns of today, they ask? Such forward-thinkers and risk-takers are active today. Think of Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos and names we don’t even know yet. 

It has been a privilege and a thrill to have covered the people and technologies of space and aviation for three decades—and to serve, you, our readers. I can hardly wait to see what amazing vehicles and creative businesses you will come up with next.