Soaring siblings:Twin Rayl brothers now part of same airline family
Any traveler thumbing through the February issue of Hemispheres, the inflight magazine on United and Continental airlines, will come across the smiling faces of two Worthington natives on Page 12. George Rayl and Tom Rayl -- identical twin brothers -- are both pilots, George for Continental and Tom for United. The two airlines are in the midst of a merger, and the two men were first featured in the airline's employee publication before the story was also selected for inclusion in Hemispheres. Both articles bear the headline, "All in the (United) Family."
If the flight is an international flight, there's a chance one of the Rayl brothers might be found in the cockpit. Both men fly 777s internationally: George as a captain, Tom as a first officer, and with retirement approaching, they look forward to ending their careers working for the same company.
"Legally, the two companies merged in October 2010, but the way the federal government works, the new company cannot mix assets until they get a single operating certificate," explained George during a teleconference phone interview with his brother. "The goal is to get that by the end of this year."
"Until we get that SOC, we cannot fly together," added Tom. "I'm looking forward to flying my retirement flight together. We could very well be retiring at different times, but if we retire at the same time, we'd like to fly together."
The Rayl twins, as they were often called, grew up in Worthington, the sons of Bob and Evelyn Rayl. Dad Bob ran Rayl Motor Co., while Mom Evelyn was a pharmacist, working for many years at Ahlf Drug in downtown Worthington. They have an older brother, John, retired from law enforcement and living in Florida, and a younger sister, Mary.
"She married one of the Mahlberg twins, who were local terrors," joked Tom.
Both George and Tom look back on their childhood with fond memories of growing up in southwest Minnesota.
"Growing up in Worthington in the late '50s and early '60s was delightful," recalled George. "I wouldn't have changed anything except maybe caught bigger fish out of Lake Okabena.
"Our mom was not a soccer mom," he continued. "She said, 'You can go and do whatever you want as long as you walk or ride your bike.' So we'd play baseball, go fishing, take a hike in the country. It was wonderful, no restrictions. Worthington was small enough then, and people knew who you were, so if we broke a window or something, if we got in trouble, our parents would find out. There was a lot of self-governance."
"It was a very safe environment to grow up in," concurred Tom. "It was just a wonderful experience, to be challenged and yet know that you were safe."
The Rayl boys were athletes, excelling on the football field, where they were co-captains of the team. They both also played baseball, while George went out for the wrestling team and Tom for the basketball team. Between sports, they logged hours at their dad's business.
"George and I were responsible for the cleanliness of the automobiles at Rayl Motor Co.," Tom remembered.
"And also the concrete floor," Tom continued. "Every Saturday afternoon, we'd throw the sweeping compound down on the floor and sweep the whole floor out."
"Eventually we graduated to running to the car parts store," George said. "They trusted us going to the car parts store, drive the wrecker, but mainly we were maintenance specialists.
"And car detail specialists," Tom emphasized.
Somewhere along the way, George and Tom both became interested in aviation.
"We looked at it as an exciting, challenging career, but we didn't fly very much until we went to the academy," explained Tom. "We did have an uncle who owned an airplane, but I don't think I received more than two rides in it before we went to the academy.
The academy of which Tom speaks is the Air Force Academy. Through a twist of fate, both Rayl twins secured appointments to the prestigious school following their 1966 graduation from Worthington High School.
"What they did back then, was if you were a recruited athlete, then they would find an appointment for you. But in this case, being staunch Republicans, we were both appointed by Walter Mondale, who was not such a staunch Republican," said Tom with a laugh.
"When Hubert Humphrey became vice president, he needed to have a senator replacement, so Mondale replaced Humphrey," further explained George. "At any given time, a senator or member of the House of Representatives can have five appointments to the academy. So Mondale had none, and for whatever reason, we both went through the normal application, and Mondale gave us both a senatorial appointment."
During their academy careers, George and Tom both played for the Flying Falcons football team. While some twins choose to go their separate ways, the Rayl brothers went out of their way to stick together.
"It was kind of hard to be on your game 100 percent, all the time, every day," reflected George. "If we were on our game 50 percent of the time and overlapped, we did pretty well. Some twins have an overly competitive relationship. We had a very symbiotic relationship. We both liked to do well, and we complemented each other pretty well, unless it was a girlfriend situation."
"George is my best friend," agreed Tom. "A lot of twins, it's more rival than friendship. I would say we have a fiercely competitive friendship."
After graduating from the academy, the Rayls were initially assigned to different pilot training bases -- but not for long.
"I happened to find someone who was going to be in Tom's pilot training class," and convinced him to switch places, George related. "I paid him 50 bucks and took his place in Mississippi to join Tom."
"Hey, you told me it cost you $100, so I gave you $50," quipped Tom with false outrage.
They served at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi, flying T-38 aircraft, and later both managed to be assigned to B-52 duty at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.
"We worked at staying together," said George, relating how he remained at his former assignment for six additional weeks to get around Strategic Air Command regulations. "There were some benefits of staying together."
George and wife of three years, Patty, currently live in Grand Junction, Colo. Between the two of them, they have five children and "6.7 grandkids" -- the last due in April.
After leaving the military, George began his Continental career in 1981 with PEOPLExpress Airlines, which merged with Continental in 1987. For the past 12 years, his flights have been predominantly international, and he lists Hong Kong, Tel Aviv and "Tom Rayl's condo in Palm Springs" among his favorite destinations.
Tom's wife, Sandy (Berger), is also a Worthington native. They live in Merced, Calif., and have three daughters and 11 grandchildren. Tom flies for United Airlines out of San Francisco. His favorite ports of call are Sydney, Australia, Shanghai, China and Green Bay, Wis. -- home to five of the couple's grandchildren.
On the day of their Daily Globe interview, Tom was preparing to leave on a flight for London, England. George had just returned from Mumbai, India, and was preparing to go to Houston, Texas, for a routine simulator check.
But retirement is somewhere on the horizon for both men. Tom estimates his prospective retirement date as July 2012, while George is looking toward May 31, 2013, althought they say both dates are "written in grease pencil."
When their airline careers are over, however, both George and Tom plan to keep on flying, although in much smaller planes.
"What we'd really like to do is buy a couple of T-34s and do some formation -- or dogfighting -- flying. That would be an unbelievable gift," wished Tom in the Hemispheres article.
"That's more of a dream than a reality," Tom advised during the phone interview.
"I started entering the lottery," George said. "If I don't win the lottery, that's not going to happen."
Over the years, the brothers' resemblance has not diminished, and they often get mistaken for one another. A few years ago, Tom had a five-minute conversation with a pilot friend of George's on the beach in Waikiki, Hawaii.
"Finally, I said, 'By the way, I'm not the person you think I am.'" Tom recalled. "He wouldn't believe it. He left the conversation thinking I was blowing smoke."
Did they ever pull a switcheroo and take each other's place?
"Most of that cannot be divulged to this day," said Tom.