How would you best sum up your
I think I’ve been the most fortunate person
in the world. In most cases, [I’ve been] in
the right place at the right time. I’ve had
mishaps. I’ve been in the wrong place at
the wrong time. Overall, I’d say I’ve had
a very happy and successful career in
aviation. I’ve been fortunate enough to
accomplish all of the milestones I set for
myself when I was very young.
Did you ever fly another Fw 190 after
the one you borrowed from the
No, I never did. I flew most of the other
German and Japanese airplanes after
World War II. I, along with other Air
Force pilots, evaluated those planes to see
if we could learn anything from them for
future airplanes that we would build in
our country. We did learn very much from
the German technology and not very much
from the Japanese.
Who were your mentors?
I had a lot of people who were inspirations
to me. Jimmy Doolittle was probably the
biggest influence I had, and we became
very close friends the last 40 to 50 years
of his life. And Charles Lindbergh, who
was every young person’s idol for his
accomplishments. I was fortunate to
become very close friends with him.
They inspired me because I
respected and admired what they had
accomplished, and I saw those high
water marks as my goals.
When did you first try things like the
engine-off loop and 8-point roll?
I learned aerobatics on my own. There
was no one to teach me. That was long
before Pearl Harbor—before I joined the
service. I joined the service in 1940 on
my 18th birthday. By that time I had a
wealth of experience. But with shutting
the engines off, I did that in North Africa
demonstrating P-38s to the squadrons that
were flying them. In addition to testing
airplanes, I’d take a new type that would
come in and go to that unit and put on a
maximum performance demonstration. I
did that with dozens of different types.
The air show business started after the
war, but it started with a purpose of my
going out and demonstrating airplanes to
Tell us about the famous video of you
pouring tea during a roll. What was the
first attempt like? How much tea ended
up on the panel before you got it?
It was successful the first time. I had the
secretary of the Air Force in the right
seat of a Sabreliner. I took the airplane to
Washington, and I had him in the right
seat, and he had three four-star generals
in the back of the airplane with one of my
test pilot friends who I had hired to work
in sales. The secretary said, “Will it roll?”
and I said, “Yes, sir.” I did a roll, and my
friend who was sitting back there with the
generals said they were drinking coffee
and didn’t spill a drop.
The problem was, when we started
taking movies of it, because I was right-
handed, my elbow would get in the way, so
I had to pour it back-handed. If you want
to find something difficult to do, just go in
your kitchen and try pouring back-handed.
Tell us a little about your involvement
with the Reno Air Races.
I’ve seen a lot of great pilots race there
over those 48 years, and we’ve lost a lot of
great ones, too. Jimmy Leeward was a very
close friend of mine. I’ve been involved
with him since he first started air racing.
It’s the fastest motor sport in the world.
I admire the people who have wanted to
capture the gold each year. I’ve worked
with some wonderful people who put on
those races starting back with Bill Stead.
Our first race was in 1964, and I helped
him get together a crop of people in the
city of Reno to support it. But Bill’s dream
came true. He expected it to become a
worldwide event someday, and it certainly
became just that.
Do you have any advice for new pilots?
Don’t take no for an answer if you have
something you really wish to do and you have
your heart set on it. Don’t let anyone tell you
that you can’t do it. If you run into obstacles,
figure out a way to accomplish what you
wish to do. Never take no for an answer, and
as you go up the ladder of learning and you
have trouble with one thing, keep at it until
you can accomplish it successfully.