Pilots

Skip Holm

September 1, 2005

What should you do in an emergency? A pilot who has made 50 successful emergency landings and handled dozens of in-flight emergencies has some advice. "Watch your hands," says Skip Holm, five-time Reno Air Races Unlimited winner, Stealth F-117A test pilot, and much-decorated U.S. Air Force combat pilot. At least one of those landings came aboard Dago Red, the highly modified North American P-51 racer in which he made history in 2003, breaking the 500-mph barrier in winning the Unlimited category.

"[In an emergency] they are off doing things that, if you thought about it, you would never do. God gave me two hands so that one could slap the other," he says.

Holm spent his career avoiding desk jobs, finally leaving the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel when it looked like the desk was inevitable. "If it doesn't have a gun on it, I don't want to fly it," he says. He volunteered for three tours of duty in Vietnam, even though Republic F-105 Thunderchief fighters attracted up to 2,000 rounds of ground fire on every flight. Among his three Distinguished Flying Crosses and 25 Air Medals was one for destroying a Ford. One overcast day Holm saw an enemy convoy crossing a fjord to an ammunition cave. He steered a pilot-controlled rocket-propelled bomb into the cave and as the DFC official citation read, "Lt. Holm placed his missiles directly on target, completely destroying the ford."

After Vietnam he became an Air Force test pilot and instructor at Edwards Air Force Base where one of his emergencies made the opening sequence of The Six Million Dollar Man television show. The U.S. Navy was going to spin-test the F/A-18 and sent its pilot to Holm for training. The center of gravity of the training aircraft, a Lockheed T-33, was off and spins became instead a series of 27 lomcevak tumbling maneuvers that broke part of the tail, moved the engine out of its bay, and twisted the wing. He landed safely.

Holm has launched Bear Aerospace and has on the drawing board a very light jet, the single-engine BearJet, a larger twin-engine Global Bear business jet, and a Bear 360 based on his Reno air-racing experience. None have guns.