Pilots: Deana Martin

July 1, 2008

Deana Martin revered her brother. “Growing up in the sixties, Dino was always interested in airplanes,” Martin says. “He started flying when he was 16, and he quickly became good at it. He would fly me and mom and dad to Palm Springs [California] all the time.” In 1981, at age 30, he earned his pilot wings from the U.S. Air National Guard.

“He was so proud to wear the uniform,” she says. “He always looked so great. He said to me, ‘If you’re ever worried, just look up in the sky and I’ll be there protecting you.’”

Deana, a professional singer, also hosts two radio shows a day in California, and once asked listeners to send in remembrances of her brother, the pilot. “I can’t believe how many from the Air National Guard said they were impressed that he was one of the guys,“ she says. “He would come over to help them at any time.”

On March 21, 1987, Deana was working out at her gym when a station broadcast a news bulletin: Dean Paul Martin, 35, son of legendary “Rat Pack” crooner Dean Martin, was missing. Searchers found his F-4 Phantom fighter five days later. He had crashed into a mountain during a snowstorm.

Dean Martin retired and never really recovered from his son’s death, says Deana. He died on Christmas Day 1995, at age 78.

Deana found that she could take the airlines, but small airplanes like the ones Dino used to take her up in made her palms sweat. Then she started flying with her husband, John Griffeth. “We would go up and fly a little bit and I would see how incredible he was,” she says. “He said, ‘I would feel better if you could land the plane if something happened to me.’ Of course, flight instructors are not just going to teach you how to land the plane.”

She started flying lessons in a Cessna 172 in Santa Monica. She did fine on her first solo flight, but during her first cross- country solo she had to cancel three times, because the weather was so bad. “I was so nervous [flying] by myself,” she said. “I said ‘Dean Paul, if you’re ever going to help me, help me now.’ After that everything was fine.” In 2003 she earned her private pilot certificate. Today she and Griffeth own a Cessna 310, which they take to her entertainment bookings within 500 miles of their new home in Branson, Missouri.

“There’s something about flying that is so freeing,” Deana says. “It’s not about the destination, it’s the adventure along the way.” But there’s a practical side to it, too. Last year alone she performed 200 shows. “My heavens, going through the TSA line? I take bags of beaded gowns and every time security goes through them and ruin things,” she says. “It’s happened 20 out of 25 times. If that’s random I think I should go to Vegas.”

She’s definitely Dean’s daughter.