From his first ride in a Piper Cub at 10 years old to his airshow act in a Taylorcraft at 75 years young, Frank Donnelly has been there, done that, and is about to do the next challenging thing in aviation.
Donnelly, a retired psychology professor—called “Dr. D” by his students—was destined to do things differently than other pilots.
In the late 1960s, he learned to fly and got his certificate in 42 hours. He bought his first airplane, a World War II-era Fairchild PT–26, shortly afterward.
In the mid-1970s, Donnelly sold the PT and imported a de Havilland Chipmunk. A motorcycle mechanic and racer before he turned to academia, Donnelly restored the “Chippy” and logged more than 1,200 hours in it, including two coast-to-coast trips.
In the 1980s and 1990s, he got jazzed about sailplanes, earned a glider rating, and started towing sailplanes. At the controls of his CallAir ex-agricultural airplane, he towed for local gliderports, soaring safaris, and for Barron Hilton at his Flying M Ranch, eventually racking up more than 10,000 tows (and 10,000 landings). He also enjoys being at the other end of the rope, flying his Glasflügel Libelle sailplane during the summer.
Inspired by aerobatic great Duane Cole, Donnelly purchased a 1946 Taylorcraft in 2000 and started flying airshows, calling his act “Dr. D’s Old-Time Aerobatics.” He wows the crowd with graceful aerobatics and dead-stick landings, including putting the spinner of the T-Cart against the hand of the announcer.
One of those guys who can fix anything, Donnelly also earned his A&P and inspection authorization and went on to become the team mechanic for the U.S. Unlimited Aerobatic Team for the World Air Games competition held in Spain in 2001. He has worked on many unusual airplanes, including a Zlin 526F, Blanik sailplane, and Piper Pawnee crop duster that had 25 previous owners.
A resident of San Dimas, California, Donnelly has no plans to slow down. He recently got his Light Sport instructor rating, and he’s restoring an Aeronca Champ and a 1942 Link trainer. When asked about his continuing accomplishments in aviation, Donnelly said, “I just like to fly.”