GETTING STARTED…I took a $20 ride at the airport as a high school junior. The instructor who took me for a ride did a loop and a roll, and I was smitten. I trained on a 1,400-foot strip that had a power line across the middle of it in Bayboro, North Carolina. It was a crop duster’s strip.
EARLY CHALLENGES…I had the typical money challenges of a 16-year-old who had no money. I washed airplanes and pumped gas as a line boy at the FBO in exchange for flying time. Just picking up the landings was something I never forgot. My instructor had me fly a foot off the ground for the entire length of a 5,000- or 6,000-foot runway a few times to burn in the sight picture. I got it done and soloed in December 1974 in a Piper PA–12 [Super Cruiser], as I recall.
HARDEST LESSON TO LEARN…Early on it was trying to get the hand-eye coordination thing right. I think the most important thing I learned [later] was taught by some of the old airshow greats—Bill Barber and those guys—about how to think about airshow flying with a minimized risk profile. They watched me almost kill myself and sat me down and said, ‘We gotta have a chat.’ That chat and their influence no doubt saved me from hurting myself.
FAVORITE AVIATION ACTIVITY…Aerobatics. It has been a part of my life—a life-changer for me—for 40 years, from competition to airshow work around the world. It’s been my whole adult life.
FAVORITE AIRPLANE…From a standpoint of beauty, the Beechcraft Staggerwing. From the standpoint of aerobatics, it’s a Sukhoi. I’ve had a Sukhoi for 25 years.
Get your written out of the way first. It trips everybody up. Fly shorter times frequently. Don’t wait. Go learn to fly.