Georgia resident Elgin Wells was equally at home flying an aerobatic aircraft as he was leading a jazz band, according to his friends after the Gwinnett Daily Post reported that Wells died in an April 25 crash during airshow preparations in central China.
Wells was well-known in the aviation community for his beloved aircraft Starjammer, a homebuilt aerobatic masterpiece that contained more than 250 LEDs and a pounding 4,000-watt stereo system.
“Elgin was a true original and followed a unique path in music and flying—and he was endlessly creative in developing ways to bring them together,” recalled AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman, who flew with Wells out of Gwinnett County's Briscoe Field when Hirschman worked in Atlanta. He said the One Design kit aircraft that Wells built allowed the performer to time the aircraft's LED display to pulsate in unison with the sounds the crowd was hearing.
Never one to take himself too seriously, Wells also was a founding member of the tongue-in-cheek 316 Club, which Hirschman explained was “a small group of Lawrenceville, Georgia, pilots who had made emergency landings on Highway 316, which borders the airport—and he put on a party each year on the anniversary of his own forced landing there, to celebrate their good fortune.”
Hirschman noted that Wells' father, the late Elgin Wells Sr., “commanded a squadron of P–38s in the Pacific during World War II and was one of the first pilots hired at Delta Air Lines. Elgin Sr. flew aerobatics in a Super Decathlon well into his nineties and was beloved by fellow aviators, as was his son.”
Wells was a fixture at the airfield 30 miles northeast of Atlanta that enjoyed a robust camaraderie of pilots centered around the Experimental Aircraft Association's Chapter 690. Chapter members including Pitts Model 12 specialist, mechanic, and airshow pilot Larry King mourned the loss. King was a teammate of Wells' when the two pilots rose through the aerobatic ranks and earned their waivers.
“I’m in complete shock,” King told AOPA by telephone. “Elgin gave me my first aerobatic ride. He and his dad had a Decathlon and I did some work on it—and of course you got to go fly it after the work was completed. Shortly after that, Elgin Jr. took me up and demonstrated that I knew enough to do some aerobatics and have some fun with it,” King recalled. “We were on the same Airshow Unlimited team in the late 1990s. Elgin ended up building his own airplane and one thing led to another and here it is 25 years later,” King reminisced. “He was kind of a one of a kind guy and the airplane [Starjammer] was an example of that. I mean, who in their right mind would put thousands of lights on an airplane, let alone make it work?” King added that Wells had “a lot of imagination” and he played “something like 20 instruments—from a tenor sax to a flute to a guitar to a keyboard. He could do it all.”
When he was a college student, airline pilot and tailwheel aficionado Jeremy King (no relation) spent time with Wells as the airshow's official announcer. He recalled in a social media post that Wells was a talented teacher who also was gifted in visual arts and communications.
“This news hurts,” King wrote. “He was a mentor, teaching me [Adobe] Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator when my college communications course instructors were still teaching us to shoot film and develop in the darkroom.” King said Wells also taught him “one end of a guitar from the other” and the basics of making music. “He was one hell of a jazz musician. A great aviator. A free spirit whose presence in anyone’s life will never be forgotten.”