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Airshow pilot Julie Clark to retire

Farewell tour ends Oct. 19 in California

During her more than 40 years as a solo aerobatic pilot, Julie Clark’s exceptionally well-choreographed and patriotic routine has touched millions. This year marks her fiftieth year as a pilot; the retired Northwest Airlines captain has logged more than 34,000 flight hours. And in October, the popular and well-regarded performer will fly her last airshow.

  • Julie Clark climbs for her next maneuver with red, white, and blue airshow smoke streaming behind her Beech T-34 Mentor. She will stop performing airshows at the end of this season. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • Julie Clark makes a pass down the crowd line in her T-34 Mentor at EAA AirVenture. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • Her signature red, white, and blue airshow smoke trailing behind her, Julie Clark guides her Beech T-34 Mentor over the top of a maneuver. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • Julie Clark climbs in her Beech T-34 Mentor, building energy for the next maneuver. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • Streaming her signature red, white, and blue smoke, Julie Clark's Beech T-34 Mentor comes out of the bottom of a loop during an airshow at EAA AirVenture. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • In one of the signatures of her routine, Julie Clark unfurls the American flag after landing during an airshow performance at EAA AirVenture. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • EAA AirVenture ramp volunteers wave their appreciation to legendary airshow pilot Julie Clark, who is retiring at the end of the 2019 airshow season. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • After completing a performance at EAA AirVenture, Julie Clark stands on the canopy rails of her Beech T-34 Mentor and waves the American flag. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • The audience applauds airshow performer Julie Clark as she's driven along the crowd line after one of her last performances at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • Long committed to airshow flying and her Beech T-34 Mentor, airshow pilot Julie Clark wears earrings that match her airplane almost exactly. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • Airshow performer Julie Clark reacts with surprise as Jeffrey Converst of Locust Valley, New Mexico, shows her a die-cast model of her Beech T-34 Mentor. Clark signed the airplane for him. Photo by Mike Collins.
  • Airshow performer Julie Clark autographs photos at the AOPA campus at EAA AirVenture 2019. Clark is retiring from airshow flying at the end of this season. Photo by Mike Collins.

“You really know when it’s time,” Clark said at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. “I’m ready.”

She said that while she still enjoys performing, the logistics are increasingly stressful. “Airshows are great, but I do all my own flying—the ferrying is by me,” Clark said. Weather can make repositioning flights stressful, she explained.

Clark is flying the same Beechcraft T–34 Mentor that she bought, sight unseen, in 1977 for $18,000 at a government surplus auction in Anchorage, Alaska. She flew the airplane 2,900 miles to her home in California, where she restored it herself, painstakingly polishing the aluminum surfaces and dubbing it Free Spirit (see “Pilots: Free Spirit,” August 2015 AOPA Pilot).

From the back of a convertible, airshow pilot Julie Clark interacts with a member of the crowd following one of her performances at EAA AirVenture 2019. Photo by Mike Collins.

She is calling this year’s tour the 2019 Farewell tour. Afterwards, she’ll continue flying her T–34 for fun; eventually it will go to the Hiller Aviation Museum for display. It’s located in Clark’s hometown of San Carlos, California, where she soloed and earned her pilot certificate in 1969.

Clark also plans to start her own animal rescue organization. “I just bought a Bonanza,” she said. “An F33A.”

At a ceremony during Sun ’n Fun in April, Clark received the FAA’s Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, which “recognizes pilots who have demonstrated professionalism, skill and aviation expertise by maintaining safe operations for 50 or more years.” In December 2018, she received the prestigious Sword of Excellence from the International Council of Air Shows during the ICAS convention in Las Vegas.

But Clark isn’t quite done flying airshows. She will fly again at AirVenture during Friday afternoon’s airshow, and in the Saturday night airshow. Her last airshow on the road will be the Thunder over Georgia Air Show at Georgia's Robins Air Force Base, Sept. 28 to 30, and her final performance will be at Julie Clark’s Farewell Air Show on Saturday, Oct. 19, at Rancho Murieta Airport in Rancho Murieta, California. Additional details and her complete schedule are available on her website.

The polished Beech T-34 Mentor of veteran airshow performer Julie Clark rolls above EAA AirVenture. Clark is retiring at the end of this season. Photo by Mike Collins.
Mike Collins

Mike Collins

Technical Editor
Mike Collins, AOPA technical editor and director of business development, died at age 59 on February 25, 2021. He was an integral part of the AOPA Media team for nearly 30 years, and held many key editorial roles at AOPA Pilot, Flight Training, and AOPA Online. He was a gifted writer, editor, photographer, audio storyteller, and videographer, and was an instrument-rated pilot and drone pilot.
Topics: EAA AirVenture, People

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