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Tucker retires iconic Oracle Challenger III

Red biplane bound for Smithsonian

The iconic Oracle Challenger III biplane that enveloped aerobatic pilot Sean D. Tucker while he dazzled and delighted thousands with his signature aerobatic moves has performed its last hammerhead, half-Cuban, and barrel roll.

Sean D. Tucker performs his signature triple ribbon cut during EAA AirVenture at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Photo by David Tulis.

Tucker sped high above the Ellington Airport crowd during the Commemorative Air Force Wings Over Houston airshow October 20 for the long-planned swan-song performance. The eight-aileron airplane with its 400-horsepower Lycoming AEIO-540 is headed for retirement at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

The 1,200-pound X-Acto knife of the sky’s final resting spot will be in its inverted glory slung from the ceiling of the Thomas W. Haas wing of the soon-to-be constructed “We All Fly” general aviation gallery when it opens in 2021.

The crowd-pleasing airshow luminary hinted at things to come when he unveiled a new and technically demanding two-ship formation performance in 2019 with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University graduate, corporate pilot, and aerobatic aficionado Jessy Panzer.

She flew an Oracle Extra 300L sister ship to Tucker’s Challenger III as the pair closed in on each other before each veered off in separate clover loops, barrel rolls, and other maneuvers. Dubbed Team Oracle, they ended their performances with a smoke-on heart that Panzer and Tucker said was a tribute to airshow fans and military service members alike.

Tucker, who is also the face of the Bob Hoover Academy for at-risk youth in Salinas, California, previously told AOPA that he planned to throttle back from solo acts that have capped more than 40 years of aerial performances to focus on aerial formation routines.

Social media posts during and after the Houston performance lauded Tucker for thrilling thousands through the years behind the controls of Challenger III. One of his signature moves in the biplane was a knife-edge pass that culminated in a triple ribbon slash a few feet above the runway that drew accolades and applause.

Tucker complimented the capable aircraft as an “incredible piece of art” during a social media video tribute that he posted. He added that the striking biplane “has been an absolute joy to fly” and that the upside-down installation would be a symbol “welcoming people to live their dreams.”

He closed the video by saying that he has “learned so much by having the opportunity to fly this dream machine. Now it’s my turn to gift this airplane to the world.”

David Tulis

David Tulis

Senior Photographer
Senior Photographer David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-wining AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft ad photography.
Topics: Public Benefit Flying, People, Aerobatics

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