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#24 Bill Warren

Oct 13, 1946 – September 29, 2011

September 30, 2011. I just don’t take primary students. I’ve discovered that I love the progress you see right away in teaching a six-hour course in tailwheel flying. It suits me to a T. I guess I took Grace because she was recommended by the son of the guy who sold me “Ace, the Wonder Dog”. Jessie, who played “Ace”, was my companion and partner for 15 years. They say that every man is entitled to one good dog and one good woman. Jessie was the dog.

In many ways, Grace is a flight instructor’s dream. She bought a tailwheel airplane in which to learn to fly. That doesn’t happen too often. She rented a little place down the street from me so she could stay at “Tailwheel Town“ and fly every day. That’s REAL rare.

I soloed Grace today. It was one of those magic moments that so few of us have experienced. It’s probably almost as cool for the instructor as it is for the student. My pal, Tom and I sat on a golf cart at the end of the runway and watched Grace go around and around, dealing with traffic and pulling off some nice three-points. I cut her shirt tail. We took pictures. Then Grace and I flew back to Tailwheel Town at Sisters.

As soon as I stepped out of the little Pacer my phone rang. It was Vic Olson, a very old friend who I hardly ever see any more. Stupidly, I greeted him with good humor and asked what had prompted the call. I should have known.
“Bill died last night”, Vic reported.

Later, my friend Steve Pankonin would tell me that Bill was sitting on his little deck overlooking the river, watching the water flow by after a good day of flying when his heart simply gave out.

Bill Warren was a unique individual. Those who’ve read “Brian’s Flying Book” know that I have always blamed Bill for getting me into the air show business.

Bill Warren in his Stearman over Medford, Oregon C 1977

They may not know that Bill also got me back into flying after an abortive start when I was in the service. Bill took me out in his J3 and gave me dual with the airspeed covered, the ball covered, and no intercom. My introduction to instruments-covered, attitude flying started with Bill Warren. Later, George DeMartini would turn me into a teacher of that kind of flying, but it was Bill who started the whole damned thing.

Beer soaked bar-flying sessions would then contribute greatly to my education in the flying game. But ol’ Bill was always there, along with Tom Sanco, George DeMartini, Jim Reynolds and some others.

Bill introduced me to water-skiing in an airplane. First in his Cub, then in his Chipmunk. Once, when I was filming him skiing his Chipmunk in the Rogue River he banked a little steeply. He caught his wingtip in the water, ripping off an expensive fiberglass tip complete with equally expensive strobe light.
“Do you think you could jump in and get that tip for me”, asked Bill over the radio.

Gawd, that water was cold!

Bill had a checkered flying career. He started as a kid, doing the local airplane owners a huge favor by going down the flight line at night, sumping each aircraft a little bit to make sure that there was no water in their gas. He poured the sumpage into his Cub so it wouldn’t go to waste. He pumped gas, turned a wrench, crewed in B17s converted to fire bombers. He flew air ambulance for Mercy Flights, seeded the fog with ground up dry ice sprinkled by his assistant, Zimmo, while he flew the approach into Medford, sometimes virtually to the ground. I believe he embodied the philosophy of “just show me how to start it… I can fly it.”

Bill restored a DeHavilland Chipmunk with a 200hp Ranger engine. He flew airshows with it for several years. My friend Kirby Mills, who was a parachute jumper in Bill’s Great American Flying Circus, said, “Bill was a real star for several years”. Bill flew his J-3 Cub with a rope ladder hanging from the struts. His cousin, stuntman Ronn Dilling, leaped from the hood of a speeding car onto that ladder, once scraping his sneakers on the runway. Bill landed the Cub on the top of a car. He broke a gear leg on the Cub doing that once. Years later, when it happened to me, I knew how to handle it because of Bill’s experience. It seemed like Bill often led the way.

Bill’s last act in the airshow business was with a 450 Stearman whose wings carried two female wing walkers. “The Daring Damsels” was a hit on the air show stage for several seasons with Bill’s then-wife, Connie and good friend, Kathy Reavis.
Bill got out of the air show business and did a little movie flying, most notably in “Fandango” doing some fun gags in an absurdly painted Cessna 182.

His health let him down. He had a brush with death as his heart battled an infection. He became diabetic. He changed. Those of us who knew him immediately saw the change. He slowed down. His speech changed and became somewhat slurred. But he never lost two gifts. He was a great pilot. And, best of all, he loved to teach flying.

By the time he died, Bill had gone full circle. He had a little Tailorcraft and he was teaching people to fly. Bill believed that most people have an intuition to fly and that a teacher who could simply help them get out of their own way would do them the most good. Bill’s teaching style was a little “wizmic”, but I believe it was based on sound principles.

If you questioned how to coordinate, Bill would tell you, “feel your butt”. And, as George DeMartini and I joked unknowingly the day Bill died, if you were an attractive woman Bill might add, “Here, let ME feel your butt”. He did like the ladies. And you know something, they liked him as well.

So it’s been a big two days. One of the great pilots died. And a new pilot soloed. How’s that for the “circle of life”.
I don’t know where this flight is going to take you, Bill, but I know that when you get there you’ll have some Happy Swooping. Thanks for everything.

Your grateful friend,
Brian

10 comments to #24 Bill Warren

  • Mike Berriochoa

    Every time I see your postings about Bill I’m reminded of all the fun we had doing air shows together. Sometimes I think I’ve done one show too many but I continue on, adding what I can and hoping there are more like Bill coming along. He was a special friend and I still miss him. Thanks Brian for keeping his memory alive.

  • I never knew Bill, he’s now a good friend through your writing, please keep doing so. Bill’s gone west but as long as someone tells his story he’s immortal. How good is that?

    Mike

  • Ryan Mrozinski

    Time flies…..March 23, 2009 was the last time I heard from Sky Billy with an invite to come up to his new spot in Shady Cove to party down….like we used to in Medford. Anyways, I’ve been busy doing my thing with flying and just found out that bill passed away in 2011. I’ll never forget the stories and Simply Magic. Too many beers and rice wine out of Bill’s trunk made for fun times…..always. Miss him! Decided to post here as this story written above seemed the best for Bill I could relate to.

    -Ryan

    • brian

      Ryan,
      I’m so pleased that you chose to make that comment on our little website. I always think about those who die and are promptly forgotten. It’s not so with those who left the world and some of its citizens better for having had him in it and their lives. I think that was true of Bill. I’m sending you a yet-unposted story about Bill’s effect on a lot of my teaching. You may hear Bill’s words in it. Thanks for commenting.
      Warmest regards,
      Brian

    • David

      I met Bill in the 90’s when he was living in Port Townsend for a bit. I had done some aerobatic training but Bill took me to another level, he was a lot of fun. He’d fly the Stearman and I’d bring an Aerobatic to various fly in’s so we could hop rides, man we had a blast. Back to town for a beer and sit around and talk about going to a baseball game, what a wonderful man, thank you for your friendship Bill.

      David

  • Lyn Zielinski

    I have been searching for information and archives about Bill and the Damsels off and on for some time, now. I just found this article on-line and would like to say thanks. I was the last one of his wingwalkers and flew with him on the circuit in 1995. I have a few pictures and a couple of newspaper clippings, if anyone is interested. I just realized that he passed on my birthday. How ironic.

    • David

      Hey Lyn, This is David, I remember you and Cee Cee from the Port Townsend days. You two were great and a lotta fun to be around. I had a Blues band called The Midnight Creepers, I was the harmonica player, pretty sure you and Bill and Summer etc were all at one of our shows at the Back Alley Tavern. Always wondered what happened to you, last I knew you had gone back to Medford area. Such sad news hearing about Bills passing, he was a great pilot who taught me some incredible skills and a fun guy to hang out with. I’ve been in Alaska for 8 years now and would be good to talk with you, feel free to email me at dcgood3@gmail.com

      David

    • brian

      To all who would like to stay in touch with others who knew Bill and maybe find out more, there’s a delightful website dedicated to his memory. It’s skybilly.com and I highly recommend it.

  • I grew up with Bill Warren in Medford, Oregon, as he was a year ahead of me in school, and one of my many aviation mentors. Later, while I was stationed as a Naval Aviator at NAS Fallon, NV, I arranged top-billing for Bill along with the Blue Angels’ airshow, and I even narrated his solo Chipmunk performance, maneuver-by-maneuver. It was a great honor. I miss Bill A LOT!

  • Jeanne

    I have tried to find Billy Warren for years. We knew each other quite well from Eugene, Oregon in the 80’s. I am saddened to see he passed. I’m still trying to understand this is the same Bill Warren I knew – I rode in his helicopter many times, had tons of fun with him, and I moved back east. Last time we talked he was selling Amway? Sure do miss my buddy Bill. xxoo Jeanne

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