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.
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,