I have been flying for over 50 years, primarily as a USAF fighter pilot instructor in the F-4 and F-16. Once I retired, I loved to fly so much I decided to get some airplanes that were affordable, relatively high performance and safe. I settled on the Jet Provost, a trainer primary flown by the RAF.
I have given hundreds of rides since I bought it in 1997. I have given rides for fundraising travel agency vendors who support the airshows, such as Make-A-Wish, attaboys for military shows as well as rides for vendors who support the airshows.
In October 2005, I was giving incentive rides in my MK 4 Jet Provost from Friday through Sunday in support of the Celebrate Freedom airshow at Camden Air Field, South Carolina. Later on that Sunday afternoon, as the airshow was winding down, I had spent all Friday, Saturday, and Sunday giving rides to support the event. I was seriously exhausted, as the plane is 1960 vintage and has no modern creature comforts like air conditioning, hydraulic boost, or cabin pressurization.
I was approached by a middle aged gent asking me to give a ride to his dad. I apologized and explained that unfortunately, I had to fly 100 miles away to take the jet for its annual inspection and then drive 2+ hours back to my home.
Suddenly, the retired general in charge of the airshow (the air boss) begged me to fly this guy. As I was sitting in the jet ready to crank it up and go, a jeep showed up and about five beefy guys showed up to lift the old frail guy up to the cockpit. The man was old and hunched over and sickly looking—what could I do but fly the old, frail guy?
In the Jet Provost you sit side by side, so I could easily see him. We flew to a nearby lake and I asked him if he wanted to fly, fully expecting him to say no. He nodded his head yes, which shocked me, and I let him have the stick and he took control. He sat straight up and fully alert, like a warrior of old, and flew the plane like Steven Canyon. It was as if 60 years were taken away from his age instantly—he did loops, aileron rolls, and lazy eights.
I was stunned. After about 10 minutes in the air he looked over at me, gave the stick back, smiled and went back to hunching over and being 85 years old. He never said a word to me. For a few minutes his face said everything. For a few minutes he was alive and excited!
I was not aware who the guy was. When we landed, the local TV stations were filming the show for the nightly news. I felt like Charles Lindbergh with all the attention. He then signed a book for me. See, this guy did gift me a ride of my lifetime, as he was the WWII ace Robert W. McClurg, Pappy Boyington’s wingman and a member of the Black Sheep Squadron, who shot down seven Japanese airplanes in WWII. What a guy! He died 2 years later.
I will never forget this fighter pilot from the Marine Corps. A true ace. He was truly from the “Greatest Generation” that ever lived!