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Carolina Airshows, a Personal History

 

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This is a work in progress

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Walt's memory is not fading; he's right on the money with all four of these performers.  John Stone is covered on the Skyhawks page; but here's some info on Lindsay Hess.

(Click on thumbnail for Full Size picture)

 

Lindsay Hess: Opera singer turned aviator and extraordinary airshowman.  Lindsay flew on the wing of Jim Holland and later lead John Stone as the Firestone Aerobatic Team flying over the Carowinds Amusement Part, south of Charlotte NC.

 

His airshow career included a tour of South Africa (sponsored by a grocery store chain) where the announcer was the legionary Kirby Grant who baby boomers knew as Sky King.

 

Following the gig as the Firestone Aerobatic Team, Lindsay was one of the first airshow performers to venture into the national arena, launching his "Mr. Wings" educational program and fan club.

 

For a number of years, Hess was the FBO at Salisbury NC's Swain Field and produced several airshows at his home base.

 

 

Johnny Crowell (here shown in 1973 beside a restored WACO UPF) is an icon of airshow performers in the Carolinas.  At the age of 29, Johnny purchased six JN-2 Jennies at Southern Field, Americus GA.  Some he sold off and ferried the rest to Charlotte NC.  The year was 1922.  (He left a few for another aviator, Charles Lindbergh, to buy in 1923)

 

Only two years later, Crowell was well established as a Barnstorming aviator across the Carolinas and Virginia. His barker's claim to Johnny being a licensed pilot was was backed up by F.I.A License No. 7210 and U.S. Pilot License 4622.

By 1930, Johnny Crowell was a well establish airshow pilot.  Here he seen flying a WACO 167Y Glider at a demonstration in Charlotte NC. (Photo from the J.O. Crowell Collection)

 

 

 

Crowell was an innovative showman.  Here is a circa 1934 photo (thanks to Wilson Mills) showing Johnny Wingwalking, note that in this case he is also the pilot of this Wright 165 HP J-6-5 powered WACO "Straight-Wing."  Also note the number "13" on the fuselage.

 

 

Another 1934 photo shows Jessie Woods, co-owner and star performer of the Flying Aces Air Circus posing with her dog "Chandelle" with Johnny Crowell's Gee Bee Sportster E, NC72V at Charlotte NC. (Antique Airplane Digest 4th Qt, 1977)

Walt Pierce comments: 

“I first met Jessie (Woods) when she was 65 years old at the second or third Lakeland fly-in when it was on the other side of the field. “Sandi had her brand new 140 HP Great Lakes there and Clem Whittenbeck of Flying Aces/ Fordon-Brown National Air Show fame introduced us.

 “Clem flew a Cirrus Lakes in the 1930s and worked for Jim and Jessie in their busy years. When I asked her about her wingwalking she said, "Yes, I did but it was different and not on a bull like this!" as she looked at Smokey (a 450 Stearman).  We became better friends and much closer as time went on.

“Jessie also told me that back in the glory years some of the pilots were prima donnas and were quick to ask for their pay. The Aces lived well on weekends and stayed in the best hotels. On Monday morning however they went back to "doubling up" on rooms and stayed in lower cost tourist courts if you remember what they were like. The “donnas” would stand their ground and would not often stay or travel with the rest of the group.  Jessie didn't think she considered these types to be "one of us.”  

She often spoke well of Johnny Crowell but I don't remember much she said about the Gee Bee. I used to ask her about Jimmy Doolittle and she would only wrinkle her nose and say "he was military, and they are different"

“In reference to the Fordon-Brown National Air Show: It was funded by Gar Wood of boat race fame.   Harold Johnson was the star performer and Bill Sweet was the announcer.

 “After the big war (WWII) Bill took over the name as he was the only one still trying to make a go of it.”

Walt

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