His Native American ancestors speak to him; “Look east, not at the setting sun, but from where the future comes.” He turns his gaze from the beautiful sunset and one particular mountain, across the wide valley, several ridges and miles away draws his full attention. What is so special about this particular mountain is unknown to him, yet he knows that his new home must face THAT mountain. He tells his contractor that the house shall face THIS way!
Several months later, the contractor mails him a topographical map of the area. On this map, THE mountain is circled in red: THE mountain’s name – Thunderbird!
With this story, a long and very personal interview with “Vintage Thunderbird” pilot, Fowler “Big Dog” Cary continued. Taking place in the study of his family home in Batesburg-Leesville, South Carolina, across the street from his grandfather’s icehouse, where Fowler worked as a teenager, this writer got to see a side of a man he thought he knew well – yet was surprised at the depth, breath and intellect of a true southern gentleman and, as trite as it may sound, a true American.
Those of you who have met Big Dog at an airshow may know him as the wonderful, big, boisterous, cigar chomping, hard flying, hard playing pilot of the T-33 “Vintage Thunderbird.” Yet, if you have had the opportunity to get closer to this mountain of a man you may have discovered the multifaceted personality of a very complex individual.
grew up the son of a US Air Force officer in the early fifties.
He saw his first T-33 in
That desire sent him to the Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, where he planned a career as an Air Force fighter pilot. At the beginning of his third year, a minor medical problem knocked him out of the Air Force Pilot tract. Despondent, he dropped out of the Cid, and returned to Batesburg-Leesville and the icehouse.
effervescent personality would not allow him to stay down for long.
of “flying fast jests” was still there, deep inside his heart.
The “connection” was made when Fowler saw a newspaper ad, placed by
Randal Hames, for rides and instructions in Randal’s T-33.
Although it was very early in the morning, Fowler called Randy at his
When Fowler returned for yet another, then another flight with Randy, the idea of a partnership on the T-33 was broached and Randy and Fowler become co-owners of the jet. Some partnerships lead to friction; this one lead to deep friendship and respect; a relationship Fowler describes as more a brotherhood then business relationship.
intense and highly successful businessmen flew the jet back and forth across the
Randall and Fowler developed into a highly proficient flight crew flying a crisp aerobatic routine in the T-33. Working as a well-integrated team, Randy flew the maneuvers while Fowler acted as the WSO or GIB, operating systems, monitoring pull through altitudes and serving as a safety pilot. Their professionalism in the air was hidden behind their ground-based persona, but once the “wheels were in the wells,” it was all business.
Maybe this was one of the reasons the news of Randall’s death, taking off in his Heilo-Courier from his private air-strip behind his house, was so hard for all of us to take.
“connections” become complex when a personal note is added: Randall Hames
introduced this writer to aerobatics in the late sixties when he allowed me to
fly his home-built
day of Randall’s memorial service in
Today, that “connection” continues. Big Dog readily admits that Randall is still with him as he flies the T–33. At the next airshow, look at the front cockpit rim as the Vintage Thunderbird taxies to the ramp. Neatly stenciled there, as permitted under USAF Regs, is the pilot’s name: Randall K. Hames.
Fowler "BIG DOG" Cary, Jr.
Click on the T-33