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#107 The World’s Smartest Aviator


It’s possible that there are some pilots who are smarter than Steve Oliver.  But I liked the above title and I should confess that, in my opinion, ol’ Steve is certainly one of the smarter airmen I know.  That’s why, when Steve makes a suggestion, I’m either going to follow it or at least give it some serious consideration.  And I feel that way in spite of what happened in Arizona.

Oliver Skydancer

Steve Oliver in his highly modified (and very cool) DeHavilland Chipmunk

I was doing an airshow at Prescott, Arizona.  It was 1988 or ’89.  The airshow producers had arranged for hangar space so that each performer’s airplane could be in a hangar.  For me, they’d found room in a hangar which was normally used as a paint shop.  We rolled the Cub into the hangar.  Steve Oliver’s Chipmunk was in an adjoining hangar and he had helped me push the Cub inside.  Before heading to the local bar to visit with my airshow buddies, I “dressed the prop” the way I always did.  I turned it so that it was horizontal, it’s tips of equal height.  Then I headed for the door.“Why do you do that,” I heard Steve ask.

I paused.  “Oh, I don’t know.  Just to keep it out of the way, I guess,” I answered.

“Well, if someone should come along and not see the tip, they might run right into it, maybe hurt themselves.  Who do you think they’re gonna sue if that happens?”


More proof that Steve’s so smart… he married Suzanne, the World’s Greatest Skywriter.

He had a point.  And he was, in my opinion, the Worlds Smartest Aviator.  So I turned the prop.  I took ol’ Steve’s advice and turned the prop so that one tip was straight down and one straight up.  Even Ray Charles wouldn’t blindly run into it and hurt himself.  Confident that our airplanes were safe, Steve and I headed to the bar.

It was a fine get-together.  I saw those good friends who I only got to spend time with at the occasional air show or at our big convention in December.  Johnny White, the Air Force’s West Coast F-16 Demo Pilot was there.  Air Show Producer Tim (“O’Daleystein”) Daley, Steve’s wife, Suzanne (The World’s Greatest Sky-writer”) was also there.  We hoisted drinks, talked about those who weren’t there, told flying stories and were generally having a great time when the phone rang and the bartender asked, “Who owns that Cub in the paint hangar?”.

“That would be me”, I hollered over the sound of the boisterous crowd.  “What’s up?”

“It’s been damaged… you better get over there.”

Back at the hangar, we surveyed the damaged Cub and found out what had happened.  It seemed that there was some painting to do, so they had rolled my plane out and left it against a curb, untied outside the hangar.  While they were happily squirting paint, a dust devil arrived.  It’s drunken, random track took it right to my Cub.  It picked up the unsecured airplane and dumped it against the curb.  One wooden spar inside a wing was broken.  The propeller, dressed with one tip straight down had that tip bent back as the plane was unceremoniously dumped in a nose-down attitude.

For the first time in my air show comedy career, I borrowed another cub in which to perform my act that weekend.  Then my airplane went on its trailer and we raced to our next show in Oklahoma City, where my friend, Tom Jones, had arranged for a local craftsman to fix the spar and re-fabric over his repair.  I had to replace the bent propeller.

The World’s Smartest Aviator had been wrong.  Had the prop been horizontal it would have survived.  But that’s the lesson:  It doesn’t matter how smart we are or how well-thought-out our actions might be.  Every once in a while we’ll be wrong, no matter what.  I still think that Steve Oliver is the World’s Smartest Aviator.  I still listen to his advice.  ‘Cause it’s among the best I ever get.  Right or wrong.

Happy Swooping!


8 comments to #107 The World’s Smartest Aviator

  • But you didn’t get sued.
    Let’s see…you get a call at the bar and someone tells you there’s been an issue arise, seems Joe the rag man was showing his little boy all the neat airshow plane’s, so Joe junior is running around as kids will do and “wham”, he runs into the prop because the tip is head high, opens up a gash in his head, goes to the hospital, get’s stitches, of course the local lawyer hears about it, figures if they play it right they could own a cub, do what lawyers do, works slow, it’s all about billable hours you know…
    Props are much cheaper than lawsuits.
    Anyway, thanks for a great story and I’m honored to be in the “Tailwheelers Journal”

  • henka

    Horizontal position is recommend for wooden propeller, isn’t it? Else, I wouldn’t move the prop at all.

  • George Feick

    Interesting……..I learned that ole prop trick from my friend, the late Vern Dallman. Now there was a smart aviator, too. Regards,

  • Jim Boeckl

    When I was a kid my dad used to say, “I may not always be right, but I’m never wrong.”

    Later in life he said, “I once thought I made a mistake, but I was wrong.”

    Oh, the paradoxes of life!

  • Good story and I’ve seen several very smart suggestions turn out to be wrong, but it leaves me wondering what else did Steve teach you that proved to be right?

    Also, have you ever heard the idea about not leaving a wood prop in any position other than as you had placed yours prior to the lawsuit suggestion? I’ve heard (<– That's a dangerous word) that moisture can accumulate at one end and leave the prop out of balance. It seems a little far fetched to me, especially if just leaving the plane overnight, but I would think that in long term storage the effect would be negligible.

  • Greg Wilson

    Brian, you probably know this now but the reason for parking with the prop. horizontal has to due with wooden propellers. The wood blades will absorb moisture from rain or dew,perhaps even prolonged high humidity. If the blades are vertical then the lower blade, thanks to gravity, will end up at a higher moisture content and therefore more weight. I have seen this happen along with the hubs becoming loose or tight from the wood shrinking and swelling, and yes this with a properly finished (varnished) prop.

  • […] for his byline and realized that this guy was a helluva journalist. Later, my friend, Steve Oliver (The world’s greatest Aviator), would tip me off to the fact that Langewiesche’s article about Felix Baumgartner’s […]

  • Wow! A lot of people think I had a wooden Prop. Wooden props are different than metal props. It’s probably a good idea to ignore the comments having to do with wooden props!

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