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Wed, Feb 04, 2004

Legendary Airman, Duane Cole, Flies West

Much Respected, Much Loved Flyer Passes On At 89

They say that one unmistakable sign of age is the fact as time does its thing, your world grows smaller. As I now understand the true value of life, one's wealth is measured in terms of the depth of the friendships you accrue through this living journey... but it is one of the tragedies of it all that as you grow and learn enough to truly value this treasure (friendship) that the world grows smaller with the loss of each soul you come to care for.

Well... our world just got a LOT smaller.

Legendary flyer, airshowman, prolific author, flight instructor and unrepentant aviation advocate Duane Cole has gone west... well beyond the concerns of the merciless FAA that he fought so bravely, or the aero-ignorance that he battled at every turn. He was out-spoken, opinionated, tremendously knowledgeable and about as gifted a stick and rudder flyer as I know... and his loss seems to bring the cumulative sum of all existent aviation knowledge down several percentage points.

Duane was 89, and had been ill for quite a while... so the news is not shocking... though the impact is undeniable. An early founding member of EAA (member #48, no less), Duane was best-known for his graceful dead-stick aerobatic routine in a beloved ol' Clipped Wing T-Craft that he flew from coast to coast, and through a series of personable books and videos that advocated the best in very basic stick and rudder flying as well as an unapologetic grass-roots approach to the art and craft of aviation.

His "Conquest of Lines and Symmetry" remains an excellent aerobatic primer and started thousands of pilots on their way to true aerobatic comprehension (and is still doing so). Among his many published works were thoughtful and very readable books and/or videos by the names of "Airport Memories," 'Conquest of Lines and Symmetry,' 'Happy Flying, Safely,' 'Planes, Pilots and Progress,' 'The Flying Coles: An Autobiography,' 'Roll Around A Point,' 'To A Pilot,' 'Vagabond Cub,' and several others.

Inducted into the International Council of AirShows Hall of Fame in 1996, a reading (then) of Duane's bio left us all a bit aghast at the breadth of his life... even amongst those of us who were already his close friends.

Duane Cole undertook his first flying lesson on Christmas Day 1937... going on to earn his private pilot's license in 1938, his commercial ticket in 1939, and his instructor rating in 1940-- which also turned out to be the year that he flew his first air show. Over the next 15 years, he taught aerobatics to Civilian Pilot Training Program students, Royal Air Force Cadets, and United States Army Air Force Cadets.

With his brothers Marion, Arnold and Lester, he formed the Cole Brothers Air Circus.  But, afraid of infringement on the name of the Cole Brother Circus, they quickly changed the name to The Cole Brothers Airshow.  Due to his friendship with Paul Poberezny, Duane became one of twelve members at a meeting held in January 1951 for the purpose of organizing a pilots' association. In 1953, that association was named the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA).

Duane's wife Judy became his airshow wing-rider in 1957. In 1962, Duane won the National Aerobatics Championship, and was named to the US team that competed in Budapest, Hungary for the World Championship.  In January 1963, at his Phoenix 100 Air Race, he introduced an Indy-type pace plane. He used the same start at the Pendleton 100 Air Race for Jack Brown in 1964. That same year, he put together and ran the Reno Air Races, using the same start for the unlimited race, and won the National Aerobatic Championship once again. He served as Director of the Reno Air Races through 1967.

After 1967, Duane ran an aerobatic school for the next twenty years. He was inducted into the State of Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame in 1983 and the International Aerobatic Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1996, he was inducted into the ICAS Foundation Hall of Fame and was also the recipient of the ICAS Sword of Excellence.

Duane Cole wrote nine books, traveled to nearly 1,500 airports (a world record) in 47 states, 10 foreign countries and two U.S. territories. He lectured throughout the country and bragged about having 30,000 hours of flying time, most of it without ever turning on a radio... a fact of which he was inordinately proud...

Personally; I'm pleased to say that Duane and I got to be close friends many years ago. He was a constant ally, a wonderfully honest critic, and a delight to chat with. Through so many things, he was a source of encouragement, insight and just plain amusement... with an honest-to-goodness twinkle in his eye that was always the first sign that interesting times were on the horizon. He took infinite delight in fighting ignorance, was tremendously patient when explaining even the simplest concepts, and never ran from a fight (and was one of the very first men to step up and support our Pilot's Bill of Rights project well over a decade ago)... and, God bless him, he earned as much of my respect as any man I know.

Duane was a class act... and I loved him beyond measure. Despite her own ill health, his wife Judy survives him and I assume that one of the reasons that he precedes her in life's most inevitable journey, is to prepare the way for his beloved partner....

We do not yet know of any plans for services, but will pass them along as we learn them. In the meantime, we hope you'll think a good thought for an amazing man who left the world far richer than it was upon his entering. Duane will be missed... but most of all, he will be treasured as an uncommon aviator and a truly great man.

Go with God, my friend...--Jim Campbell, ANN

FMI: www.airshows.org, www.eaa.org

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