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ART SCHOLL - AEROBATIC PILOT
(1931-1985)

by Debbie Gary


Art Scholl remains one of the greatest aerobatic performers of all time. Year after year, from the late 1950s to the mid 1980s he added unique airshow flourishes, like riding on his own wing, aerobatics with his dog Aileron nestled in the cockpit behind him, picking up a ribbon near the ground with his vertical fin and dramatically flying a low-level outside loop from the top down.

His mission was to engage and to entertain his audience so he studied aviation history and the drama of the movie industry, where he worked as a motion picture stunt pilot in hundreds of films. Drawing from history, old photos and his own imagination, he added colored smoke flares, music and pyrotechnics to his act long before any of it was a popular thing to do.

He was born in 1931, began his flight training in the mid 1940s, as a teenager and eventually logged over 12,000 hours in more than 180 different types of airplanes, with licenses as an instructor and airline transport-rated pilot in land planes, seaplanes, gliders, multi-engine planes and both piston and turbine-powered helicopters. He earned his PhD in Aviation Management in 1976 and was head of the Aeronautics Department at the San Bernadino Valley College in California, where he taught for 18 years. He started an aerobatic school and maintenance facility at Flabob Airport in Riverside, California, then converted it to a full service fixed base operation when he moved it to Rialto Airport, in the late1970s.

He flew his first airshow in a Swift in 1958, bought his first DeHavilland Chipmunk in 1963, and his second one in 1968. Using his skill as a licensed aircraft mechanic he modified the plane extensively, creating the Super Chipmunk by clipping its wings, retracting the gear, converting it to a single-seater, adding an autopilot and a much bigger engine. When his popularity as a performer reached gigantic proportions in the 1970s he kept two Super Chipmunks busy on the airshow circuit, basing one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast.

To perfect his aerobatic skills he flew competition aerobatics and was a member of the five person team which represented the United States in international competition from 1963 through 1972. In 1974, he won the US National Aerobatic Championship in his Pitts S-2A, N13AS.

Restless curiosity and a desire to entertain motivated him to constantly add to his airshows and his repertoire as a movie stunt pilot. He made his own flying films, such as North to Canada and The Quest of the Avian and flew in more than 200 commercials, television shows and films, including The Right Stuff, The Great Waldo Pepper, Blue Thunder, A Team, CHIPS and Top Gun. He was a regular on That's Incredible, which even included a segment featuring his aerobatic performance with his dog.

He was probably the first modern airshow pilot to fly a night act with pyrotechnics, which he did at the Calgary Stampede in Alberta, Canada after studying a 1930s photo of a pilot with phosphorous flares on his wings.

When he lost his life, in 1985 during the filming of Top Gun, he left behind an enormous aviation legacy which still inspires other pilots and airshow performers.

To commemorate this legacy, the International Council of Air Shows presents the Art Scholl Showmanship Award every year to an air show flying, ground or announcer act which best exemplifies his tradition of creative, exciting and engaging entertainment.




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