Goodbye, Silas Hicks
Charlie Kulp bids farewell to his alter ego, the "Flying Farmer."
- By Linda Shiner
- AirSpaceMag.com, March 01, 2008
(Page 2 of 3)
A&S: How did you come to fly airshows in Great Britain?
Kulp: I went over there in '89, '90, and '91. There was a duke who had an estate in Badminton, England. The duke had a big estate and had his own private airfield. One of his caretakers was an ex-RAF pilot and a parachute jumper, and the duke let his caretaker start a parachute club there on the field. And that evolved into a show. He had a big fox hunt once a year, and that would bring in thousands of people in the spring. They started having this airshow in June or July and that brought in thousands of people.
A&S: How did you make the connection with the duke?
Kulp: One of the airshow pilots came over to the Flying Circus to look at an airplane one of our guys was selling. And he saw my act. He asked me if I would be interested in coming to England. About a year later—he had contacted the ex-RAF pilot at the duke's place—I went over to do a show. I got to know some of the airshow pilots and we hit it off pretty good.
A&S: Did it feel different, flying another pilot's Cub from the way your own airplane feels?
Kulp: Oh, yeah. I've done over 800 performances, and every performance except four, I've done in my airplane. I used two different airplanes in England, and I used a different airplane in a little town in Pennsylvania. The weather was bad, and I couldn't get up there, and they had a Cub up there for me. But when you fly an airplane on the edge, or anything that's a little bit different, it can get to you. One airplane had a stiff throttle on it, stiffer than mine, and things like that when you've been with the same airplane so long, it makes it almost seem like a different airplane.
A&S: How did you get interested in airplanes? What got you started?
Kulp: I was born in 1925. By the time I was old enough to know what was going on in the world, Lindbergh was still a big item. He flew the Atlantic in '27, but he stayed in the headlines for quite a few years after that. It wasn't just Lindbergh. You had the exploits of Howard Hughes and Roscoe Turner, Jimmy Doolittle—all of these individual people, you know. And to me it was just great to be an individual. A lot of kids thought about being an engineer—there's just one engineer on that train. Back in those days, we used to look at the captain of a ship or the engineer of a train or the pilot of an airplane. These were individual efforts.
When I finished high school in 1942, I went to work at the Blacksburg, Virginia airport. There was a government program for young people right out of high school. We lived in little barracks right on the Virginia Polytechnic Institute airport, and they gave us room and board. We maintained the airplanes that the college kids flew. In return, we were learning aircraft mechanics. And at that time, that was my only way of getting somewhere to touch an airplane.
The year before, my oldest brother had gone there and I just followed in his footsteps. By the time I got there, he had left; he had gone to work at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
A&S: Did you learn to fly at the college?
Kulp: While I was working on the airplanes, we couldn't take flying lessons at the college, so I hitchhiked over to Woodrum Field in Roanoke and took flying lessons over there. We were paid $10.21 a month and room and board, and so we used to go out and pick apples and cut corn with a hand knife for 25 cents an hour, and that's the way I earned my money for my flying lessons. A half-hour lesson then was $5, so it took a lot of hours of apple picking.
Q&A: Had you ever seen anything like your act before?
Kulp: Oh, yes. There's always a clown at an airshow, even before World War II. So I developed the act in 1973 in a Piper Cub.