Interview: Steve Craig
Proud owner of the last flying Wildcat
- By Diane Tedeschi
- Air & Space magazine, March 2007
(Page 2 of 3)
A&S: Do you fly the same routine at each show?
Craig: I do not fly aerobatics. I’ve never obtained a low-level waiver. I will certainly do low passes and pull the plane up steeply and do wingovers and things, but as far as low-level loops and rolls, I don’t practice enough to do that.
A&S: How many times do you fly the Wildcat during an airshow season?
Craig: I had a fellow help me with that because my business interests still keep me pretty busy. I’m trying to semi-retire, but I haven’t gotten there yet. So in 2005, we flew the plane at about, gosh, 12 airshows, but I only did three of those. And nine were flown by Mark Watt, who’s an Air Canada captain.
A&S: Do you get paid for your airshow appearances?
Craig: We do try to get paid. And most of the time we do. I recently [September 2006] flew the plane out to the University of Iowa for the dedication of the Nile Kinnick Memorial Stadium. Nile Kinnick was “Mr. Everything” at the University of Iowa in the late 1930s. He was president of the senior class, captain of the football team, track team. Heisman Trophy winner. Phi Beta Kappa. And on top of all of that, he was a very modest person. So he’s attained mythical, iconic status within the state of Iowa, as well he should. He joined the Naval Reserve and then was activated two days before Pearl Harbor, went into Navy flight training, and tragically was killed flying a Wildcat. And so the University of Iowa was rededicating its stadium—after a $90 million renovation—to Nile Kinnick and unveiling a 12-foot bronze statue [of Kinnick]. They learned I had the world’s only flying Wildcat, and asked me to come up and participate. That was very special. And I waived that fee.
But for most of these airshows, there’s a promoter involved who’s making money. So most of us [who] fly these [vintage airplanes] try to get compensated because they are expensive to operate.
A&S: Getting back to Nile Kinnick, was his a combat death?
Craig: He was killed training in the Caribbean off the coast of Venezuela in preparation to [deploy] to the Pacific. He had an engine failure. I’ve actually had a couple of people come up to me, including one man who saw him crash, a gentleman that was on a destroyer that was “plane-guarding” when the crash happened. It looked like a textbook ditching—that [Kinnick would] just climb out of the cockpit and be rescued. But it didn’t work out. Who knows what happened? A parachute harness—something—got caught, and he went down with the plane.
A&S: Do you maintain the F4F yourself?
Craig: I participate, and I read a lot. I view myself not only as the pilot of this airplane, of course, but as its caretaker and crew chief almost. But a talented aircraft mechanic I am not. So I’m not even qualified to do much of the work under FAA regulations. So I enlist people like Pete Regina and Matt Jackson in particular. Pete’s done a tremendous amount of wonderful work on this airplane to keep it historic and original and safe.
A&S: How do you find replacement parts when needed?
Craig: The instruments are relatively easy to find, and engines and engine parts are relatively plentiful. The propeller is a little tougher to find, but I have a spare. Now airframe parts are tough [to find].
A&S: The four guns have been demilitarized, right?
Craig: Yeah, the ATF, the FBI, and all those people would really frown on me having operable .50-caliber machine guns—[the ones on the airplane] look real but they’ve been rendered useless.