Naval aviator, crop duster, aerobatic competitor and airshow pilot Wayne Handley knows his way around an aircraft or two.
A traditional start flying an Aeronca Champ in 1957 led to a stint piloting F4D Skyrays in the Navy and ultimately a successful career as a business owner and crop-dusting pilot.
It wasn’t until the age of 44, when a cache of spare helicopter parts was converted into a Pitts S1C, that Handley’s penchant for aerobatics took off.
Winning three California state aerobatic championships in the 1980s and making a name for himself on the national airshow scene, Handley became one of the preeminent aviation acts of the 1990s.
Wowing spectators across the country in his Pitts Special, Handley’s performance caught the eye of renowned aviator and Oracle founder, Larry Ellison, in 1996, earning him a three-year sponsorship from the billionaire tech titan. It’s a period of his career that Handley refers to with a humble smile as “fortunate.”
Today, at age 78, Handley no longer works the airshow circuit as a pilot, but he continues as an avid flyer and speaker, advising on unusual attitudes, aerobatics and upset recovery.
Though a lot has changed since he started flying in 1957 — and you’ll be hard pressed to find rental aircraft for $2.50 per hour — at this stage in his career you might say that things are starting to “loop” full circle.
Flying out of his home airport in the lush countryside of eastern California, with more than 30,000 hours of stick time, the aviator’s current aircraft of choice isn’t too far removed from that very first Champ he earned his private ticket in, 60 years ago.
What I fly
A 2005, American Champion Citabria 7GCBC, with a 180 horsepower, O-360 Superior engine.
Why I fly it
It’s light aerobatic and, with 5 notches of flaps, it will fly slow, but on the other end it will fly fast. It will do loops and rolls…and legally, it’s placarded for that. It’s a respectable backcountry airplane and it carries two people and camping equipment. A good pilot can go into any place in this airplane that an average pilot can go into in a Cub.
How I fly it
I like to fly low and slow and I’m talking really low. When you’re flying along at 60 and you have this feeling that the airplane needs to be retrimmed, no, you’re flying too fast, throttle back a bit.
Operating costs (based on 100 hours per year)
Always leave yourself one more option and I’m talking about in your decision making. Don’t spend that last option.
One thing that’s always in the back of my mind: If you die in a weather-related accident, they’re going to bury you on a nice clear day cause the front has moved through… And people are going to say, “what was he thinking?”
Do you have a story to share on Pilot Perspectives about what you fly? Email Janice@GeneralAviationNews.com.