knows how to put on a show
father taught him the basics,
but he has perfected it
(June 2006) Flying high over the Ohio River
each Fourth of July weekend, Cliff Robinson has a birds-eye view
of the 40,000 Madison Regatta race fans from the cockpit of his 1941
Stearman bi-wing airplane. In fact, he has a side view, a front view,
a back view, an upside down view, a spinning view and perhaps
his favorite an under-the-bridge view.
by Don Ward
Robinson poses with his
1941 Stearman airplane.
For the past decade now, the Madison native has been providing
breath-taking aerobatic air shows each Madison Regatta weekend in between
the boat race action down on the water. His airplane streams smoke across
the sky as he darts and circles and climbs up and over, while adults
and children watch in amazement below. The loud roar of his souped up
500-horsepower Pratt & Whitney engine adds to the excitement, as
does his low passes just above the water.
It takes a lot of maintenance to the airplane and a lot of practice.
Im paranoid about doing it safely and keeping this airplane in
tip-top shape, said Robinson, 57, who began flying planes as a
youth and later learned aerobatics from his father, Frank Robinson,
a veteran aerobatic pilot himself.
While his real job is as a real estate broker-owner at Hoosier Hills
Realty, over the years Cliff has emerged as the only aerobatic pilot
in southern Indiana. He travels the Midwest conducting about 15 shows
a year and even teach aerobatics to a half dozen students in the area.
But his favorite show is the one in his hometown before the large Regatta
crowd. Thats among my biggest shows, as far as crowd size,
Robinson grew up in near Madison and developed an early love for flying.
His father owned several planes and had spent much of his life as a
barnstormer, taking off and landing at his own grass airstrip along
the riverbottom in nearby Lamb, Ind., in Switzerland County.
Robison (far right) is pictured
as a younger man with his father,
Frank Robinson, and brother, Robert.
Frank Robinson spent his early years in Mayfield, Ky.,
and Evansville, Ind., where he learned to fly against his mothers
wishes. She wanted me to go to college, but I wanted to fly planes,
recalled Frank, now 87. I had to sneak away to fly them, but she
always found out.
Frank wanted to join the Air Force and serve in World War II but at
that time only college graduates were accepted for the job. He considered
becoming a soldier of fortune and join the non-military,
freelance American Eagles, which the British hired to fight
the Germans during the war. The commitment to join was two years abroad.
Ive always said that my wife (Anna) saved my life because
I never went overseas with the American Eagles because I was afraid
I would lose her, Frank said. And none of those pilots survived
the war. Anna Robinson, a retired schoolteacher and his wife of
63 years, died 11/2 years ago.
Frank spent much of his free time flying aerobatic air shows for the
Cole Brothers while working various jobs throughout his life. It was
during those years that Cliff and his brother, Robert, developed his
fascination for flying.
by Don Ward
Robinson in action last year.
Robert Rob-inson, who still flies, is a physician in Indianapolis.
They have one sister, Joy Stutsman, a retired schoolteacher in Indianapolis.
Cliff, meanwhile, ob-tained his solo pilots license at age 16,
his private license at age 17, his commercial license at 18 and his
instructors license at 19. From ages 22-26, he flew commercially
as a crop duster. He then began his real estate career but continued
flying as a freelance instructor and aerobatic pilot. He still flies
every other day, either to practice his aerobatic stunts or to give
joy rides to paying customers. He has another trainer aircraft, a 1970
model PJ 260, that he uses for flight instruction and a four-seater
Cessna that he and his wife, AnnaBelle, use for long-distance travel.
They have two daughters, Kristen Butler of Hanover and Carrie Smith,
who married a marine and recently moved to Jacksonville, N.C.
AnnaBelle never developed the same love for flying as Cliff, but she
said she was well aware of his devotion to flying when they first began
dating. Ive always reminded him that flying must remain
his second love, she joked.
Cliff attended Switzerland County High School, while AnnaBelle grew
up in Madison. They first met at age 13 at church but did not begin
dating until after graduating high school. She recalled their first
date when Cliff took her up in his airplane for a night flight. The
stars were out and it was a beautiful clear night very romantic,
She attends Cliffs air shows when she can and says she trusts
in the Lord to protect him from injury. Ive learned over
the years just how cautious he is with the airplane. I have no qualms
about him being a good pilot.
by Kim Aldridge
Robinson, 87, still lives on
his grass air strip in Lamb, Ind.
Cliff loves to share his joy of flying with his customers
and gives about 150 rides a year. He also enjoys performing his aerobatic
stunts for an audience. He says the best part about the Regatta air
show is flying under the bridge, a stunt he performs three or four times.
If the conditions were right, I might try flying inverted under
the bridge, but so far Ive never done it under this bridge.
He must apply for special clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration
to fly under the bridge.
He also performs at other Indiana air shows in Versailles, Seymour,
Jeffersonville, French Lick, and Evansville, plus Cincinnati and Columbus,
Ohio, and Carbondale, Ill. He also participates in contests around the
country sponsored by the American Aerobatics Association. Hes
even flown at shows that also featured the U.S. Navys Blue Angels
and the Air Forces Thunderbirds.
His friends, Dave Hawkins and Tom Spielmann, often help him prepare
the Stearman for takeoff before a show. The job includes filling a 17-gallon
tank with a special oil that is pumped into the exhaust system to create
the smoke trail, which Robinson controls while airborne.
While Robinson says aerobatics isnt for everyone, the risk of
danger can be significantly minimized with proper maintenance. Some
of the stunts can be down right physical, said one of his aerobatic
students, Joe Boone of Madison.
After 15 minutes in the seat, Im beat, Boone said.
Ive learned quite a few maneuvers, but its nothing
like what Cliff does.
Cliff Robinson offers a variety of rides
at the Madison Municipal Airport. Scenic rides are $100; a ride with
hands-on-the-stick time is $125; and an aerobatic ride is $150. To reserve,
call (812) 273-3500.
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