David Sherwood, a former airshow announcer for Silverwood Theme Park, has seen Bob Heale land planes that were having mechanical trouble before.
So when he heard Heale crashed Saturday at the Aerospace Days air show, he was optimistic.
“If you were in a plane that was going down, Bob Heale’s the pilot you’d want at the controls.”
Heale, a 62-year-old Spokane stunt pilot, lost control of a French-made CAP-10B and crashed into a grassy field Saturday near the runway at Fairchild Air Force Base.
“He was no stranger to that airplane,” said Wayne Anderson, who has known Heale for 30 years. “It had to be some sort of fluke.”
The two men met at Henley Aerodrome, the current site of Silverwood Theme Park north of Coeur d’Alene. Heale was scheduled to perform in Silverwood’s daily air show later Saturday.
“He was doing that air show before he came back down here to fly tonight (Saturday),” said Daniel Aylward, theme park president.
A little more than two hours before Heale was supposed to fly at Silverwood, Aylward received a call from police notifying him of the accident.
Silverwood canceled its regular 5 p.m. air show Saturday as fellow pilots waited to hear word on Heale’s condition, which was not released.
The theme park also canceled today’s show.
At Felts Field in Spokane, where Heale recently performed in an air show and gives flying lessons, the phone rang every couple of minutes. Pilots called the airport for updates on Heale’s condition.
“About everybody here knows Bob,” said Gary Terwilleger, who was working the desk at Felts Aviation.
Heale’s father, a former Boeing Aircraft Co. engineer, introduced his son to airplanes by lifting him into a P-26, Boeing’s firefighting plane of the late ‘30s.
He began taking flying lessons at 15 and progressed steadily though the various pilot ratings. Heale’s first instructor in Seattle was horrified when he started doing tailspins with a plane on floats. Once he acquired his own plane, Heale began practicing aerobatics and then worked his way into performing at a steady string of air shows.
He also worked as a crop-duster for about 15 years, mostly in the Columbia Basin, before giving that up in 1985.
Over the years, Heale, who has a wife and three grown sons, has developed a reputation as a skilled and highly respected pilot.
Terwilleger has admired Heale’s flying for the past several years.
“Bob’s usually pretty close to the ground and he’s usually upside-down,” Terwilleger said.
Although some consider Heale and other stunt pilots daredevils, Silverwood pilot Cliff Pearson said they’re very cautious about weather conditions and their abilities.
“When it comes to flying, it’s no-nonsense,” he said. “Even though we’re involved in entertainment at a theme park, it’s very serious business.”
Heale has been with Silverwood since the theme park opened, and occasionally flies park owner Gary Norton on business trips, according to friends.
Heale often flew his own planes, a Pitts biplane and a CAP-10 fixed wing, at Silverwood, Aylward said.
He flew every day during the summer season. Each show usually has three or four stunt pilots, out of the seven the park employs.
Pearson said Silverwood pilots fly aerobatics about three times as much as most air-show pilots.
“He did a wide range of stunts, from rolls to slides to loops - everything you could think of,” Aylward said.
Sherwood described Heale as easy-going, but a stickler for rules and safety.
Heale has more than 31,000 hours of flight time, and more than 5,000 hours of aerobatic flight time, Sherwood said, citing statistics he quoted as an announcer.
“It’s really shocking,” Sherwood said of the crash. “I would be almost 100 percent inclined to say there was some kind of catastrophic mechanical failure.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo