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Silverwood’s new roller coaster ‘a great remembrance’ of stunt pilot who died in Airway Heights air show

UPDATED: Sat., May 29, 2021

Bob and Ken Heale surveyed a memorial to their pilot father moments before Stunt Pilot, Silverwood’s newest roller coaster, opened to the public for the first time Saturday.

Bob Heale Sr. flew in air shows over Silverwood more than once a week for eight years in the 1980s and 1990s before he died during an air show in Airway Heights September 14, 1996.

“He really loved Silverwood,” Ken Heale said. “You get so close to the crowd the way it was set up here. He’d come and stand on the fence between the grass and the runway and he’d talk to folks. A lot of the other shows, people are separated.”

Stunt Pilot is dedicated to Bob Heale Sr., whose family were some of the first people to ride it Saturday. But before even the Heales, there was a group of 10 people who bid on tickets in an auction that raised $3,944 for the Children’s Village, a home for abused and neglected children in Coeur d’Alene.

Adam Regan, who spent hundreds for the third seat, estimates he’s been on 50 roller coasters.

Stunt Pilot, he said is “definitely up there,” on the list of best rides.

“It’s so great. You never get a moment to settle,” Regan said. “You get some weightlessness, you get some upside down, and then flying through a barn is unexpected.”

Neal Hill’s daughter Shelby had him in the dark for weeks about why he’d need to take Saturday off work. She surprised him with their eighth- and ninth-row seats on the roller coaster as an early Father’s Day and birthday present. The Hills are avid amusement park lovers who have been to dozens across the country together.

Hill found Stunt Pilot special, both as a single-rail ride and because he remembers air shows from the ’90s.

Bob and Ken Heale could confirm that the ride simulated how it feels to fly as a stunt pilot.

“The G force feels just about the same,” Bob Heale said. “But it’s a little tighter. It felt good.”

Marian Jensen, Bob Heale Sr.’s widow, also rode the coaster Saturday.

Jensen, a pilot herself, remarried five years ago to another pilot, Tom Jensen. She said the memorial brought to mind memories of thrill-seeking Bob Heale, who not only flew planes at Silverwood but also cared for big cats at the park.

She recalled that he played a game with a black panther named Sheeba where the panther would pull a watch cap off his head. Then one winter day, the couple came to the park to feed the cats. Leonard the lion, more than double Sheeba’s size, jumped and had Bob Heale Sr.’s entire head in his mouth.

Marian Jensen, a usually unfazed State Patrol Dispatcher, “went berserk” and screamed. Leonard ran back into his lion house, she said.

Heale also loved his sons. One year’s work flying for Air America paid enough that he took the next off. Weekdays, he’d work on his sons’ motorcycles, and on weekends they’d go off to motorcycle rallies, she said.

“It’s a great remembrance,” Ken said of the memorial and the coaster. “Thousands of people are going to walk by here and know it’s an homage to the air shows that used to happen here.”

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