How I met Beverly Bevo Howard

Published 10:20 am Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A friend e-mailed me a video of a modern aerobatics display filmed at some air show, and it made me think of Oshkosh and how tired I got of watching the aerobatic displays! Same old stuff, one after the other, doing things that ordinary airplanes cannot do.
I actually longed to see someone perform standard maneuvers in an old biplane. But then I guess the general public would be bored, so that is why we wont be seeing the likes of Duane Cole and Beverly Howard now that they are gone. Non-pilots simply do not understand the difficulties involved in rolling an old airplane from WWII and earlier, with their fat, cambered wings that create a lot of lift when right side up but very little when upside down. Therefore the control stick and the rudder pedals must be moved all over the cockpit to keep the nose pointed ahead during the course of a slow roll.
The slow roll (compared to the barrel roll and the snap roll) is so difficult to perform in those old birds that WWII squadron commanders had to forbid their fighter pilots from doing victory rolls because too many of them lost their lives when they flew into the ground trying to complete a slow roll. I lost a friend, and years later the world lost one of the few P-38s still flying, from attempted slow rolls near the ground. [See advice by Paul Mantz in my earlier column about him.] This is why a waiver of the rules is required for Air Shows.
Now the jet jocks and the guys and gals who fly these new special airplanes with their big engines and flat wings, just slam the control stick against the cockpit sidewall and let er roll as long as they want. And I must ask, where is the skill in letting an airplane tumble end over end and flop about until the engine weight points the nose down and its speed buildup returns it to normal flight? The first time we saw those things we gasped, but after seeing dozens of them the novelty has surely worn off. It has for me, anyway.
I have never seen anyone fly a show as beautifully choreographed as Beverly Howards. I saw him fly twice (at Dayton Air Show and at Kitty Hawk NC), and for me the climax was not the inverted ribbon pickup (with both hands hanging out of the cockpit!), but rather the rolling 360 degree turn. I have never seen anyone else do that with the timing and precision of Mr. Howard. His roll rate was constant, turn rate constant, and the wings came level at each 90 degrees of turn. Now THAT is real aerobatic flying! But would anyone who has not tried to do a slow roll in a Piper Cub appreciate the great skill required?
I ran into Howard at the museum at Kitty Hawk after his performance there. I asked if he were Bevo Howard, and he stuck out his hand with a big grin and said Beverly Howard. I introduced myself and after some brief words of appreciation, asked if I might take his picture. He followed me to my car and camera, picked up my two kids, one on each arm, and smiled for the photo. I have always referred to him as BEVERLY Howard, not Bevo, since that introduction.
I later learned from my first cousin, Lt. Col. Bryant H. Harrill (B-17, B-29 and B-36 pilot), that his dad, Charlie Harrill, was a friend of Beverly Howard, having repaired his airplane a number of times in the early 30s when he had made forced landings near Uncle Charlies machine shop. Wish I had known that when I met Howard! But I could not have had a better reception.
Beverly Howard owned contract schools that trained some 10,000 pilots for the Air Corps in WWII and later for the Air Force. Howard held six first place championships for precision aerobatic flying. He collected top fees for his flying in air shows, but he flew at least as many free for charities. Fellow air show pilot Frank Price said of Howard, He never failed to help anyone he came in contact with, always giving of his experience and knowledge to help new people coming into the sport of aerobatic flying, making him one of the most respected and beloved men ever to climb into a cockpit.

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