Patty Wagstaff: Fire and Air
By Ann L. Cooper
Crater Lakes Flyers Chapter
Fire and air form the propulsion system for our aircraft. They also are two of the four elements, with water and earth. Patty Wagstaff discovered those elements to which she was drawn in 1979 when she took her first flight lesson in a C-182 floatplane in Alaska.
Prior to that exhilarating takeoff and entranced by the pulsating engine that pulled her craft from its watery runway, she had been well introduced to earth and water. She had traveled across the United States from a short time after her birth, had journeyed to live in Japan with her parents as her father took a piloting position with Japan Air Lines, had spent a fruitless time in a private girls' school in Switzerland, and had traveled still more widely, trying her hand at deep sea diving and deep sea fishing off the west coast of Australia.
But water and earth were not Patty's elements; she was inexorably drawn to fire and to air, and her first flying lesson confirmed her passions.
A scant five years after having earned her pilot's certificate in 1980, Patty was successful enough at acrobatic competition that she earned a berth on the Olympic style United States Aerobatic Team. Challenged by acrobatic competition among the world's best male and female pilots, she turned what could have been a poorly-focused life -- drifting in and out of careers and job opportunities -- into a stunning success story.
In 1991, Patty became the first woman in the history of the United States to capture the elusive goal of National Aerobatic Champion. Dared to prove that her first win wasn't a fluke, she went on to hone her skills to razor-sharp levels and, in competition with her own best, as well as the best of the other men and women acrobatic athletes, to achieve the championship again in 1992 and 1993.
In 1994, recognized as the pioneering woman pilot that she was, her airplane, the Extra 260, was placed on exhibit in the prestigious National Air & Space Museum, Smithsonian in Washington, DC. Patty's airplane is between those of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart's and beneath that of General James "Jimmy" Doolittle -an auspicious honor for a determined and persistent champion.
Patty went on to fly aerobatics as a competition pilot, receiving the highest score for any U.S. pilot in 1996 and winning the first Charlie Hillard Award for Aerobatic Excellence. She also was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum, and for her outstanding air show performances, she was awarded the Sword of Excellence by the International Council of Air Shows. She is a six-time winner of the "First Lady of Aerobatics" award that is donated annually by the talented Betty Skelton Frankman of Winter Haven, Florida.
Concomitantly with her meteoric rise in acrobatic competition, Patty took her precision aerobatics to the air show circuit and became one of the most highly sought-after performance pilots in the nation. Those who watched the Winter Olympics in Japan could see Patty flying her Extra 300 in a short, brilliant spot advertising Shell Oil.
Although Patty's early life was fraught with painful obstacles, she persevered. She is an inspiration to young women, challenging them to make a choice in their lives, and she is a role model for all who want to overcome some of the adversities of life to achieve success as individuals. She might have been a leaf blowing in the wind had she not been entranced with fire and air.
Patty Wagstaff, Alaska Chapter 99s, was born in the USA to an Air Force family. Her father was captain of a 747 for Japan Air Lines and her sister Toni is a 727 pilot for Continental Airlines based in Guam. Following her first flying lesson in a Cessna 185 floatplane, she has earned her Commercial, Multiengine, Instrument, Seaplane and Helicopter ratings. She also holds multiengine and instrument instructor ratings.
She has trained with the Russian Aerobatic Team in the Soviet Union and coaches and trains acrobatic competitors around the world. She is on the lecture circuit and performs on Microsoft's "World of Flight" CD-ROM. Following the World Aerobatic Contest in 1996 where she was the top scoring U.S. pilot, Patty retired from competition flying.
Patty will continue to perform in air shows. She plans to change and improve her act. She'll be looking at doing more choreography with music. "I like to change," she says. "I'm one to do something, master it and move on. I'm always looking for new challenges."
Learn more about Patty at her website - www.pattywagstaff.com.