201 IAC Hall of Fame Inductee
Jimmy Franklin flew air shows for more than 30 years. He was one of the most well recognized and respected performers in aviation. He was known for his spine-tingling flying and also his showmanship and one-of-a-kind innovative style. Jimmy was inducted into the IAC Hall of Fame in 2010.
Franklin was born and raised in Lovington, New Mexico, and learned to fly sitting on his father’s lap as a toddler. At age 12 while home alone, he snuck out and soloed himself. That same year he went to his first air show and saw the legendary Harold Krier and Charlie Hillard perform and decided that was what he wanted to do with his life. At age 19, he bought the 1940 Waco UPF-7 and started performing in air shows all over the United States and Canada. This plane started off as stock and over the years became highly modified.
Jimmy made a name for himself by performing aggressive aerobatics lower than anyone else, along with his death-defying flat-inverted spin, and for performing the world’s lowest inverted ribbon pickup, which was done between two 12-ounce Coke bottles. Jimmy would come in upside down, 3 feet above the ground, and catch a red ribbon strung between the two Coke bottles on a 4-foot wire on the tail of the airplane.
Jimmy is not the only pilot in the Franklin family. His father was a self-taught pilot at the age of 16. Jimmy’s younger brother, Steve, became a pilot for Southwest Airlines and flew air shows with Jimmy for more than 10 years. Jimmy’s mother learned to fly and even did some wingwalking for her oldest son.
Over the years, Franklin introduced many new and unique acts into the air show industry. These acts included The Dueling Wacos Dogfight, the motorcycle-to-plane transfer, and a dual wingwalking routine and baton pass. Jimmy even portrayed a comic book/space age character he created named ZAR, in which he flew an all-black, twin-engine Aerostar dubbed the Starship Pride.
During Franklin’s career, he thrilled and amazed audiences not only in the United States, but also all over the world. He performed in Canada, Mexico, Japan, and even Australia. Franklin’s talent was seen in countless movies and TV shows, such as Terminal Velocity, Forever Young, The Rocketeer, Three Amigos, Choke Canyon, and World’s Most Amazing Videos to name a few.
Franklin received many awards during his years as an air show professional. He received the coveted Bill Barber Award for Showmanship (1989), the Clifford W. Henderson Achievement Award (1999), and the General Aviation News and Flyer Reader’s Choice Award for Favorite Overall Performer and Favorite Specialty Act (1990 & 1996). Franklin was also the first person to receive the Art Scholl Memorial Showmanship Award (1986) for the act ZAR and was the first and only person to receive the Art Scholl Memorial Showmanship Award twice, again in 1999 for his one-of-a-kind Jet Waco.
In 1999 Franklin debuted his latest project, the world’s only jet-powered Waco. With the help of Les Shockley, creator of the Shock Wave jet trucks, they were able to modify Jimmy’s 1940 Waco biplane with a J-85 jet engine along with the 450 hp Pratt & Whitney radial prop engine. The J-85 jet engine is the same engine that is used in the military T-38 fighter trainers. With both engines turning, the Jet Waco put out more than 4,500 pounds of thrust at more than 2,000 hp, making it possible in Franklin’s hands to perform stunts no one had ever seen or even attempted in this type of plane.
On July 11, 2005, Jimmy Franklin and his performing partner, Bobby Younkin, died in a mid-air collision performing their Masters of Disaster air show routine at the Saskatchewan Centennial Air Show in Moose Jaw.
Look for a feature story on Jimmy Franklin in the January 2011 issue of Sport Aerobatics.