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Gone West: Race Pilot Bill Brennand
March 14, 2017 - All of us at EAA were saddened to learn of the death of William “Bill” Brennand, EAA 13078, on March 14, 2017 at age 92. Bill was a fixture in the Oshkosh area, a legend that gave each of us a tangible connection to the golden age of aviation.
When he was a boy, Bill lived on a farm near what is now Wittman Regional Airport, named for his longtime friend, mentor, and sometime boss, Steve Wittman. He quickly went from watching Steve fly to working for him, earning money for flight training at Wittman Flying Service.
When he was just 23, Steve asked Bill to fly his airplane, Buster, in the Goodyear Trophy Race as part of the Cleveland National Air Races in August of 1947. Steve obviously had confidence in Bill’s abilities, but Bill would tell you that he got the job for weight and balance reasons: At just 100 pounds, he was 70 pounds lighter than Steve and, in racing, every ounce counts.
Buster was the rebuilt incarnation of Steve’s Chief Oshkosh, an airplane that hadn’t flown since a crash nearly 10 years earlier. Bill was thrilled to be there and perhaps no one was more surprised than he was that, during his first time racing anywhere, he won first place. He flew Buster around the 2.2-mile closed course at a top speed of 165.857 mph, besting Paul Penrose in Swee’ Pea by less than half of 1 mph. Also competing in that race were legendary Lockheed test pilots Tony Levier and Herman “Fish” Salmon, but they were several miles per hour slower.
After his early triumph in Cleveland, Bill continued racing for years, racking up an impressive number of victories before moving on to the world of corporate flying. He eventually built his own airport just north of Oshkosh, and it’s still going strong, bearing his name. Bill also loaned EAA some property on the shore of Lake Winnebago that is now the permanent home of the AirVenture Seaplane Base.
For more about Bill’s life and career, see our interview with him as part of EAA’s Timeless Voices program, as well as an in-depth webinar, presented by Bill and his biographer, Jim Cunningham, EAA 594611.
Most recently, Bill had been working with EAA Chapter 252 in Oshkosh on their project to build a replica of Buster for the EAA Aviation Museum, as the original hangs in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Memorial services and other arrangements are pending.