Charlie Kulp, the man more commonly known as ‘the flying farmer’, was an aerobatic pilot whose routines were beloved by people all over the country. His signature performance involved being dressed as a farmer with a straw hat and accidentally stumbling onto an airplane. Kulp’s impressive career in aviation spans decades and his dedication to the craft has made him one of the most prominent figures in Aerobatics.
Charlie Kulp passed away in October of last year at the age of 96 but his impressive legacy in aviation lives on. From falling in love with aviation as a teenager to becoming one of the founding members of the Flying Circus Airshow, Kulp’s life is one worth exploring.
Early life and military career
Charlie became enthralled by aviation at a very young age, at just 16 years old he became an apprentice mechanic at an airport in Virginia. He worked very hard so that he could afford to take flying lessons. Kulp was immediately fascinated with flying and kept taking up lessons until finally he was able to fly on his own.
However, his solo flying was cut short due to an obligation to go to the navy. Because of his poor eyesight, Charlie could not pursue a pilot’s career in the military but he chose the next best thing – to become an aircraft mechanic.
After the war, Kulp returned to Virginia and while looking for planes to buy and fix up he found a job managing a small airport in Springfield. After a few years he took over the management of another airport, this time in Fredericksburg. Being a manager allowed him to work on his true passion – plane restoration.
Kulp was a passionate and dedicated restorer of classic planes. Many of his restored works are currently displayed at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and the Virginia Aviation Museum. The restorations include such renowned planes as the 1929 Fairchild KR-34, Texaco Eaglet Glider, the 1917 Standard E-1 and 1927 Pitcairn PA-5.
Aerobatics and the flying farmer role
Charlie had many different passions in the aviation world. Although restoration was very fulfilling it did not satisfy his more adventurous nature. To scratch this itch Kulp got involved in the aerobatics community and for the better part o his life was an aerobatic pilot.
Founding member of the Flying Circus Airshow
After his managerial years, Kulp took up his most well-known role of the flying farmer. Since he was fascinated by aerobatics and attracted to extreme maneuvers, it was a no-brainer to become a founding member of the Flying Circus Airshow. He helped the show evolve into an incredibly popular attraction. After some time spent training, Kulp developed his own act in the show and was performing it by the second season of the circus’ air shows.
The flying farmer act
The flying farmer act involves Kulp dressed in worn down overalls, plaid shirt and the signature straw hat stumbling by an unsupervised aircraft and deciding to take it for a ride. This ‘inexperienced’ pilot then goes on to do the most spectacular aerobatic maneuvers while an announcer from the ground tries to instruct him.
The act usually ended when he landed the plane on the grown, Charlie would be seen cutting the engine, jumping out and running away from the plane owners chasing him.
Kulp’s aerobatic abilities seemed fascinating not only for the massive crowd of spectators but also for his pilot friends and the most experienced pilots. The fun act was performed for more than three decades and never lost its popularity which is a true testament to Charlie’s immense talent.
Fame around the world
Although the act was performed mostly in the United States, the popularity of the flying farmer transcended boarders. Charlie performed his shows in Canada and even overseas in Britain. Over the whole course of the air show Kulp’s act remained incredibly successful.
While in Britain, he performed his routine for the royal family and was invited to perform in The Duchy of Beaufort’s annual summer air show numerous times.
After an incredibly long-lasting career, Charlie Kulp retired from being an aerobatic pilot in 2007 at the age of 82. He remained a member of the Board of Directors for the Virginia Aviation Historic Society and an FAA-certified flight instructor.
His incredible career in aviation was rightfully recognized with the Charles Taylor award and induction into the Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame in 1997. Charlie Kulp’s name remains etched in aviation history forever.
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Jet pilot @NASA
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