As we continue to take a look back over 30 years of the Stuart Air Show, we talk with one of the people who played a large role in its beginnings, Bill Whittemore. Bill was one of four pilots who conducted airplane rides in the first few years of the show.
Bill tells us how, what started as a Cake Sale for the Council on Aging, grew into a large community event with the support of the United Way, in just 7 years.
Bill gives us a breakdown of the Stuart Air Show, year-by-year, from 1990-1997.
1990 - The Council on Aging and their President, Gene Rifkin decided, with the urging of Jud Deakins, a Board Member, to hold their annual Cake Sale at the airport. Jud and his fellow T6 pilots, George Dempsey, Jon Stepheson, and Bob Matthew (all QB’s), brought their airplanes in hopes of attracting a higher attendance.
1991 - The following year, airplane rides were added. John Pratt, Bill, and at least two other pilots contributed.
1992 – The show expanded further with Jud Deakins and his T6 pilots flying formations. Phil Knight, a member of the U.S. Aeronautic Team, performed, while Mickie Rupp buzzed the crowd in his P51 Mustang.
1993 – The show further expanded by adding static displays of war birds from the various QB (Quiet Birds) hangers around the state. Dave Collier joined the show and took care of the line and Bernie Malone worked on the field set up.
1994 – Disaster struck with a tropical storm. Fortunately, the Council on Aging had rain insurance, which certainly paid off!
1995 – Until this point, the air show was a one-day event held by the Council on the Aging. In hopes of avoiding the raining season, the show was moved to the Fall and expanded to a two day event. This created a need to house the visiting pilots and provide them with entertainment on Saturday night. Mike Pascatelli put up 10 pilots at his bed and breakfast and threw them a party.
1996 – The show continued to grow. It was no longer just QB pilots and their planes. Grumman and Sikorsky provided static displays. Through Grumman, the show got a rocket display and a visit from Astronaut Buzz Aldrin. A large charity dinner was arranged in one of the Stuart Jet hangars.
1997 – The show was getting too big for the Council on Aging. A friend of Bill’s, Dan Todzia, was on the Board of the United Way and worked to get a foundation started. Bill played a huge role in bringing the air show to a new home with the United Way when he joined their board. With the help of sponsorships from Fred Ayre (Dolphin Restaurant), Toyota of Stuart, and Augie Busch of Budweiser, the show cleared over $60,000.
Avron Rifkin was a part of the show since the beginning. Sheriff Crowder provided traffic control at a minimum cost (using only one officer at a time.) The fire department came and brought their families for free. The air show had, and still has, great support from Martin County and the local businesses.