Experiences in the air

Robinson puts on a breathtaking show

Cliff Robinson will have a unique view of the Madison Regatta this year. His take on the event will be different from that of everyone else as he soars high above the crowd in his Super Stearman biplane.
“It’s nice to perform in front of a hometown crowd,” said Robinson, 67. He has traveled all over the Midwest and eastern United States performing his high-flying acrobatics.
Robinson is a second generation aviator and barnstormer who originally learned aerobatics for efficiency and safety. His father, Frank, was an airplane instructor during World War II and believed that all pilots should know how to perform aerobatics in the event they ever found themselves flying at an unfavorable angle high in the sky.

Photo provided

Madison, Ind., aerobatic pilot Cliff Robinson.

He learned from the best, his father, who was a successful aviator. “Dad was involved in air show work, too.”
Robinson has taken to the skies for the past 50 years. “I grew up on a farm with an airstrip in Lamb (Ind.), midway between Madison and Vevay,” he said. At age 16, Robinson flew a plane by himself for the first time from this airstrip.
Robinson works as an aerobatic pilot, crop duster and flight instructor, while still holding down his full-time job as real-estate broker-owner of Hoosier Hills Realty in Madison. He has had a lengthy flying career, with more than 300 public air shows and more than 8,000 logged hours of combined flight time, in dozens of different types of modern and vintage aircraft.
He has even flown under the Milton-Madison Bridge more than once during his aerial demonstrations for the annual Madison Regatta. “The crowd always enjoys this,” he said.
Robinson will be participating in this year’s Regatta on July 2-3  but is still waiting on clearance to fly under the bridge. During such a performance, the crowd will see him execute all manner of rolls, loops, snap rolls, barrel rolls and spins-a dizzying sight for bystanders.
On Saturday, July 2, Robinson will perform in the Grote Industries Air Show from 11:10-11:30 a.m. and again in the Twilight Air Show at 7:45 p.m. On Sunday, July 3, he will fly from 11-11:20 a.m. and from 4:35-5 p.m.  
This annual running of the world’s fastest race boats also includes Fourth of July fireworks, music, scholarship pageants, a parade, 10K run and walk, street dance, food and a movie. “There are about 20 different events that week before,” said Festival Chair Kim Washer.
“Cliff adds to the weekend show, bringing entertainment value to the crowd,” she said. “He performs when there is some downtime on the water.”
Informal boat racing dates to 1911 on the Ohio River in the Madison area. The first Unlimited class began competing in Madison in 1950, with the first points race and Unlimited hydroplane racing held fours years later.
Robinson performed at the Regatta for 11 years in a row, then took a break to allow fellow aerobatic pilot Brett Hunter entertain the crowds. Robinson said he conducts about 15 shows a year, mostly in the summer months. He teaches aerobatics to a half dozen students in the Madison area.
He obtained his solo pilot’s license at age 16, his private license at age 17, his commercial license at age18 and his instructor’s license at 19. For four years he flew commercially as a crop duster before beginning his real estate career. He continued flying as a freelance instructor and aerobatic pilot.
Operating out of the Madison Municipal Airport, he is often seen taking passengers on Open Cockpit Biplane Rides over the Jefferson County area in his World War II vintage Boeing PT-17 Super Stearman biplane. Over the last 16 years, he has given more than 1,100 rides. Passengers can have their choice of smooth rides or for the more adventurous, one filled with loops and rolls, in his restored 500-horsepower biplane.

In addition to the Super Stearman, he flies a DeHavilland DHC-1 Super Chipmunk and American Champion Super Decathlon.
Robinson participates in contests around the country sponsored by the American Aerobatics Association. He has flown at shows that featured the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels and the Air Force’s Thunderbirds. He was the 2013 guest of honor at the Putnam County Airport Aviation Days.
For the last four years, he has been a part of the Thunder Over Louisville air show. “This is one of the biggest shows in the U.S. in terms of attendance,” he said. He likes the show because its “over the river also.”

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