Seven-Year Exxon Elite Sponsorship Comes To An End; Who's
Bruce Bohannon and the Exxon Flyin' Tiger were a team for seven
hugely successful years, which saw Bruce and his RV-4-based
homebuilt take on, and conquer, innumerable FAI and NAA records.
But the partnership, like all transitory things, has come to an
Bruce hasn't parted from the Flyin' Tiger; the black plane with
its distinct tiger-stripe motif stays with its pilot, His crew --
and most of his other sponsors -- are hanging together. They're
looking for a new title sponsor who wants his name written in the
Exxon's sponsorship didn't end because of any dissatisfaction
with Bohannon or the plane. Instead, what was meant to be a
short-term deal to promote the introduction of a then-new
aviation lubricating oil ran on for years beyond original
Bohannon kept the aviation press focused on the positive as he
ran down the list of accomplishments that he and the Exxon team
racked up. (Here's one -- we'll still be
here when you're done reading it). And he made sure to focus on the
future and on three records that still don't say "Bohannon" on
- The US Army Air Forces' 1946 NAA absolute piston altitude
record, that Bohannon fell just short of breaking
in 2004, of 47,910 feet (set by a pressurized,
- The first US piston record of 50,000 feet or greater,
Bohannon's objective on that 2004 flight, which he was robbed of by
a broken bracket, as reported in
- The world piston time-to-climb record from brakes released to
- The 3,000 meter time-to-climb piston record, set by Bearcat
pilot Lyle Shelton in 1972 at 91.9 seconds. That's about a minute
and a half to about 10,000 feet!
But Bohannon is confident that he can beat all those records.
And those are just the altitude and climb records -- he's always
had his eyes on some speed records as well. But he's going to need
a sponsor to make it happen.
Bear in mind, that the amicable end of the Exxon promotion does
not mean that Bohannon and the Flyin' Tiger are left without
sponsorship. The other sponsors, especially Mattituck, which makes
the specially prepared engines for Bohannon's record-setting
flights, remain securely on board.
One thing that won't change is the name: Flyin' Tiger -- and
another is the paint scheme. "That's our paint scheme, we designed
and copyrighted that, not Exxon," Bohannon told Aero-News. But
Exxon's logo has already been removed, and there's room for a new
one -- maybe yours.
Bohannon also made a point of saying something that he's said in
private before: "Thank you," to RV-4 designer Dick VanGrunsven.
"Van," who maintains an official posture of opposition to
modifications of the RV series kitplanes (let alone modifications
as radical as the ones the Flyin' Tiger has had) was present to
hear the fulsome praise that Bohannan heaped on his design.
"The first time I flew an RV, I think it was an RV-3, I landed
and said, 'We're gonna make a hot rod out of one of these.'" It was
years before the "hot rod" was finally made, starting with an
ordinary RV-4 kit. "The Flyin' Tiger is about 80% RV-4; there are
some Harmon Rocket parts, and some parts that Gary [Hunter,
Bohannon's long-time crew chief] built."
Later, Bohannon told Aero-News, "I went and I asked Van for his
permission to build the Flyin' Tiger on the RV-4. I knew he
couldn't say 'yes,' but I had to do it out of respect for him. And
he did say that, he knew the plane I was flying at the time, Pushy
Galore, was dangerous. And that this would be a better, safer
plane. He was right; Pushy Galore was fast, but it was really a
terrible plane to fly. And he said, if I could fly that, I could
certainly fly this... but he couldn't give me an OK."
"And I understood that, but it was important to ask him."
In keeping with his usual practice, Dick VanGrunsven said
nothing about the modified RV-4 that holds so many records. Van
would prefer that you and I build his planes according to his
Bruce Bohannon ended his comments with a special "thank you" to
the aviation press: He signed and personalized dozens of Exxon
Elite bottles featuring a photo of him and the then-Exxon Flyin'
Those bottles have already been discontinued by Exxon, and the
company's web page on the Flyin' Tiger has been taken