"I'd Rather Be Up There Than In Some Ford That Doesn't
By ANN Correspondent Aleta Vinas
Cliff Robertson’s love of flying started way before his
acting career... yet it is Robertson’s acting for which he is
In Robertson’s talk last week at the EAA Museum he
mentioned acting as a way to "dodge doing what I didn’t want
to do." It started in third grade and Robertson would volunteer for
a play to avoid cleaning erasers and later on in prep school to
avoid "walking around the quad with a rifle and 40 pound
This somewhat laid back attitude about acting may have been the
very characteristic which allowed him to be relaxed and natural in
front of the camera. Robertson has been in front of the camera and
behind it. He has written, produced, directed and acted. With J.W.
Coop in 1972, Robertson accomplished three at once "I enjoyed that
because I got along so well with the writer, director and the
actor," Robertson joked.
Robertson enjoyed writing and worked on a newspaper, in general
assignment for a while until World War II interfered. Robertson
served in the Maritime Services for three and a half years serving
in the South Pacific, North Atlantic and Mediterranean
Robertson has been in over 70 movies, and received an Oscar in
1969 for Charly. He’s won several other awards and
been nominated for numerous others. His recent appearances in the
Spider Man movies have gained him a whole new fan base (he
plays Peter Parker's revered Uncle Ben.)
Those in aviation know and respect Robertson as a staunch
aviation advocate. Last year he was inducted into the Aviation Hall
of Fame and he has numerous other awards and soaring records.
Robertson has been an EAA member for 36 years. He was the first
Young Eagles Chairman at its inception 15 years ago. "I’m so
proud of the Young Eagles, they’ve done so many good things
and they’re on the way to even better things." People scoffed
back then and thought it would never work, the Young Eagles have
flown over 1.3M young people.
Another program for
youngsters is the Cliff Robertson Work Experience started in 1993.
Teens of at least 16 can be considered. The internship is several
weeks long and contains some dirty work in the hangars in addition
to working in the EAA Museum, EAA Air Academy and Pioneer Airport
Flying lessons are part of the deal as well. Some solo by the end
of the internship. Robertson proudly adds "A lot of kids are now
flying airliners, some have already graduated from the Air Force
Academy." A flight instructor opportunity is available too.
From the age of five, Robertson has shared a secret with the
sky. He saw a plane performing aerobatics above his house, after a
while the plane flew on. The two elder men the young Robertson was
with shook their heads negatively, before walking back to the car
-- which wouldn’t start. Robertson knew there was something
wrong with that picture.
"I’d rather be up there than in some Ford that
doesn’t start," Robertson says.
About nine years later at age 14, Robertson became the Speer
Airport kid six days a week. He’d clean planes and engine
parts eight hours a day. Robertson thought "I would get to touch
those airplanes with a rag and I get to clean those planes with a
rag and I just thought I was in heaven." In payment Robertson
received a 15 minute flight with Bud "Speed" Smith in his red Piper
cub. Robertson was allowed to take the controls after takeoff.
Robertson soloed in England, while filming a movie he decided
"now I got a couple of nickels together maybe it'‘s time to
get my official ticket." He was set on soloing in a tail
dragger. They found a Tiger Moth. Robertson would sneak these
visits in; he never let the producers know.
He continued to enjoy old planes as well as new. Robertson has
owned or owns a Spitfire, Me-108, Stampe SV4 and three Tiger Moths.
The Messerschmitt is on display in upstate New York but Robertson
is looking to sell it. Robertson flew his Baron 58 in to Oshkosh
with a pilot friend. He’s had the Baron for over 20
When asked about his favorite aircraft, Robertson replied
"It’s hard to beat the Spitfire but I would say it’s
usually the one I’m currently flying."
Robertson started soaring about 15 years ago. "It'’s more
than recreation, it’s kind of an emotional experience."
Having been to many an AirVenture way back when the EAA was run
out of Paul and Audrey Poberezny’s basement in Hales Corners,
WI, Robertson has many "Oshkosh" Memories to share. "Certainly one
of the best would be my ride with Paul Poberezny in the EAA P-51."
Robertson has had the pleasure of flying with Poberezny and the
Mustang a couple of times, starting back about 15 years ago.
Another Mustang memory saw Robertson flying the P-51 "Flying
Undertaker" while Steve Hinton attempted a speed record in a highly
Robertson heard about Paul Poberezny, his wife and then young
son Tom and thought he would look into it. "It certainly
wasn’t what we have today." Says Robertson, meaning the
hundreds of thousands of aviation fans that now descends upon
Wittman Field. The day Robertson went to Hales Corners was snowy
and Mrs. Poberezny made a huge bowl of chili. "It was just about
the best chili I ever had." claims Robertson. "It wasn’t much
of a Fly-In because of the snow storm, it was more of a
Another "high" point according to Robertson was "taking the
first Young Eagles up, Tom (Poberezny) flew the first one and I
flew the second one." Robertson made the flight in his B-55 Baron;
AirVenture had switched over to Wittman Field by that time.
Robertson flew more Young Eagles flights that day but the first one
(for him) hangs in the memory banks.
A special event that will turn into a memory down the road for
Robertson took place during this year’s AirVenture. "I was
very moved this year by Paul Poberezny making an unannounced,
unexpected tribute to me."
Poberezny reminded Robertson of that bowl of chili during the
snowstorm. Good memories are for sharing like that warm bowl of
chili on a cold day.