An Afternoon with Judy Scholl

“Judy Scholl is a great lady, you should totally interview her.” This was quite a compliment coming from a teenage boy who looks like a football linebacker and flies a Cessna 172 like a seasoned veteran.  Nate Russell has worked for Judy for the past two years and can’t say enough good things about her.  His opinion proved valid.
Judy Scholl possesses a confidence and optimism that could light up Chicago for a week.  She sat in her office, surrounded by pictures of Art Scholl, her late husband and world famous aerobatics pilot, as we talked about then and now.  Art and Judy met in Calgary, Canada at an air show. Judy was working as a volunteer and Art was the headline performer, thrilling the crowds with his innovative aerobatics routine.  For months he found every reason to stop over in Calgary.  Finally the travel became too much and they married, starting one of the most successful pairings in aviation history.
Art went into business in 1958 at Flabob (Riverside, California) as a flight instructor and moved his growing enterprise to Rialto (California) in 1978.  His work evolved to include Air Racing Formula One Racers, Air show Aerobatics and work in the movie business flying the camera platform in both helicopters as well as fixed wing aircraft. People have said that for years it seemed like you couldn’t see anything on the large or small screen with an airplane in it that didn’t have Art Scholl’s name in the credits.  He would work all week for the production companies and spend his weekends on the air show circuit.  He was so popular that he kept an airplane on the east coast and another one on the west coast to accommodate his packed schedule.  There are a couple of stunning videos of Art Scholl on YouTube, which demonstrate total mastery of his airplane and himself, by any standards.  One of his signature maneuvers was to end the show by flying back by the crowd, standing on the wing, flying the airplane with a control extension and waving to the crowd triumphantly.  He earned his PhD in Aeronautics and was the head of the Aeronautical Division at San Bernardino Valley College, pioneering the department that has since trained thousands of pilots and mechanics thanks to his hard work and vision.
There was a variety of planes that graced the Scholl hangars over the years, Art’s most famous airplane, the Super Chipmunk, is now in the Smithsonian Museum, as a tribute to his legacy and stature as a pilot.  Judy used her multi engine rating to fly a Seneca in the family business in support of Art’s air shows.  Even now she lights up when she remembers the years flying her Tiger Moth; the flight school owned a Piper Tomahawk used for aerial photography with the door removed, and she currently flies a Piper Archer for the sheer joy of flying.
Judy remembers Art as a genuine person who had no problem admitting when he had made a mistake.  One year, on a flight home from Oshkosh, Art was flying low taking photographs of his hometown to show her where he had lived as a boy. She was running the store at Rialto Airport where they owned a thriving flying school, maintenance operation, fuel concession and pilot shop.  Art called and said, “Judy, you know that money we were saving to put an addition on the cabin?  I spent it.”  Judy said “What do you mean you spent it?”  “Well,” he paused, “I crashed the Chipmunk.”  He explained that when he had finished taking pictures and had returned the camera to his briefcase, he had shoved the briefcase back into the front seat.  It had leaned the mixture and killed the engine.  The airplane was so low at the time that all he could do was set up to land in a cornfield.  Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the cornfield which a moment ago looked so welcoming, suddenly was all too obviously sporting a tightly secured barrier of power lines.  Art pulled up and stalled into the cornfield.  Not the landing he had imagined.  For years whenever the story came up, Art was always quick to acknowledge his errors, no excuses and no apologies.
Art pioneered many amazing aspects of aerobatics including a night routine which used a unique pyrotechnic display.  The first time he performed it was in response to a call from the Calgary Stampede.  They asked if he could do a night performance and he said yes, and then spent the next month figuring out how to make it happen. Later he performed a pyrotechnic night aerobatics routine around the St. Louis arch.  A spectacular photograph tracing the looping arcs of light hangs in the Art Scholl Aviation lobby at Rialto Airport.

Art Scholl in his Super Chipmunk above Highway 18 in the San Bernardino Mountains. This aircraft is now on display in the Smithsonian.

At the very young age of 53, Art lost his life while filming a POV sequence for the movie Top Gun.  He was out over the ocean off Carlsbad Airport doing flat spins, a maneuver he had performed successfully many times before.  The NTSB report listed the cause of the crash as Spatial Disorientation.  Judy said “It is one of those things, you could drive yourself crazy second guessing what might have happened but you can never really know and in the end, it doesn’t change the bottom line.”

Many people would have given up long ago in the face of loss and the everyday struggles of politics and the whims of government rulings beyond all reason and logic.  But Judy does not merely persevere, she thrives.  She rents airplane mock-ups to the film industry for movies, television shows and commercials.  Also as a part of Art Scholl Aviation at Rialto Airport she sells Chevron aviation fuel, rents hangar space, and has a well stocked pilot store with nationwide sectionals.
Judy says the greatest gift Art gave her is a love of aviation. She said that “to spend the day at the airport everyday is a great blessing”, she said it is like having her own private air show.  Her dream is to one day have a perfect flight, but she says, so far, as she mentally reviews each new adventure, she finds that there’s always room for improvement.  Art taught her that flying is about precision and if the pattern altitude is 2500 feet that doesn’t mean 2,450. She has always seen it that way, but her pure love of the sky is evident as she looks outside her hangar door and marvels at “what a great day it would be to go up and play in the clouds”. As the spring storm starts to break up over head she looks westward and says, “It going to be a beautiful sunset.”

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