Hall of Fame 1989 Robert L. Heuer

1989 – Robert L. Heuer

Included here are two “Sport Aerobatics” articles about Robert L. Heuer. The first is by son and later IAC President Mike Heuer on the occasion of Bob Heuer’s induction into the International Aerobatics Hall of Fame in 1989. The second is by Carlys Sjoholom in the 8 January, 1995 issue.


Aerobatics Hall of Fame

Induction Ceremonies - 1989


                              By Mike Heuer                                                          “Sport Aerobatics”, 8 December, 1989

For the third year in a row, the International aerobatic Club held induction ceremonies and an awards banquet for the International Aerobatics Hall of Fame. This program, begun by IAC in 1986, has become one of our most important and will be a keystone in the new aerobatic wing we hope will be built onto the EAA Aviation Museum in the next decade.

Since the beginning of the Hall of Fame, it has been a great honor to participate as a speaker at these ceremonies and to personally present the awards to the inductees or their families. To see the looks in their eyes, often filled with tears, as they are recognized for helping make our sport what it is today has been a real emotional experience for me. My strong feeling about properly honoring our sport’s pioneers has dedicated me to the building of the museum wing and the Hall of Fame which will be housed in it. It is imperative that we always remember those who have given us so much – and so often selflessly, without recognition, and without financial rewards.

Robert L. “Bob” Heuer

Bob was born in 1927 – the month Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic – and some of the excitement rubbed off. The son of a World War II pilot and a thirties barnstormer, Bob soloed a J-3 Cub in 1943. He’d been encouraged by both his father and uncle who had flown with the Inman Brothers Flying Circus.

In 1944, Bob enlisted in the US Marine Corps and picked up his goggles after the war. Through the GI Bill, he earned his pilot’s ratings and got into the cropdusting business with his father.

In 1953, he signed on with American Airlines, flying Convair 240’s out of Midway Airport in Chicago, and by the time he retired in 1987 he was flying international routes on the DC-10. With over 30,000 hours of flying time, he had so many type ratings it required two licenses to list them all.

It was his non-commercial flying, however, that he carried out in aerobatics and the administrative work he did that caused him to be honored by the Hall of Fame selection committee. It is fair to say that no one else has done as much as Bob Heuer to provide direction, help, and encouragement for the “grass roots” of sport aerobatics.

At a time when all of the focus in this country was directed toward the Unlimited category, Bob thought of the beginning, intermediate, and advanced level pilots and set up an organization that would provide opportunities for development, advancement, or specialization in different skill levels.

Unlimited is still there, of course, but without the efforts of Bob Heuer there wouldn’t be nearly as many and the sport would not have anywhere near the stature it enjoys today.

Robert L. Heuer distinguished himself and made a major contribution to the sport of aerobatics by becoming the founding President of what has become the world’s most popular and largest aerobatics association – the International Aerobatic Club. Believing strongly, as he did, in the value of making aerobatics accessible to more than Unlimited pilots, though he flew Unlimited himself, Bob worked with EAA to establish the IAC in 1970. He also set up three categories for pilots who were getting started in the sport – Sportsman, Intermediate, and Advanced, He was instrumental in launching SPORT AEROBATICS magazine, the IAC Chapter network, and the Technical Safety program. He logged many hours with Don Taylor, Jim Dees, Jim Lacey, and Mike Heuer to establish the first official contest rules book. To gain acceptance of their rules concepts, Bob flew around the country calling on luminaries in the sport and asking for their views.

Today, as a result of Bob’s vision and hard work, IAC boasts membership of over 5,000 from 40 countries and in 45 chapters. It is now the official aerobatic sanctioning arm of the National Aeronautic Association and, indirectly, the Federation Aeronautique Internationale in the United States. IAC has become a world center for communications, innovation, safety, and contest administration for this sport.

After retiring as IAC President in 1973, Bob remained active on the Board of Directors for several years and today is a Director Emeritus.

Active in the airshow industry as well, he was inspired by the Cole Brothers Air Show and began his aerobatic flying in the late 1940’s. He began flying regular airshow routines in 1965. His first aircraft was a Navy N3N that was rebuilt with help from his sons. In 1966, this airplane was sold and a Ryan ST-A was purchased from Bill Dodd, then Chairman of EAA’s Precision Flying Division, a predecessor to IAC. Work began on a Pitts S-1S shortly thereafter, with Bob purchasing one of the first sets of symmetrical wings from Curtis Pitts, and that aircraft flew in early 1969. In that year, Bob flew with the original “Red Devils” aerobatic team with Marion Cole and Gene Soucy and continued that flying until the aircraft was sold to Charlie Hillard in 1971. Charlie went on to win the World Aerobatic Championship in France in 1972 in that Pitts – N442X. “42 X-Ray” is now hanging in the atrium of the EAA Aviation Center in Oshkosh.

In later years, Bob flew a beautiful , highly – modified 450 Stearman and Pitts S-2A before his retirement from airshow flying.

Bob Heuer with Stearman in Oshkosh                                            photo from Mike Heuer

Robert Heuer

Champion of Grass Roots Aerobatics

By Carlys Sjoholom                                                                         “Sport Aerobatics”, 8 January, 1995

In the words of Mike Heuer, “Every new idea, every organization, every political or social or religious movement has always started with one person. The credit for this wonderful sport, which hundreds of people now participate in, has to rest with Dad. He had the courage to stand up and say, ‘This is what we’ve got to do,’ and then did it.” Bob Heuer’s son is not the only one who feels that the IAC would not exist today except for the personal vision and commitment of this father over 25 years ago. Just as EAA would not have happened without Paul Poberezney, the IAC in all likelihood would not have happened without Bob Heuer. His role in the formation of the IAC and as its first president is legendary.

Bob’s aviation background goes back a long way; the Heuers have been in aviation ever since Bob can remember. Both his father and his uncle were pilots. They bought a Monocoupe in March 1930 (Bob was 3 years old) which Bob still owns. Some of his original flight instruction was in that plane, but primarily he learned in a J-3 Cub. He started taking lessons at 14 and soloed in November 1943 when he was 16 years old. He continued the tradition by later teaching his sons to fly.

Bob and his father both served in WWII; his father as a liaison pilot for a few months, and Bob as a Marine Corps rifleman for nearly three years. It was while riding a troop ship on his way home in 1947, returning from a year and half in North China, that Bob discovered the key to his future. He saw an ad in a magazine which read “Learn to fly under the GI Bill.” “For me, the GI Bill was the greatest thing that ever happened,” he claimed. “I was coming home from the service and trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life. After reading this I knew what I was going to do. Within three weeks after I got home I had my private .license. That fall I started school and by January had a commercial license. By spring I had a flight instructor’s rating and I’ve been flying for a living ever since.”

During the war, Bob’s mother, an Illinois school teacher, saved money so that Bob (an only child) and his father could start a family business after the war. They settled on starting a crop dusting and spraying business in 1949, flying Stearmans. In 1953 Bob signed on with American Airlines, where he stayed until he retired in 1987.

Aviation was always his love, but aerobatics was a passion for Bob. He first learned the basics as part of training for his commercial rating. Aerobatics is no longer part of the commercial curriculum.

At about the same time, Bob became acquainted with Duane and Marion Cole and the Cole Brothers Airshow. Marion, the premier Stearman pilot in the world during this period, provided a tremendous inspiration for Bob. “I watched them develop various acts and I saw things I’d never seen done before. For example, Marion did outside square loops with the 450 Stearman. I saw the car-to-plane transfer and their car top landing. I saw the inverted ribbon pickup. The Cole brothers had more influence on me than anybody.” As an outgrowth of his observations, Bob developed the philosophy that for any airplane you fly, you ought to be able to do everything that it’s capable of and approved for.

In 1963 Bob bought a basket case Navy N3N which he and his sons, Mike and Mark, restored over the next two years. That’s when the Heuers began serious involvement with aerobatics. Soon all three became interested in competition and, after flying the N3N about a year, they sold it in July 1966 and bought a Ryan STA from Bill Dodd.

The 1966 contest at Harvard, Illinois, was Bob’s first competition. This season focused his intense devotion to the sport. At the time he began to compete there were only three categories; Primary, Advanced, and Unlimited. Bob never competed at the Primary level; he started with Advanced. He had aspirations of flying Unlimited and winning a position on the US Aerobatic Team. While the Ryan was a more competitive airplane that the N3N, especially after they hung a 200 hp Ranger engine on it, it still wasn’t enough.

When Bob watched Bob Herendeen and his Pitts N266Y at Rockford in 1968, practicing his freestyle for the World Aerobatic Championships in East Germany, he was amazed. It flew like no other plane of its time. This was when the symmetrical wing with four ailerons was brand new, and it was a tremendous advancement. It revolutionized the sport. Bob also had a chance to try out a Pitts Special. “After I flew it there was no way I as ever going to be able to settle for anything else. We’d have to have our own someday.”

Someday wasn’t very far away. After flying Unlimited with the Ryan in the 1968 Nationals, and not placing well, the Heuers made the leap to a Pitts. In 1968 they bought a fuselage, instrument panel, and some other parts from Bill Dodd. They bought the wings and the 180 hp engine from Curtis Pitts. Within 10 months – and for only $8,500 – the Heuers had themselves a flying Pitts Special. Bob explained what it was like to fly the Pitts, “Man, I’d think that with one of these I could be the next aerobatic champion of the world. You could just do anything with it.”

In fact, after flying it two years with the 180 hp engine, they put a 200 hp on the S-1S, and were the first to do that. When he sold the Pitts to Charlie Hillard a year later, Bob claims it was probably the best competition airplane in the United States at that time. He remembers, “I told Charlie that if he put 100 hours on that plane before he went to France for the World Aerobatic Championships, he would win the contest. He did just that. It was a matter of getting the right pilot with the right machine.”

In addition to flying aerobatic competition, Bob was an active airshow performer. He was one of the original members of the Red Devils Aerobatic Team, the forerunner to today’s Eagles Aerobatic Team. The Red Devils, consisting of Gene Soucy, Marion Cole, and Bob, debuted at the EAA Fly-in at Rockford in 1969. Bob flew with them for two seasons. The Red Devils continued for a few years after, with team members Gene Soucy, Charlie Hillard, and Tom Poberezny. Later in the 70’s the name was changed to the Christen Eagles.

Red Devils 1969

In the days that Bob was really getting into aerobatics, the contests were run by the Aerobatic Club of America (ACA), headed by “Pappy” Spinks. Bob and a number of other people were very unhappy at the autocratic and inconsistent methods employed by the organization. It was clear that the ACA was not interested in taking care of aerobatics in general, but rather only in running the Nationals and fielding a US Aerobatic Team for the World Aerobatic Championships. He felt that the ACA was not meeting the needs of the majority of the aerobatic community.

When Bob heard a rumor that Spinks was planning to step down as President of the ACA in 1969, Bob convinced Paul Poberezny to run for the position. A massive proxy drive campaign was launched from the Heuer residence to solicit proxies from the ACA members to allow Bob to vote for Paul as President, and also to initiate some major changes in operations and focus of the club.

When he arrived at the 1969 ACA annual meeting in Ft Worth, Texas, he was informed that the by-laws (which were not circulated among the members) stated that the Board of Directors elect the President, not the general membership. The proxies were of no use. Spinks did not step down as President and was re-elected. Furthermore, not one of the 13 resolutions Bob introduced were passed.

“All we ever really wanted was a fair shake,” explained Bob. “They had the meeting stacked against us. It was not a democratic process.” Bob Heuer was raised in the heartland of America. As Mike commented, “Dad always had a clear sense of right and wrong, fair and unfair. He also had a tremendous amount of courage and strength. He was willing to make a great personal sacrifices for the sake of doing what’s right.”

After the fiasco of that board meeting, Bob Heuer, Don Taylor, and Duane Cole, while sitting in a rental car in a restaurant parking lot in Ft. Worth, came to the conclusion that it was fruitless to try to work for change within the ACA and that a new aerobatics organization was needed. This parking lot discussion was the genesis of what would become the IAC.

So work began in the winter of ’69 and ’70 on the priorities. The IAC bylaws and the first rule book were written. Of primary concern to the founders was that the organization be structured in a democratic manner. Their philosophy was to create an organization committed to “grass roots aerobatics” (a term that was coined in the Heuer living room), oriented to the chapter level, and prepared to run regional contests.

Bob felt they could begin with the shell structure of the former Precision Flying Division, later Aerobatic Division of EAA – which were chaired by Bill Dodd and Jim Morgan, respectively during the late ‘60s. His plan was to create an active division of EAA that was devoted to aerobatics. In keeping with their philosophy, they followed EAA’s pattern of forming chapters and began holding regional competitions, leaving the Nationals and the US Team effort to the ACA.

The first IAC rule book was written to cover the four categories we have today: Sportsman, Intermediate, Advanced, and Unlimited. The founders felt the Primary/Advanced/Unlimited system set up by the ACA was inadequate in that there was too large a gap between Primary and Advanced, so the Intermediate level was introduced. Bob borrowed the term Sportsman from the local stock car race track’s entry level category, feeling it was a less insulting tem than Primary.

After the first draft of the IAC rule book was complete, Mike, Mark, and Bob took it on a ten day tour of the United States, stopping to meet with numerous aerobatic pilots like Paul and Tom Poberezny, Paul and Gene Soucy, Frank Morgan, Cotton Hodges, Bill Dodd, Curtis Pitts, Roscoe Morton, Bill Shepherd, Frank Price, and Dale Drummond. Receiving input from all of these people, they returned home, made some minor changes to the rule book, and took it to the printer.

They ran into an immediate firestorm of opposition from the ACA. Talks of merging the two clubs early in 1970 fell apart at a meeting Bob held in Chicago with representatives from the National Aeronautical Association (NAA) and ACA. However, in September 1970, the organizations came to an agreement which gave the ACA authority to conduct the US Nationals and field the US Aerobatic Team, and the IAC would handle all the rest of aerobatics. It was agreed that if the IAC wanted to hold an Unlimited competition, it would ask for the ACA’s sanction. So after this agreement, the IAC rule book covered only the first three categories. That’s how aerobatics worked for the next eleven years. In May 1982, after a renewed round of conflict between the ACA and the IAC, the NAA finally awarded the IAC the entire responsibility for sport aerobatics, and the ACA faded into obscurity.

Not only was Bob Heuer the catalyst which got the IAC started, but he was its first President and served for three terms. During his time in office, the energy was focused on establishing the business structure of the club and making it financially viable, setting up a network of regional chapters and contests, dissemination of information, and generally giving a structure to the sport which had not previously existed. Bob retired from the IAC Presidency in 1973 in order to enjoy some of the fruits of his labor; he wanted time again to fly his airplanes. He remained on the Board for several years, and continued to take an active interest in the club even after resigning from the Board.

One of Bob’s goals was to demystify the sport; he felt strongly that knowledge should be shared. Whether it be something mechanical or a technique for flying a maneuver, he felt the secrets should be eliminated. IAC members should adopt an attitude of helping each other. With that in mind, Bob initiated the Malfunctions and Defects program, with Bob Davis as its first chairman. Any information available on a technical or mechanical problem with aerobatic aircraft would be disseminated to the membership. That eventually evolved into the Technical Safety program. This program has resulted in virtually a complete elimination of pilot deaths due to technical problems with aircraft. It had a huge impact on the safety of the sport.

Under Bob’s presidency, Sport Aerobatics magazine was started in late 1971 as the vehicle for communication with the membership. Its first editor was Verne Jobst. Very quickly it became the means of sharing the information on pilot techniques, mechanical/technical problems, and safety.

The Achievement Award program was also initiated while Bob was President of the IAC. The idea was Verne Jobst’s, patterned after the Soaring Society’s Badge program. After it was put into place in May 1971, Bob immediately went out and flew for the smooth patches. He was the first member to earn them all.

One common complaint was the standard – or lack thereof – in judging. The first judges school was held at the Heuer strip in Illinois in late winter 1970, which 30 - 40 people attended. Dale Drummond, who was Chief Judge at the National, taught that first one. Although the schools in the first few years were a little unorganized, they were later formalized. Although judging quality is still a prevalent complaint, the judges school program has worked to improve the consistency and quality light years beyond what was typical prior to the IAC’s beginnings. It’s still one of the most important of the IAC’s programs.

In the first 30 days after the club was formed they had over 300 members. In the first year of the IAC, membership surpassed the 1,000 mark, proving beyond a doubt that it was an idea whose time had come.

Bob makes it clear that he did not accomplish the creation of the IAC alone. Although many people have contributed throughout the years, in the very beginning there was a solid core of committed individuals in the Chicago area who worked closely with Bob in getting this organization up and running. Don Taylor is well known still in the aerobatics world as an international judge and an active member of several EAA boards. He was highly experienced in aerobatics and was an excellent writer. Don wrote the entire chapter on judging standards for the rule book. Bob described Jim Lacey (now deceased) as a thoughtful man of vast common sense. Bob claims that he learned to listen very carefully to Jim Dees, who now lives in Florida. His ideas were always well thought-out, or he didn’t bring them up. These four comprised the initial driving force behind the club’s formation.

The entire Heuer family contributed to one degree or another in the success of the IAC. Mike was an integral part of the core group. Although he was only 20-years-old at the time, he was an active participant right from the start as a sort of office manager – handling the correspondence, performing clerical functions, and participating in the discussions and planning. According to Mike, “All of these men brought different talents to the organization. What I tried to do was collate all of this.” Mike’s mother, Martha, served as the equivalent of the Executive Secretary for years. Even Mike’s younger siblings, Mark and Mary, helped with getting out newsletter, setting up contests, and whatever else was needed. It’s fair to say that the formation of the IAC consumed all the spare time the Heuer family had in the early years. Now, only Mike is still actively involved in the IAC.

Bonnie and Tom Pobereny also spent many hours at EAA working to get the IAC up and running. “I’m not sure the IAC would have survived without EAA’s support,” remarked Bob.

Bob feels that the reason the IAC has survived for 25 years is because it was founded on the proper principles. It is a democratic organization open to all members, is non-profit, is structured on a “grass roots” chapter network, offers a series of competitions all around the country, has an effective monthly communications vehicle in Sport Aerobatics magazine, and encourages a free and open exchange of information among aerobatics enthusiasts. These are the ingredients which made it successful, and these basic ingredients survive to this day.

“I think we’ve accomplished what we set out to do,” said Bob. “All of our basic principles are intact. We developed the achievement program, the contest programs, the judges school program, the organizational structure itself. It’s what we wanted and it is serving well the needs of the aerobatic community.”

He feels that the IAC has a long and bright future. “As long as the bylaws and basic tenets are left intact, I think the IAC will enjoy another 25 years pretty easily. Aside from that, though, the club still has work to do. Keeping an organization like this going is not a stagnant job. It requires constant attention. For one thing, a close eye must be kept on the federal government at all time because they continually want to restrict our activities. The chapters and regional contest need to be kept alive through updating programs, keeping the lines of communication open with the chapters, and providing the guidelines they need. Of high priority is keeping the organization financially viable. Without a healthy bank account the club won’t survive and neither will the sport. One of the really positive aspects of aerobatics now is that new aircraft are in production like the Pitts and Decathalon, and variety of homebuilts are promising exciting things, like the One Design and the G-200.”

Mike summed up his father’s role in the formation of the IAC with these words, “If Dad hadn’t had the courage to say, ‘We’ve got to do this’, and then spent the next three years of his life organizing it, it wouldn’t have happened…period! Other people helped, like Dees, Lacey, and Taylor, who were absolutely essential. It was a combination of talents who helped Dad. But it was Dad who put his name on the line. As in all organizations, politics played a tremendous role. Dad knew that going up against the ACA would create such controversy that, no matter how successful, it would have long-term ramifications for him politically in the sport. But to him the welfare of sport aerobatics far outweighed any personal comfort or gain. He knew what was right and did it.”