Aerobatic Hall of Fame – Inducted in 1998
By John Morrissey IAC 3238
Harold Neumann was active in aerobatics for 50 of his 65 year involvement in aviation. An Illinois farm boy, he taught himself to fly. In 1935, he won the Thompson Trophy Race and the Grieve Race. He was then awarded the Collier Trophy for outstanding aviation accomplishments and named “Air Race Pilot of the Year.” During his days as a barnstormer, he flew an OX-5 Travel Air.
Over 50 years of flying aerobatics, he toured the United States demonstrating aerobatics in his Howard Mike racer. Many long-time IAC members best remember Harold while he was in his 70’s – actively competing (and occasionally winning in the Sportsman category), flying his Monocoupe “Little Mulligan.”
Neumann was an airline captain for TWA flying 707’s throughout his career. He died in 1995.
I once heard Marion Cole call him the ‘humblest man I know.” His wife called him Harold. I called him dad once, but I don’t think he heard me. I met him at a country airstrip on a cold day during the third week in November of ’73. He was having his annual “end of the flying season” get-together. I knew when I first met him that he was a special sort of person – quietly self-confident, at ease with himself and his environment and in love with the sky. I found in this gentleman the unique quality of agelessness, a pleasant mixture of the old and the new with the mind and hreart of a young man. This was just one of the priceless gifts that he was to pass on to me – the ability never to fear age (Apparently it has nothing to do with getting old).
I left that day with an invitation to return. When I did the following spring, it was in may own ship. I had heard that he was going to be at his strip on Sunday. Since his arrival time was usually indefinite, I landed there about 10 in the morning and waited under my Starduster’s wing. It can get hot in Kansas, even in May, and this was one of those Mays when the insects never slept. He showed up about two o’clock. No, he didn’t remember me, but was glad I had come. The exact events of the day escape me, but I do know that I watched him fly and then began, after 17 years of flying, to try to learn to fly myself – not merely to drive an airplane, but to really fly in the sky.
I came to the “strip” often – to watch and to listen,. As time passed, he remembered my name. I remember too, although my memories of that magic plot of ground – an austere 1,800 foot grass runway – are not as clear as I would like. I remember the day his engine quit. He was taking off south into a right quartering head wind of 20 knots and was two-thirds of the way down the strip at about 200 feet, perhaps less, when the Warner quit. I’m perfectly prepared to admit that his 360 degree turn to the left with a touch down on the runway, directly under the spot where the engine stopped, is (of course) impossible. He did it, though, and acted like nothing unusual had happened. I knew then for certain what I had always suspected – he flew a magic airplane under a very special set of rules. Rules earned and reserved for a special few by a jealous and demanding sky.
In the fall of ’75, he was sick – a kind of deep cough that he could not seem to shake. It did not keep him in bed, although it probably should have. We decided to go to the Nationals that year, cold and all. I flew his wing from Kansas to Texas. I don’t remember the details of the contest, but I vividly recall the bad weather day when he talked to me from 10am till four in the afternoon about flight – about testing propellers by timing two-way runs over section lines at full throttle to find the most efficient blade angle; about letting down through 10,000 feet of Georgia overcast on a magnetic compass to find a strip and get some gas; about soloing, with no dual, in a Jenny (his Jenny); about his wife, Inez, who towed his racing plane behind a car to airshows while he flew the other one; about his win in the Thompson Trophy Race in 1935; about his landing Mr. Mulligan after the race (it was only his second landing in the plane); about the Constellation (two engines out on one side) he landed in a Texas wheat field at night with a full load of passengers and no damage to the plane or injuries to the passengers (oh yes, those special rules again).
Later that winter, in December, he took me to Florida for a contest. We flew down on the airline and drove out to Fly For Fun in Tamiami. I’m certain that the only reason Bill Thomas let me fly the S-2 was because of Harold. His cough and cold were still bad, but he battled it, did well in the contest and by spring, he was healthy again.
That would have been ’76 (41 years after he won the Thompson). He did very well that year – won at Kansas City and placed high at Council Bluffs where he was chief judge. It was a hot contest, about 100 degrees on a black asphalt ramp. He was on the judging line when he wasn’t flying his two Sportsman flights. As a finale, he flew in the airshow. I flew once and judged that day, and buy mid-afternoon I was ready for a cold shower. He flew his second flight after judging all morning, beat us all and went to the bar that night. Come to think of it, I cannot ever remember him looking tired.
We went to the Nationals again in ’76. That was the year the Warner swallowed a valve guide and destroyed the cam (kept on running, though). Casey Kay lent him his S-2, and with no practice at all, he almost won. I left him after the contest and flew home – left him with Don Ort to breathe new life into the White Ghost. (Why didn’t I stay with him ’til the job was done?)
After that, we went to many contests together, but saw each other less over the years. I grew to feel that a contest was never a real contest with out the ‘Coupe tied down on the ramp and the solid drone of the Warner in the sky. Some at tour contest were always aware of him, a few knew he was there but seemed puzzled by his presence, and a very small group remained totally unaware (think what they missed)!
As for me, I’ll always remember that God may have given me the sky, but it took a gentle man in a white Monocoupe to show me how to enjoy it.