Colleagues Mourn Stunt Pilot's Death

September 26, 1990|By Steve Groft | Steve Groft,SUN STAFF

Friends, colleagues and county officials remembered Jack B. Poage as a soft-spoken man with a keen sense of humor, an excellent pilot who preferred to let his aerobatic flying speak for him.

Poage, 62, was killed Sunday when the red-and-white 1989 Pitts S-2B biplane he was piloting crashed during an air show at Martin State Airport in Baltimore County.

Witnesses said the pilot apparently decided to add an extra spin to a three-spin diving stunt and was unable to pull out of the dive.

The single-engine plane slammed into a grassy field near the main runway on its belly.

"About another 20 or 30 feet of altitude and he would have been OK," said Bob Cadwalader, an airline transport pilot who witnessed the accident.

Rescue workers pulled Poage from the wreckage, and he then was transported to Franklin Square Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Maryland State Police, Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are all investigating the crash.

A Westminster resident, Poage was remembered not only for his flying skills but for his management skills in transforming what was once known as Westminster Airport -- a small facility with but one dirt runway -- into Carroll County Airport, which can accommodate corporate jets.

"You could not draw a line to separate Jack Poage from the airport," said Eileen Fisher, business and industry rep in the county's Economic Development Office. "Jack Poage was the airport, and the airport was Jack Poage."

Fisher said virtually everyone in the County Office Building was grieving for Poage, a man she described as "deeply spiritual."

"He had a little-boy charm that was real obvious, balanced with what he wanted people to see as a tough, quiet exterior," she said.

Skip Amass, who worked with Poage in planning the recent Sky Spectacular air show at Carroll County Airport, said Poage devoted his entire life to the air industry and air shows.

"He was a very quiet and gentle type of man," Amass said. "Yet when he got behind the controls of one of those aerobatic planes, he could make that thing talk."

He said Poage, a stickler for planning, always stressed the importance of safe flying in meetings with fellow pilots before air shows.

"I was privileged to be in a number of pilot meetings before air shows," he said. "I heard him say over and over, 'Don't do anything different. Don't change your routine.' He would tell the pilots, 'Remember, the ground doesn't fly.' " "I just don't think he would do that (add another spin to the stunt). He would stay exactly in his routine."

But fellow pilot and business partner Peter Welles said he has seen Poage do the stunt with both three and four spins and doesn't think the additional spin was the cause of the crash.

"I'm not so sure that fourth spin was so surprising," he said.

"The only thing that makes sense to me, and I wasn't at the show, was that it was a gusty wind. If you had a tail wind gust when you were trying to pull up, it could cause trouble."

Welles said Poage excelled as an instructor, an examiner and a pilot. Welles is an adviser to Westair Inc., the firm Poage and his wife, June, set up to manage the airport. He is also a partner in Westair Hangars, a company that builds airplane hangars.

"He was an extraordinary man, and this is an extreme loss," Welles said. "He had a quiet competence with a keen sense of humor, and you don't find that often."

Mike Evans, director of the county's Permits and Regulations Department, agreed.

"He had a very good dry wit and was a good joke-teller," he said.

"You could see him sparkle when he told one. Almost all of our meetings would start with him telling a joke."

County Commissioner Jeff Griffith said Poage's death is "a real loss to the community."

"He had a glint in his eye whenever I saw him," Griffith said. "He was a key figure in the commercial success of the airport. A significant part of the growth there is a reflection of his and his wife's business skills and making customers want to come back."

Poage's funeral will be at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Thomas D.

Fletcher and Son Funeral Home in Westminster.

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