Print Print Email Email Share Share

William A. Barber

William A. Barber


Achiever, visionary, showman, historian and pilot extraordinaire, Bill Barber was a man for all aviation seasons and a model of unfailing professionalism and talent.

Destined to spend a lifetime in the cockpit, Barber's illustrious career got off to an early start in 1936 with his first solo flight in his native Minnesota at age 11. Later, he became a commercial airline pilot and logged more than 30,000 hours of pilot-in-command time.

Having deep respect and affection for the bygone barnstormer era, Barber soon set his sights on becoming a top-tier stunt pilot. Over an airshow career that spanned 25 years, he developed a soaring repertoire of acts that thrilled audiences coast to coast. He entertained hundreds of thousands with dead-stick sequences, a rope ladder pickup, car-top landings, team aerobatics, skywriting, wingwalking and comedy crowd-pleasers.
Barber was an inveterate collector of showplanes. His diverse fleet included a Clipped Wing Cub, Curtiss Flacon, Bucker Jungman, Pitts Special S-IS and a powerful Black Wasp Boeing Stearman known as the "Black Baron." Amazingly, Barber one performed 14 different aerobatic airshow acts during a two-day Chicago show, shifting between aircraft of varying flight characteristics with ease and earning a well-deserved reputation as "Aerobatic Flying's Renaissance Man."

His renowned spread to include the international arena. In 1962, he captained the first United States Aerobatic Competition Team in Budapest. Barber shaped the future of airshow entertainment and competition by serving as the first United States representative to the International Aerobatics Rules meeting in Paris. Invited by ranking Washington, D.C. officials, he also played a pivotal role in the formation of the Aerobatics Division of NAA.

Barber was awarded the Wilkenson Sword of Excellence and has been inducted into the Airshow Hall of Fame and the Aerobatics Hall of Fame. In his honor, the Bill Barber Award for Showmanship is presented to an outstanding airshow personality each year at EAA's AirVenture Show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin-the world's premier aviation event.

An authentic, modern-day hero, Bill Barber's legacy endures as one of the most colorful chapters in the long and glorious history of aviation. He was enshrined in the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame on October 11, 2003.

Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program