The Loss of Our Friend Bob ‘BRB’ Woolley 7 comments


The below was written by Dan Weseman, and this is his ‘Bob Woolley Story’.

Many of you have probably heard about the loss of our friend Bob Woolley in an airplane incident a few weeks ago.  I wanted to take some time to put a few thoughts down.  Please understand that I’m not a ‘writer’ and a lot of emotions are swimming around in my head right now, so you are going to have to bear with me.

This is not a report on what happened.  All that really matters is the two most skilled pilots I know, Bob Woolley and Dave Dollarhide, went out for a morning of flying in their RV-4s, they had a mishap, and Bob Passed away.  Dave is doing well and, in time, is expected to make a full recovery.  I want to take a second to express (if possible) that as sad as I am, I’m so very thankful that Dave survived.  It would have been almost unbearable if both Dave and Bob had passed away at the same time.  Also, I’m very thankful that Dave and Bob were together on a beautiful morning doing something they both love.  I don’t know the etiquette on expressing an emotion like this, but this is how I feel.

Bob in the RV-4 and Dave in the A4

I started out wanting to write something to perfectly describe Bob, but after staring at the screen for hours realize that it’s not possible.  So, I decided to write my story Of Bob.

So here is my (Dan Weseman’s) “Bob Woolley Story”.  I may get a date wrong or some small details, but I will tell it how I remember it and it starts at a pretty young age.  At a time in my life where dates and exact events didn’t really matter.  I was about 13 when I first meet Bob.

It starts at a place now called “Haller Airpark”, 7FL4 on the chart, and for me “Home”.  Haller is a small 2600 ft. grass strip in North Florida.  Haller Airpark deserves its own “Dan Weseman Story”, as much of my life to this point has transpired here. For this story just know that Haller is place of family and friends, of dreams both realized, and yet to come.

In 1987 my Uncle Bob Weseman (just Uncle Bob to many) bought some ‘Florida swamp land’ on the south end of Haller Airpark.  That started a steady string of trips from where we lived at the time (about 25 miles away) out to the ‘Airpark’.  Most weekends I would go with Uncle Bob to Haller to do some clearing or set some drain pipes, but mostly to watch airplanes fly and hope to I could beg ride.

I remember one Saturday morning a Pitts S1C taxied out and did a ‘max performance climb’.  It ran about 400 ft. then immediately pitched up at a 35 degree nose up angle and climbed impossibly steep.  It was already above pattern altitude before he reached the end of the runway.  At this stage in my life I was deep into model airplanes, and the only thing I had ever watched that climbed this steep at Haller was one of my overpowered models.  Uncle Bob said “I think that is Bob, the guy that built the new house up the road.  I meet him last week, he has 3 airplanes.”  In my mind this is when I met Bob. I watched him fly the Pitts, and I was enthralled.  This wasn’t some guy at an air show, but a guy at our airstrip, a “neighbor”.  I was barley a teenager and little did I know that I would do the same thing for the next 30 years whenever I watched him take one of his machines to the sky.  Even in my wildest fantasy I didn’t suspect he would do it in an airplane I designed someday.

Later that day we stopped by his hangar, and I was a bit awe struck.  Mr. Woolley (I was a polite 13-year-old) had just retired from the USAF.  He had flown the mighty F-4 Phantom, he had a pretty wife, (I later learned she had him…) two Corvettes, several motorcycles, a speed boat, a Pitts, a T-18, a Mustang II, and was building a Glasair 1TD.  As a funny side bar – I was about 25 when Bob politely said “Hey Dan, can you please call me Bob instead of Mr. Woolley”… I don’t think I have ever been able to address Mrs. Woolley as “Sandy”.

Anyway, Bob turned out to be a really ‘approachable down to earth guy’.  I would wander up to his hangar and probably ask him a million questions, but he always was ready with a smile and would take a few minutes out of his build time to sit and talk with me.  I got a ride in his T-18 first, then a few months later his Mustang II.  It’s funny – we now have 15 or so RV–#s based at Haller, but at the time only one RV-4 was being built.  I remember asking Bob about it, and he said, “too slow”.  T-18s, Mustang IIs and his current build, a Glasair 1 TD, were all about 20 mph faster on the same HP than the RVs.  He later joined the RV team, as so many were at our field, to be able to “turn with them” and do formation work etc. In 1991 he finished up his Glasair and I remember watching him do the test flying in it.  He flew it about a year in primer then painted it his standard Glasair paint scheme, white with a red stripe.  It is N18SJ, and the first airplane I went over 250mph in.  He also pulled 5.8 Gs with me in it I and ‘greyed out’.  I knew I’d have one someday.  And I did – this exact airplane.   But that’s much further in this story.…

Bob Woolley and one of his Glasair’s he built

A few months after his Glasiar was painted something weird happened.  I had just turned 16 and I could drive myself down to Haller.  I swung in to see him, and another lump of white molded fiberglass was sitting in the hangar and he was inside cutting away on it.  I waited a few minutes and he crawled out. He enthusiastically said, “Hey big guy!”, (at 16 I was 6ft and 185 lbs..) and he proceeded to explain “Woolley household rule #1”.  You see, Bob retired from the USAF at around 49 years old.  I guess he must have done Ok as they had a lot of toys… But Mrs. Woolley worked in the ‘IT’ field.  He said Woolley Household rule #1 was he wasn’t “allowed” to sit around and do nothing all day.  He could have a project (airplane) or get a job.  A side requirement was that either he have dinner ready when Mrs. Woolley got home, or he take her out to dinner.

So, he was building what we later referred to around Haller as the “Big Glasair”.  He pulled up a chair and went on to explain that he was going to put a 260hp parallel valve Lycoming 540 in it, instead of the standard 180hp 4 cylinder.  I remember my first ride in that Glasair, it felt like an airliner taking off and climbing at 3000 ft per minute @ 130 kts!  Somewhere in this time I started taking flying lessons.  My Dad had sold the family 7AC “champ” project and uncle Bob was still a few years from finishing his 20-year PA-22 Tri-Pacer restoration.  Dad and Uncle Bob went together and bought a C150 for us to fly. We parked it on Bob Woolley’s neighbor’s vacant lot (instead of down in the swamp …and that’s another story).

I pulled up to Bob’s hangar and he seemed irritated with some issue on the current Glasair project.  He said what you are doing “big guy” and I said I was going to go fly the C150.  To my surprise he asked if he could go with.  So, we took off and flew around, did some stalls and emergency procedures, then some landings etc.  I think I had about 10 hrs total time at this point.  We came back and began my first of many flying debriefs with Bob.  We sat down, and I asked what I did wrong, etc.  He was very positive and said “You have a nice, light, fluid touch on the airplane, you know the systems well.  Keep flying like that, and fly as often as you can, and you will be ready for your own Glasair in no time.” At the time I was very proud of myself ….  but looking back it reminds me that positive reinforcement is a much better motivator than negative.

Bob was more than airplanes though.  Bob had done some dirt bike racing and was big into racing boats (hydroplanes) for a while, and he and Mrs. Woolley were into Scuba Diving as well. He gave me some interesting things to think about at times. I was maybe 19 or so, had a pretty good job and walked into his hangar and told him I was thinking of buying a jet ski.  He said hmmm, you should think about that. I said Ok?….  He proceeded to explain that riding a jet ski with an attractive bikini clad girl holding on for dear life behind you would certainly be fun.  But If I bought a small, fast, inexpensive boat, I could carry me and 4 or 5 attractive bikini clad young ladies…

He had the same logic at the time for airplanes.  I once told him I think I like tandem aircraft better than side-by-side. He said no way – side-by-side was the way to go.  I thought this was weird coming from a F-4 guy.  Bob’s explanation = “You’ve seen my wife (correctly implying she was pretty).  I want her sitting next to me, so I can pat her leg and see her pretty smile” … Woolley was a smart man.

Back to the boats.  It turned out Bob had his little 15 ft Skeeter Bowrider boat with a hopped up 90Hp Marnier on it for sale.  I bought it and he spent half a day out on the water showing me how to use it and taught me how to trim it correctly.  It would do 65 MPH with ease.  He showed me the dangers of driving too fast and how to avoid “walking the chins” with it.  I loved that boat, and he was right.   You could put myself and 4 bikini clad young ladies on it!

Bob also had a serious side, and he was easy to talk to.  I think I was about 20 when I was moping around due to break up with a girl.  He noticed me next door with a RC airplane.  I was just sitting looking at the runway and he walked over.  He asked, “What’s up Big Guy?”  So, I explained.  He thought for a minute and said, “You don’t want to hear this, but a year from now it won’t matter.”  I kind of gave him a look, and he grinned and said “Well – it won’t”.  So, I asked “Well then, what should I do for the next 6 months?”  He said buy an airplane (no he didn’t have one for sale).  I didn’t really have the money at the time, but I said I was thinking of getting an ultra-light to play around with.  They are cheap and it seemed fun.  He said “Go see the new guy, Alex.  He just bought a Phantom and I flew it last week. It’s not a Glasair, but sure was fun.”   So, I went in search of Alex – the guy with the Phantom.  And within about 6 weeks I had my own.  Alex and I had a blast for several years terrorizing North FL in our Phantoms. Of course, Woolley was correct about the year later…

One morning I pulled up to Bob’s hangar an noticed he was standing out by the runway.  I walked out and to my surprise N18SJ was just on short final.  He had just sold it, and checked out the new owner, who was doing a few more landings solo because our strip was a bit longer than his.  As he climbed out the final time and headed south I said to Bob “That’s kind of sad.” Bob said “nah”, and he pointed in the Hangar where his ‘big glasair’ was sitting.  He said “That thing will make you happy!  Let’s chase him down!”… and so we did.

I can’t remember exactly what year it was, but soon after this I pulled up to Bob’s hangar and what do I see?  Another lump of white molded fiberglass.  But I could tell this was a little longer, a Glasair II S.  I knew his plans for this and was excited to go talk to him.  But my excitement quickly faded.  The Glasair was to be his new project, but it was still on the trailer because he was taking it down to South FL where he and Mrs. Woolley were moving to.  She was moving down on a lucrative work deal “too good to pass up”.  I smiled and asked if he needed any help moving etc,.  Then made my way to my car.  I had a Mustang 5.0 GT at the time (and still do).  I rolled my windows down and just cruised home.  I was kind of shocked and very disappointed.  I had never considered that Bob would move away!  He had become the glue that held our field together.  I don’t think I ever really expressed to anyone how disappointed I was.  I was just getting to a point where I had the time and money to maybe afford a hotrod airplane that I could really go play with Bob in.  And now he was leaving… In some ways I feel the same today, but with much more emotion.  I didn’t know then that my “Woolley” story was really just beginning, he would move back to Haller and we would have many years to fly together (not enough), but now I know he’s not coming back.

Bob’s saying was “Carry on at a High Rate of Speed”, along with a little salute.  He said this like we would say “see ya later”.  It was his exit line.  So, while Bob was gone I did what Bob would do and built an airplane, and a house and hangar at Haller.  I also met Rachel, got married and had some kids…  Uncle Bob let me fly the freshly restored Tri-Pacer as much as I wanted.  I built a Sonex and powered it with a hopped up Corvair conversion.  This kind of pointed me down a path that put me designing airplanes today.  During this time, we had a group of 4 Navy pilots build a hangar at Haller. Now Haller had some RV-S on it.  Dave Dollarhide with his RV-4, Pat Lee with an RV-7, and Dizzy with his RV-6.  It was great.  I was able to do some of the flying with these guys that I always wanted to do with Bob.  I started building a RV-4 kit into a Harmon Rocket, but stalled out due the realization of cost, and that my friends all had 180 HP in their RVs.  At some point I sold the Sonex and the rocket project, got a standard RV-4 project and finished it up.  I was “carrying on at a high rate of speed”, just like Bob always said to.

Somewhere in this time I heard the news circulating around the airpark that Woolley had bought a lot at Haller and was coming ‘home’.  While he was away he had finished the Glasair IIS, an F-1 rocket, did a bunch of test flying of a Stewart S-51 (P-51 replica) etc.  When he finally came back, he had another project under construction…. not a Glasair, shock of all shocks.  It was an RV-4.  It seems he “heard” about all the RVs at Haller – having fun and he wanted to ‘play’ with the boys when he moved back.  I was very excited to see his ‘new big Glasair (300+ hp angle valve 540)’ dust off the runway the first time at 270 Mph.  In just a few months his RV was flying, and we proceeded to have a great time around Haller.  I didn’t fly as much as the others in Dreamland because I worked full time, and these guys were all retired.  But I did fly often with them and I have really enjoyed it and learned a lot.

Bob is in the primer grey RV4 out flying formation with the guys.

The next few years at Haller were really a fantastic time.  A lot of flying, and the group we call Dreamland was really solidified.  Trips out west for airplane camping, $100 hamburger runs, and Saturday flying that sometimes had 10 planes in the air.  It was not too long after his RV-4 was finished, and Woolley household rule #1 went into effect again, so he built another Glasair.  This time he knew it would be for sale fairly quickly, so he built a tri-gear.  Toward the end of his Glasair Tri-gear build I stared getting the itch for a new project.

I really wanted more out of the experience and to learn some new things.  I could do all forms of welding, composite work, sheet metal etc., but wanted to do something a bit different.  After kicking around what to build, for some reason I decided I would build my own design. I did it more for a learning project than to get an airplane. I bought a CAD program and pulled out a bunch of aerodynamic and structures books and off I went.  At first, I kept it kind of quiet and intended only to build one for myself.  But after a few months some simple 3 view drawings were ‘leaked and things got out of hand quick.  It’s still kind of a blur how the next few years unfolded.

One day Bob pulled up on his dirt bike at my hangar and said “Hey big guy, I heard a rumor…” I was like uh oh…  So – he listened to my idea and looked over my design at that point and said, “that looks good”.   He was thinking of building a RV-3 next but if this works out he would build one of these.  I remember walking into my home office thinking he must be nuts, but honestly was pretty excited that Bob thought what I was working on was really interesting.  After we completed load testing of the Panther wing and tail Bob came up and said “Hey big guy – I need help.  Woolley household rule #1 is taking effect. I know you’re not ready to sell kits, but can you get me anything to work on?  I don’t want to go to Home Depot for a job.”  After assurances that he would be OK with the pace and understood that it all depended on the flight testing, Bob, along with Tony Spicer, started building their own Panthers as fast as I could supply them parts.

The Panther Pilots – Bob Woolley, Dan and Tony Spicer

It was A CRAZY time in my life.  I was working installing technical equipment, being a husband and a dad, building an airplane, and making parts for two others.  Somehow, we built the prototype in about 13 months of calendar time, but I had several months where I worked/traveled too much to get anything done.  During the final stages of Panther prototype construction N18SJ, the original Glasair TD Bob built came up for sale.  He told me about it and Rachel and I ended up buying it.  It hadn’t flown in about a year, so Bob offered to fly it back to Haller for me and check it out.  I was driving the 30 miles back from the airport it was at and Bob flew it home in about 4 minutes.  When I pulled in to our hangar she and Bob were just taxing up from a flight in it.  Rachel brags that she flew in it before me.  I always forget to remind her I had flown it 20 years earlier.

Rachel with Bob Woolley in her first flight in N18SJ

As we finished the Panther project and started production, I flew the Glasair on and off, upgraded the landing gear and added a constant speed prop, as well as relocating the rudder pedals.  I didn’t fly it as much as I hoped but was pretty busy with ‘life’.  Last year I sold it.  I needed something to fly with Rachel and our sons in, so we now have a Maule M-5.  I’m really glad I had the chance to own and fly N18SJ.  On several occasions Bob and I flew formation and did some ‘tail chase’ with N18SJ and his ‘new Big Glasair’, literally a dream come true for me.  Also, it led to me winning the ‘game’.   In all the years I had flown at Haller with Bob I only won this game once. I guess I should explain.

Bob loved to play a game.  I don’t ever remember actually referring to it by a name.  The basic idea was to ‘sneak’ up on one of the other pilots and park about 150ft in trail and see how long it would take to get noticed.  If he got bored he would come up on the radio and say something like “looking good up there”, and you knew he got you.  Bob was very sneaky, he would ride around Haller on his dirt bike looking for hangar doors open to see who was out flying.  It took me about 5 years to figure out how he could find me without being seen.  He knew my routine.  I would commonly go fly for about 30 minutes, head down to a local airport for fuel, then come home and do some acro before landing.  Somehow, he would always ‘jump’ me right as I was getting near our field, but I never saw him.  His trick was to take off as soon as I headed south for fuel.  He would climb to about 5k ft and cross over the airport as I landed for fuel and orbit about 5 miles south listening to the radio.  I would take off and head north to Haller and he, having speed and altitude, had no problem sliding up behind me. He didn’t do it every flight, about once or twice a year or so.  It got to the point that I could sense him behind me, the hair on my neck would stand up and I would call on the radio “looking good up here”, and he would laugh.  At some time or other he ‘got’ most everyone at Haller, and upon meeting pilots from the other airparks he lived while he was away he had gotten them too.

Like I said I got him once.  He forgot I was keeping the Glasair in our friend Steve’s hangar.  So, he surveyed the airpark and didn’t see my door open.  I was out flying and heard him announce he was back taxing.  I set it up perfectly and dropped in about 300 ft behind him at initial climb out.  I followed him around for about 5 minutes before he noticed the extra shadow on the ground behind his.  He says on radio “All right you got lead. Drag me by”, meaning we would do a low approach with me in the lead. Great fun.

So, I did the first flight in N515XP the protype Panther, and Bob flew chase in his RV-4 with our close friend Chris Smith in the back seat taking photos.  Bob did a great job, I never had to worry about where he was.  I just flew my test card and he was there if I needed anything.  He positioned perfectly for photos.  All went well and I did the next 3-4 flights.  With the basic systems, reliability and stability checked, it was Bobs turn.  He made about an hour-long flight and was all smiles when he returned.  He was very enthusiastic, but before we left the hangar he said, I need more parts so we can have two Panthers up there.  Bob did about 25 more Hrs of testing In N515XP.  He and I did a very thorough test phase in 39 days.  We each tried to fly one-hour test hops each day.  But my work and weather made it hard.  Oshkosh wasn’t too far away, and we wanted to get N515XP painted along with a new EFIS/EIS system installed.  Bob also tested the endurance.  One day near the end of the test program Bob flew 4.5 hrs in one flight.  We would not have made Oshkosh with a beautiful airplane that had been so well tested without Bobs ‘iron butt’.  Bob was quickly completing his Panther as well. He would have been finished much sooner, as I held him up while juggling making parts, drawing plans and working.  I know he was frustrated at times, but he always maintained a positive attitude and encouraged me to keep at it. Telling me to “Carry on a High Rate of Speed”.  Bob’s panther was the second to fly.  It is the ‘Lycoming prototype’.  It’s a really attractive airplane.  Bob did the first test flights, and he let me fly it some.  I will say it was very satisfying to have him trust me with his airplane.  Bob really loved the Panthers.  Mainly due to his accolades and assistance we now have 8 Panthers at Haller.  He flew his Panther to Oshkosh, Deland and SNF multiple times, stood in the booth talking with builders and customers about Panthers for hours.  He was always willing to help another builder/ pilot on a project, and he really was an ambassador for Panthers.

Woolley and his Panther #1 that he built – what an awesome hot-rod paint job!

I guess it is time for me to try and tell the story of the scariest day of my life and how Bob helped me through it.  Early in the Panther test program I was ‘messing’ with elevator control ratios and the resulting stick forces and ‘feel’.  I had just completed the test, all was well, and I decided to have some fun.  I did some acro and was entering a spin.  I had just pulled full back to get a clean break and the stick assembly comes loose and hits me in the chin. OH CRAP…. The airplane slowly lowered the nose and started some slow nose up down cycles as it returned to trimmed airspeed.  At the time I had no idea what ‘broke’.   All I knew was that the elevator and ailerons were not attached to anything.  I was terrified.  As a rule of test flying we always had a ground crew with a radio and would check in as test progressed.  Paul and Rachel were manning the radio.  It took about 30 seconds to realize I could sort of maintain control with the mechanical elevator trim and rudder.  I found a setting that let me do a gentle climb.  I tried to be calm, pressed the push to talk button and said “Panther Test Flight Ground Crew, I’ve got a problem.  All is OK for the moment” and to my surprise I hear Bob’s voice “Panther Test Flight what’s the issue?”  I said, “I have no elevator or aileron control.” He said “I’m sliding up on your right wing and will give you plenty of room.  At first, I thought he was talking on his hand held in his hangar.  As I looked right and saw him about 200 ft out I realized he was “playing the game” waiting for me to finish my testing so he could jump me.  I was so relieved to have him there.  To make a really long story short he asked, “what are you thinking?”, and I tell him I plan to bailout.  I always fly with a chute when I’m by myself in any airplane.  We talk over the plan, what area would be good, my plan for getting out of the plane.  The ground crew would coordinate with emergency services etc.  I had about 2.5 hours of fuel on the plan so Bob suggested we just keep flying a bit if I could control it.  I was fine with that as I kind of had a system to control it, and I wasn’t really thrilled with the thought of becoming a skydiver.  I played with settings.  Flaps power etc., and after about an hour of retraining myself to fly with only trim and rudder, it almost seemed possible to land it.  I said “Bob, this may sound dumb but I kind of think it may be possible to land this thing”.  He said “OK, a question – are you more afraid of the plane or of the parachute?”.  I thought for a minute then told him parachute.  He suggested a trial approach down to 4000 ft and then a go around to see if we got close the ground and if things went bad, if a climb to parachute altitude was possible.  So, I did, and it was possible.  But I had to be very gentle with power and trim.  I explained to Bob, and he paused for a few seconds then said, “Ok – Big guy – Your one of the most naturally talented pilots I’ve ever flown with.  If you think you can land it – I’m sure you can. I will be with you the entire way.”  And he was.  All worked out fine.  It was hard to keep mentally composed and calm.  It took about 30 minutes to gently descend from 6k ft to the runway, but I got it within 5 ft. of the ground and more or less 0 sink rate with about 4K ft runway remaining.  I remember at that point thinking I would probably live if I just let it plop down on the ground, and at that exact moment Bob says “looking great – just a few more feet.  You got it”.  I pulled tiny bit of power and slowly pulled full aft trim.  The mains touched a little before the tail wheel, so it bounced, and I was along for the ride. All I could do was keep it straight with the rudder.  After about 3 bounces they started getting smaller and smaller, then I was just rolling down the runway.  As I taxi to the ramp, Bob does a tight pattern and lands.  He jumps out walks up and looks inside airplane grabs the stick and sees it is truly not functional.  He says, “That is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen, I wouldn’t have believed it if I wasn’t here”.  He then turns to me and says “Rachel is going to be freaked out. Let her be – don’t try and be all macho, she needs to get it out”.  He then told me I needed to go fly as soon as I could.  I could come fly his Panther or RV if I wanted, but don’t wait too long.

Dan and Bob Woolley – debriefing

In the end the control problem was twofold. A bearing failed in the stick assembly, and I had not installed the ‘safety’ washers to keep the assembly together if the bearing failed.  Both individually were small items but combined resulted in a terrifying situation.  (I should mention to any Panther builders that only the prototype used these bearings and all others have a much more robust bearing).  I was so thankful Bob was there with me – on my wing.  It was very calming to not be alone.  I don’t know exactly how things went in Bobs and Dave’s incident, but I feel a tiny bit better that he had Dave with him.

For the last 5 years I, and the whole team at SPA, spent a lot of time with Bob, and our other “Panther friends”.  We made videos, flew to and hung out at airshows together, and even though I was slammed running my little airplane company we did some fun flying around Haller.  Anyone who’s has been on our web site can see this.  Bob was actively involved with building at least 6 Panthers.  He was almost finished building a second one of his own.  Maybe some how it will get finished up, and it would be an honor to get to fly it.

Bob, Rachel and Dan

As I sit here and re-read what I have written above, it seems so short.  I should be able to write much more.  But above is not the entire story of Bob, just a few highlights about a really big man from this one ‘kid’s’ perspective.  He was a husband, father, grand father and friend to many.  My stories above could be paralleled by literally a hundred other pilots and builders who have their own “Bob Woolley Story”.

Our airstrip has been virtually silent for the past few weeks.  Those close to Bob were just too sad to fly.  But slowly we started.  One of Bob’s closest friends, Steve Pedano Panther SN 6, gathered the desire to go fly.  I watched him take off, fly for a bit and come back.  I felt a small spark inside.  Desire to fly.  So later I pushed out the Maule.  I opened the windows up and just flew around at 80 Mph and low power.  I flew to the area of Bob’s incident and circled for a few minutes.  It was a nice beautiful morning and I was actually having fun.  I headed back to Haller and all was fine until I looked down at his hangar to see if his door was open.  Of course, it was not, but at that moment the hair on the back of my neck stood up and it was clear that Bob would never be gone from me.  He had made far too big of an impact on this airport kid.  Bob signed his emails with BRB for “Barrel Roll Bob”.  So, every time I do roll or a loop he will be with me.  I’m not ok yet, but I know the sadness will fade and I will again enjoy looping and rolling.  This is where I can be with Bob again in this life.  If things were reversed, Bob would have still gone out and built an airplane, so that’s what I’m doing, working on our current project, one that I am sure Bob would have really liked. (Don’t ask….we will talk about it when we are ready)

I know when I’m sitting on the runway for the first flight the hair my neck will stand up signaling Bob is in position and ready to go.

Thank you, Bob, for all you did for me, the encouragement, the knowledge and the friendship.

CARRY ON AT A HIGH RATE OF SPEED

– Dan Weseman

You can read more about Bob Woolley HERE and see videos HERE.

Here is a wonderful poem written by Patrick Lee – one of Bob Woolley’s close friends from the Dreamland Squadron.  He read this at Woolley’s service, and somehow was able to get all the way through it.  It is awesome, and he is a very talented man to be able to capture Woolley’s spirit so well.

And here is a link to Bob’s favorite video and song about flight.

Church of the High Speed Pass Video

Church of the High Speed Pass (1080P) from Fly Rod on Vimeo.

 

Barrel Roll Bob, our Wingman and our Friend
By Pat Lee

When the Dreamland Squadron formed at Haller, in the summer of ’04
the ghost of a man named Woolley, haunted the airpark lore

Who was this guy from yesteryear, that was coming back to Haller
from Wellington and Atlanta with this reputation so stellar

When he and Sandy moved back to Haller, and built a house across from Lites
we were leery of this Air force puke, with a Glasair and flying rights

We were all former Navy pilots, with carrier time and all
who cares if he had flown Phantoms, he’s never even called the ball

OK, so he builds a lot of airplanes, and has flown every light aircraft there is
he can’t be as good as Navy pilots, like Hide and me and Diz

So we watched him fly his airplane, while he was building a couple more
and we slowly began to realized, he was an aviator to the core

He could build and fly and test and design, and do things in a flying machine
that none of us had the skill to do, despite our superior Navy training

It did not take long for us to realize, that Woolley was a special guy
he may be an Air Force weenie, but this Air Force weenie could fly

It was then that our Dreamland squadron grew to include a fourth
our slot man was from the Air Force, Barrel Roll Bob of course

but he became more than just our wingman, and the guy out on the end
he became our mentor and adviser, aircraft trouble shooter and our friend

Bob did not have the arrogance of an Air Force fighter puke
no slim-fit flight-suit, mirrored sunglasses, or ascot and shiny boots

His knees must have been the ugliest, because his legs were never seen
in the hottest Florida weather, he wore long sleeves and thick blue jeans

But we grew to rely on his leadership, and trust his sage advice
if BRB said there was something wrong, we never asked him twice

Like all the flyers and builders at Haller, with a question about their plane
“go ask Bob”, “see if Woolley knows”, and he’ll surely help you if he can

There is a special trust among aviators, that fly their planes together
where wingman trust the lead to avoid obstacles, and horrible weather

The bond grows strong and friendships tight, with every sortie in formation
we flew together around the patch, then flew west across the nation

Bob joined our flight to the Pacific Northwest, to Montana and Idaho hills
to fabulous places and testy runways, that challenged everybody’s skills

We’d fly to back country airports, pitch our tents and camp for the night
but we learned while eating powered food, that Bob was just “not right”

Sure he could fly through the mountains and valleys, and zoom low down river beds
He could land on mountain canyon strips, that most GA pilots dread

He could find his way up drainages, and lead us back to Johnson Creek
Where our camping gear and freeze-dried meals, were waiting for us to eat

What we learned about Fighter Roja while we explored the strips out west
His Air Force training was hard to shake, as a camper he failed the test

He hated sleeping in a cold fart sack, with no salad or T-bone steak
In the Air Force they never ate from a pouch, and for dessert they had carrot cake

In the Air Force Bob never woke up with a back ache, from sleeping on rock hard ground
or had to build a morning fire, for everyone to get warm around

What we learned about our friend Woolley, after evenings of camp fire talking
It was a good thing Woolley could fly a plane, because he really hated walking

Aviators weren’t designed for walking, why walk when you could ride
mountain trails were not for Bob, he had no hiking stride

A breakfast flight to Joseph Oregon, across Devil’s Canyon on the Snake
the restaurant was a mile from the airport, as we walked Bob just belly ached

Just remember when Bob approached your hangar, think what the sound was always like
it wasn’t footsteps that said Bob had arrived, it was the sound of his motor bike

Bob never walked, he rode his scooter to offer friendship and a helping hand
I will miss the sight of that motor bike, leaning there on its old kick stand

On his first trip west in his RV-4, it was silver like all Air Force planes
with a star and a Big red number 1 on the side, so he’d be seen in the video frames

But when he watched the movies of us flying, his plane was hard to see
the grey blended in with the mountains and cliffs, and the spectacular scenery

So he came back home and opened his shop, and hooked his compressor to the air
put up some tarps, covered his canopy, and taped his static ports with care

Then sprayed his plane with bright red paint, and put a big black one on the side
the next time he’d be the star of the show, as he joined up on either side

And senor Bob was the star of our show, he was the heartbeat of our place
he never said a hurtful word, and always had a smile on his face

“What would Woolley do?” “Go ask Bob” if you really want to learn
now I know why the folks at Haller, couldn’t wait for his return

Woolley never played a round of golf or was seen jogging around the loop
He was not a party goer or the leader of some radical group

Bob was the consummate airman, and when the world drove him insane
He’d just open up his hangar, and started building another plane

Our friend and wingman is not here today, to join us when we fly
but his spirit will never leave us, if we stare up into the sky

Yes, Bob is somewhere around that cloud, or behind the moon at night
or looking down from beyond the stars, to see who is leading the flight

I am smiling not because I do not morn a flyer, whose life came to a tragic end
I am smiling because I was so lucky to know Bob Woolley, our wingman, and our friend

Now when days grow long and weary, and if good advice is what you need
just think back on what Bob used to always say, then “Carry on, at a high rate of speed”

Barrel Roll Bob…………………….we will rendezvous with you again
Hold a spot for us in the formation


Share your thoughts

7 thoughts on “The Loss of Our Friend Bob ‘BRB’ Woolley

  • William Hertel

    So very sorry to hear of Bob’s passing! Wish I had known that special Air Force “puke!” ( Navy F-4J puke) loving old Ben’s s/n 007! “Throw a Nickle on the grass!” All the best amigo! Bill “Swoose” Hertel

  • Fred

    I am so sorry to hear about Bob. He and I had been corresponding via email. He was very helpful with tips on the building process and was always willing to answer even my “rookie” questions. We finally met in person at Sun N Fun and exchanged a few flying stories. He was a wonderful person and will truly be missed.

    I hope that Dave is doing well and has a speedy recovery.

  • Les Boatright

    Really really well written Dan!! I hung on every word.
    I pray that Dave’s recovery moves along “at a high rate of speed”.

    I only knew Woolley a couple years, and mostly only from talking with him at the Panther display booths at various shows. He pretty much sold us on the kit that first year at DeLand. I envy all the quality time you got to spend with such a skilled and talented aviator and builder, and even more than that, a true gentleman. May the thousands of wonderful memories you have of him bring great comfort to you all.

    With the warmest of regards,
    Les Boatright
    Panther S/N 083

    • Rachel Post author

      Thank you Les! Bob will be missed tremendously by all who had the blessing to know him and we appreciate your kind words very much.
      – Dan and Rachel