Flying legend makes brief stopover in city

Published 6:00 am Thursday, November 13, 2008

One of the nation’s top aviators arrived in Brookhaven Wednesdayafternoon, and her approach to Brookhaven Municipal Airport leftbystanders no doubt as to who was at the controls.

California’s Julie Clark, one of the first female airline pilotsin the county and the 2008 recipient of the National AeronauticAssociation’s Stinson Award, descended out of the gray clouds and”beat up the field,” passing about 20 feet over the airstrip atfull throttle, trailing white artificial smoke, before pitching upand landing with her American flag blowing in the propwash.

The famous female flier stayed in Homeseekers Paradise Wednesdaynight while the weather passed on. She will resume her multi-leggedflight from Houston, Texas to Naval Air Station Pensacola inPensacola, Fla., to perform in her final air show of the year thisweekend.

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The 60-year-old flight legend has been in the air show businesssince 1978. Her heart has been in the air more than 50 years sinceage 8, when her father took her flying for the first time.

“I have a twin sister that played with dolls and did all thegirly stuff – I was the tomboy,” Clark said. “Since that firstflight, I knew I wanted to be a pilot.”

Thanks to a hefty sponsorship from Chevron Corp., Clark is apilot full time. She has performed in 25 air shows this year,logging hundreds of hours and thousands of miles as she performsairborne daredevil routines choreographed to patriotic music,trailing red, white and blue smoke.

Although Clark has many aviation accolades – like being namedamong the Top 40 Living Legends in Aviation by Airport Journalsmagazine – some of the popular pilot’s life spent on the groundafter all.

Clark said her first career was in education. She began teachingSpanish, speech and math at a high school in Dothan, Ala., at age21.

“I respect and salute teachers,” she said. “It’s the hardest jobin the world.”

Clark said she has a passion for antiques, and she enjoysinvestigating the antiquity of the towns and cities she stops induring her many flights around the country each year. She has apersonal collection of wooden props from the early days ofaviation.

She’s also a skier and an animal lover – her dog, Bernie,usually assumes the position of copilot during her flights. He hashis own set of doggie headphones to help him get intocharacter.

Clark is also a people person, and she enjoys meeting the localsduring her occasional stops in places like Brookhaven.

“I meet some of the nicest local people,” she said. “And some ofthe nicest people in the world are local pilots.”

Clark has flown all manner of aircraft, from the historic B-17Flying Fortress that helped win World War II to the Beechcraft T-34she landed in Brookhaven. She is an honorary member of the SnowBirds, the Canadian military’s flight demonstration team – similarto America’s Thunderbirds and Blue Angels.

She retired from Northwest Airlines in 2003 as captain of anAirbus A320 – an 85-ton airliner – but still enjoys zipping aroundin an ultralight powered glider. She has no favorites.

“I love flying so much, my favorite aircraft is the one I’mflying at the time,” she said.