Willie Tisdale and the Velvet Bean Caterpillar. Hadn’t heard that in a while. My friends Russ and Hugh and I used to fly in airshows together. This was in the early ‘80s. Russ was an aircraft salesman and flew a Bellanca Decathlon and a Pitts Special. Hugh was an engineer and the airshow announcer. I was a crop-duster and flew a T-6. It was quite a fun time. We would go to different airports around the Southeast and have a great time. We called ourselves Airshow South. Hugh said the reason airshow was one word was to keep the abbreviation down to two letters. AS would be the abbreviation for Airshow South. If Airshow was two words, well you get the idea.
We did several flying acts. We would circle parachutists, fly in formation and do individual acts. We always did an act with a drunk pilot or somebody stealing an airplane. Many times we would use a training plane from the airport of the show. Many times we would get a Cessna 150 to fly.
Usually Russ would be giving a free airplane ride during the show. Hugh would announce that someone had won an airplane ride. We started this act at a show in Kingstree. I picked the name Willie Tisdale and told Hugh I would be a local farmer from out of Kingstree.
Hugh would announce that the winner of the airplane ride was Willie Tisdale. I came up to claim the prize. “Mr. Tisdale where are you from?” “I’m from Cedar Swamp.” “Are you ready for your ride?” “I really was just out here to get that guy to spray my soybeans. I’ve got a bunch of Velvet Bean Caterpillars in them.”
They would get me out to the plane with Russ and as we would taxi out there would be a problem with the plane and Russ would get out I would then steal the plane and fly around like someone that couldn’t fly. It was always fun and there seemed to be unexpected surprises too.
We were at an airshow and I was Willie Tisdale and farmed in Foreston. One guy said he wondered all over the airport looking for this Willie Tisdale character. He knew everyone in Foreston and all the farmers in Clarendon County. He didn’t know any Willie Tisdale.
Once I walked up to the fence to get my airplane ride and was standing beside a guy from Greeleyville. Hugh came up to the fence to meet with Willie Tisdale. I said I was Willie Tisdale. My friend from Greeleyville hit me on the shoulder and said “Boy he doesn’t even know who you are.” We went through our routine about winning the plane ride and getting the Velvet Bean Caterpillars sprayed. The whole time my friend is laughing and hitting me on the shoulder He was surprised when I went out to the plane and flew.
We did that act many times and it was always fun.
Russ went on to fly for corporate aviation and now flies mosquito control. Hugh is a retired engineer and still announces airshows. Just recently Hugh was announcing a show and Russ had brought a plane for display. We talked about getting Willie Tisdale to show up. Well, time flies but those pesky Velvet Bean Caterpillars are still around.