Patty Wagstaff: Aerobatic Champion and Air Show Legend

Patty Wagstaff keeps a busy pace year round as an instructor and air show pilot. (Charles Atkeison)

In an open hanger decorated with aged aviation artwork and maintenance tools sits an Extra 330SC aircraft poised to perform its next air show demonstration at the hands of the new first lady of aerobatics.

Dressed in a black jumper, her blond hair pulled back as she wipes the sweat from her forehead, its pilot steps back to admire her new aircraft. Satisfied, she completes one last preflight check before the upcoming performance.

Patty Rosalie Wagstaff is the world’s top aerobatic pilot whose career includes three U.S. National Championships, and numerous awards of recognition, including the Charlie Hillard Trophy for becoming the top scoring American pilot during the 1996 World Aerobatic Championships. Following a 30-year career, she continues to stay in a throttle-up mode both in the air and in the classroom.

Standing in the Rome Airport hanger during the Wings Over North Georgia Airshow, this aerospace journalist spoke with Patty about her storied career. And, her new role in educating pilots how to manage an in-flight emergency.

U.S. National Aerobatic Champion and air show pilot Patty Wagstaff soars into the record books. (Atkeison)

Patty and her sister Toni were raised around aviation. They grew into their teen years while their father flew as a pilot for Japan Airlines. Toni became a pilot for United Airlines while Patty flew with a different attitude in mind.

Patty Wagstaff Becomes a Trail Blazer for Women

“I guess I did set out to be a trail blazer when I decided I would go for winning the U.S. National Championships,” Patty confessed as she reflected upon her early years. “Everybody told me a woman couldn’t do it when I first started saying women aren’t aggressive enough.”

Shaking her head with a grin, Patty said she answered those statements by saying, “I guess you never went to high school.” She feels the lack of women in aviation sports is due to family reasons and that many women are unaware it is available to them.

“Being a women in this field is a kind of responsibility,” she said. “You want to show other people what is available to them, even if they don’t do this there is other careers in aviation.”

In 1994, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum honored her championships by placing her one of a kind Extra 260 aircraft on display next to her heroine Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega. She still feels excited to have this honor.

Patty Wagstaff’s 1993 Extra hangs on permanent display in the Smithsonian Museum. (Wagstaff)

“It’s awesome – it’s kinda surreal still, actually,” Patty proudly said. “The (Smithsonian) hung that airplane (Extra 260) as it was a prototype, a unique airplane; and the first woman (national champion) was important.”

Her awards and accolades are plentiful. In 1997, Patty was inducted into the International Women’s Aviation Hall of Fame, and in 2004, was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

The World’s Top Air Show Aerobatic Performer

Patty’s current air show performances last about 14 minutes and is unlike many of her fellow performers. She has been flying her Extra 330SC for nearly two years.

“It’s kind of a monster – its called a beast,” Wagstaff said looking over her shoulder. “It’s got a lot of power and it just wants to go up. The hardest thing in this airplane is pulling the power back and slowing it down sometimes. It’s amazing.”

Performing low and fast, Wagstaff soars past the Air Force Thunderbirds in 2016. (Atkeison)

Patty keeps the audience in mind as she designs the layout of her air show maneuvers. She states she wants to provide an intimate experience for the guests.

“I like to do barnstormer type aerobatics as I like to keep it low and close to the crowd,” the aerobatic champion said. “I think if you keep it moving, keep it in front of the crowd, keep the smoke on, I think that you can keep the attention.”

Aerobatic and In Flight Emergency Instructor

Today, Patty keeps a busy pace as she performs six to eight air shows each year, and is a flight instructor at the Patty Wagstaff Aerobatic School in St. Augustine, Florida. She and her staff not only specializes in training new pilots, but they also teach all pilots how to avoid loss of control while in-flight. She refers to it as Upset Training.

“What keeps me really busy is our aerobatic school which includes Upset Training which is teaching people to stay out of trouble,” Patty explained. “We go to corporate flight departments and we train their pilots, or they can come to see us.”

Patty opened the school in 2014, and she has built a world-class flight instructional school. “It’s a lot more fun than I even thought it would be. We get really great students who really want to be there.”

(Charles A Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)