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Ken Davis – Bulloch’s Master Pilot – 'I am closer to God'

Wife joins lifelong obsession with flying

    Pride is evident as he opens the hangar doors and rolls out the carefully restored 1929 Waco Straightwing biplane, pulling the 1,600-pound plane out to show its full beauty and splendor.
    Ken Davis, 79, has been flying for 63 years, and has loved airplanes since he was a small boy. He has held offices in several aviation associations, and received awards, including the most recent Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award. But above it all, what really matters to him are the planes.
    He’s proud of the awards, beaming as he shows the plaques honoring him for flying continuously for so long. He also displays a plaque honoring him for earning the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award for more than 50 years as an aircraft mechanic. But his eyes light up as he shows off his pride and joy, the kelly green and yellow Waco.
    Flying is his passion, and he ignited the love for planes in his wife’s heart, too.
    “The first thing I remember (after meeting him)  is he would show me his pilot’s license,” sad Joyce Deloach Davis. “But, I didn’t realize how into it he was.”
    That is, until he would pick her up on a Sunday afternoon and say “Let’s ride out to the airport” instead of wanting to go fishing or playing golf. A great deal of their time together as a couple was spent “hangar flying” – sitting and talking with others about their passions – planes.
    It was a love that grew on her as well.

Lifelong obsession
    For her husband, however, it is a lifelong obsession.
    “My brother got me into it in 1943,” he said. As a young boy, he would go so far as to sleep in the airplanes as a sort of unofficial night watchman. For pay, he would receive “ a quarter of 50 cents, and they would take me flying.”
    He was just a small tyke – 6 years old – when his brother Stanley allowed him to take his first solo flight, “one time around the field in a Waco biplane.”
    Maybe that’s why the restored Waco he flies today means so much.
    Part of the memories Davis holds dear are when he and his brothers and friends would go barnstorming- called so because they often landed beside old barns out in a farmer’s field.  They would fly over, making lots of noise to attract attention, then sell rides, usually at a penny a pound. To show how safe the flight was, the pilots would perform a loop with Davis in the passenger seat.
    His first plane was jointly owned. A group of college buddies pooled their funds and bought a Vultee BT-13, like was used as a basic trainer during World War II, he said. “We pooled our money  to buy fuel to fly.” Gasoline was 16 cents a gallon  then, and the plane burned up to 15 gallons an hour.
    But what an hour, he said.
    His first plane he owned outright by himself was a 1964 Piper. He has owned nine planes in all, including the current Waco.

Getting started
    After graduating high school, Davis joined the Navy. After World War II, he enrolled in the Spartan School of Aeronautics and earned an Airframe and Powerplant certificate, then obtained his pilot’s license in 1948.
    Davis has always flown for fun, never for work. A mechanical engineer, he also retired as assistant director for Plant Operations at Georgia Southern University in 1987.
    Davis organized the Southern Aviators of Georgia – a group that just disbanded last year. He owned Davis Air Park in Brooklet, and for years, every first Sunday of each month, local aviation enthusiasts would meet for pot luck. “Fifty to 100 people meeting for family time and fun flying,” he said.
    The park closed in 1996, but the group of aviators still meet for the annual Davis Air Park reunion, held at the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport.
    Davis and his wife are also long-time supporters of the Sun N Fun Fly-In at Lakeland, Fla. – an event comparable to Bike Week, but for aviation enthusiasts. Davis is on a team of aircraft inspectors making sure the planes are safe before air shows, and the pair enjoy either flying in or taking their RV to the seven day ordeal.
    “This is our 33rd year,” Joyce Davis said.

The Waco
    She is as familiar with the Waco as her husband, helping him guide the plane back into its place in the hangar. Davis purchased the plane 30 years ago, “when it was nothing but a pile on bones.”
    Careful restoration, funded in part by the purchase, restoration and resale of 18 other planes, led to its eventual splendor.
    “I started with the wings,” he said. The frame is all wood, with metal brackets, covered in Dacron and then painted with special paint. “It took me five years to restore it.”
    The Waco is special for another reason. “They only built 16 or 18 of that model,” he said. “I’ve got it back as close as to the way it was bought. It flies low and slow and attracts a lot of attention.”
    Why flying? Davis doesn’t hesitate to tell why he loves to be in the air.
    “I am closer to God,” he said. “It is peaceful. I have a prayer; ‘Lord, keep the wind beneath my wings and keep me safe as I navigate your sea of air.’”
    He said the world is more beautiful from the sky. “You can’t see the trash. One of the prettiest things from the air is a junk yard. All you see is the colors – you don’t see the bent fenders. And all the way around you, there is nothing to obstruct the view.”
      

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