The first female to win the National Aerobatic Championship, was Patty Wagstaff. She has won the championship not just once, but three times. Therefore, the first women to win the nationals as well as the only female to have won it thrice. Here’s a little glimpse of her life and how she managed to become an aerobatic champion.
Patricia Rosalie Kearns Combs, aka Patty Wagstaff was born on September 11, 1951, in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the eldest of the two daughters of Robert and Rosalie Combs. Her father was an Airforce pilot. But later, he left military to pursue a career with Japan Airlines as the Captain.
Adventurous and energetic since early childhood, Patty took keen interest in aviation. Therefore, both the sisters followed in their father’s footstep. As they both build a career in aviation. The younger sister, Toni , became the Captain of the Continental Airlines. Whereas, patty chose the more unconventional way. Instead of attending college, she chose to travel around the world. Her first flying experience had not turned out very positive. The small plane crashed on the very first flight. After that, she learned to fly by herself. Her first flying lesson was in a Cessna 185. She hired the attorney and pilot, Bob Wagstaff whom she ended up marrying later.
Aviation being in blood of Patricia, she reached on top of her game very soon. Consequently, she started instructing in bush flying and tailwheel.
Journey of becoming Aerobatic Champion
Men dominated the field of aerobatics. Patty had not even seen any air show until she turned thirty. So, the curiosity and hunger for adventure, led her to pursue aerobatic. When she first saw the aerobatic champions perform at Abbotsford, she knew what she had to do now. She finally found something that defined her personality. Therefore, in just five years after she had her pilot license, she also got herself a spot in the US aerobatic team.
She accomplished what seemed impossible to many. She worked and trained hard. Defying the dominance of men in the field. Therefore, she broke all stereotypes and opened the door for other women too. She pushed herself to the limits for mastering every moves. Also, she developed maneuvers that did not seem possible before. She trained very hard and vigorously. Knowing her capabilities, sometimes she trained for three times a day, making the most out of herself.
She regarded the legacy of all the female aviators before her. Her hard-work finally paid off. She turned what seemed impossible to other female aviators, possible. She sharpened her skills by mastering every move, like her signature multiple vertical snap rolls. Finally in 1991, she faced more than hundred competitors and won her first gold medal in US Aerobatic Championship. With this she became the first woman to win gold in National aerobatic championship. In 1993, she became the first women to win International Aerobatic Club Championship. After that, there was no turning back for her. She kept on winning numerous gold, silver and bronze medals in the field.
After she won her first championship in 1991, she flew higher and higher. She won the US National Aerobatic Championship three times in a row. In 1994, her airplane Extra260 had put on display in Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. In addition, she won the Betty Skelton “First Lady of Aerobatics” Award, for six times in a row. She also earned her place six times in the US national aerobatic championship.
She became the top scoring pilot, in 1996, at the World Aerobatic Championship. In 1997, patty received her first hall of fame from both, he Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Aviation Hall of Fame. In 1998, she also won the Bill Barber Award for sportsmanship. She got in the most esteemed hall in the year 2004, the National Aviation Hall of Fame and in the International Air and Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air and Space Museum in 2007.
Patty has worked in many movies as a stunt pilot. She used to do more than twenty air shows across the USA in a year. Patty built a world class aviation school that had opened in 2014, in St. Augustine, Florida. Currently she keeps herself busy as a instructor in her school and does about eight to ten air shows a year. She also trains other aerobatic pilots. The biography of Patty Wagstaff was published in the year 1997- Fire and Air: A Life on the Edge. It is written by Ann Lewis Cooper. It has the ups and downs of her life and journey of becoming the “Aerobatic Savant”.