Skip to main content

Charlie Willis: An Aviator's Daring Life of Risk and Re-invention

This program is over. Hope you didn't miss it!

Charlie Willis: An Aviator's Daring Life of Risk and Re-invention

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, March 24, 2021 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1K0103
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
Select your Registration
Powered by Zoom

Charles Fountain “Whiskey” Willis (1918–1993) was one of a kind. As a highly decorated combat and rescue aviator, he flew fighters, torpedo and rescue planes, and bombers, surviving World War II from Pearl Harbor to V-J Day. Post-war, he ran a gonzo air cargo company that shipped everything from Doris Duke’s camels to roses. Willis dove into grassroots politics by co-creating “Citizens for Eisenhower,” and coining the famous phrase, “I Like Ike.” The president credited Willis for helping him to win the White House.

At 38, Willis became president of then-tiny Alaska Airlines, which he ran as a scrappy upstart. Ignoring rules, precedent, and protocol, Willis lived an adventure of constant re-invention. His story embodies the successes and failures that come to those who embrace high risk.

Drawing on a rich variety of primary sources, images, letters, and film clips, aviation historian and master storyteller Paul Glenshaw tells the tale of this man’s remarkable journey through life.

Glenshaw is a regular contributor to the Smithsonian's Air & Space magazine, co-writer and producer of the PBS documentary Barnstorming, and co-writer and director of the documentary The Lafayette Escadrille. He was a longtime member of the Wright Experience team in Warrenton, Virginia, and executive director of the Discovery of Flight Foundation.

Patron Information

  • If you register multiple individuals, you will be asked to supply individual names and email addresses so they can receive a Zoom link email. Please note that if there is a change in program schedule or a cancellation, we will notify you via email, and it will be your responsibility to notify other registrants in your group.
  • Unless otherwise noted, registration for streaming programs typically closes two hours prior to the start time on the date of the program.
  • Once registered, patrons should receive an automatic email confirmation from
  • Separate Zoom link information will be emailed closer to the date of the program. If you do not receive your Zoom link information 24 hours prior to the start of the program, please email Customer Service for assistance.
  • View Common FAQs about our Streaming Programs on Zoom.