Portrait of Charlie Willis and aircraft image collage, courtesy of Paul Glenshaw
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.
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