CHAMBLEE, Ga. - Gary Ward was just 12 years old when he first felt — pardon the pun — propelled toward aviation.
"I live in a small community and there's not much flying going on there," says the Lincoln County native and current resident. "And I talked my parents into taking me down to Augusta, Georgia and I took my first ride in a little Piper J3 Cub."
Little did his parents know that the trip to Augusta would lead to something truly head-spinning. See, Gary Ward isn’t just a pilot, he’s an aerobatic pilot; for the past two decades, Ward has thrilled audiences with steep climbs, deep dives, and stomach-flipping loops.
"I've always had this kind of a ‘need for speed’ gene," he says.
Though he’s been flying since he was a teenager and spent four years in the United States Air Force, Ward was something of a late bloomer when it comes to airshows.
"It was 1998, I flew my first airshow. I was 57 years old; most people have already retired by then!"
In the 23 years since, Ward has performed at hundreds of shows in nearly a dozen countries, spending the last 15 of those years in his beloved MX2.
"It’s pretty tight, but it's reasonably comfortable," he says of the brightly-colored plane. "I’ll sit in that thing for four-and-a-half hours sometimes."
While he’s remained active at airshows so far this year, Ward turned 80 years old this month; he says the milestone has him ready to spend a little more time on solid ground.
"I can still do it; I just performed at the Pensacola Airshow and I think I flew as hard as I ever did. But I do not want to reach a point where I wake up one day and say, 'I don't think I'm going to fly as hard today as I did.' I haven't reached that point…it's like, quitting on top."
But even as his airshow career winds down, Ward says he’ll continue flying — living out the dream of that 12-year-old boy in small-town Georgia.
You can check out some video of Gary Ward in action by clicking over to LiveAirShowTV on YouTube.
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