Farewell to the Flying Farmer, the Legendary Charlie Kulp

Charlie Kulp's final 'Flying Farmer' performance at the Bealeton Flying Circus on October 28, 2007. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)
United Fuel Cells

by Richard Mallory Allnutt

The air show community lost one of its legendary performers on October 17th, with the passing of Charlie Kulp, aka Silas the Flying Farmer, at the grand age of 96. Charlie was a quintessential stick-and-rudder man, and one of the finest aviators ever to put a Piper Cub through its paces. He was also one of the kindest and most decent men you could ever met, with a broad grin rarely far from his lips… albeit buried beneath that bushy beard he so proudly wore!

Charlie grew up in rural Virginia, gaining his pilot’s license near Roanoke during July, 1943. He served as a mechanic in the Pacific Theatre during WWII, working as a Grumman F6F Hellcat plane captain aboard USS Siboney (CVE 112) for part of that time. Charlie spent the remainder of his life heavily involved in aviation, either as a mechanic, instructor pilot, FAA-certified inspector or airport manager, and frequently all four together. There are likely hundreds of pilots today who gained their wings with Charlie’s help…

Charlie Kulp’s final ‘Flying Farmer’ performance at the Bealeton Flying Circus on October 28, 2007. (photo by Richard Mallory Allnutt)

Kulp regularly performed at air shows, with his most famous act seeing him pantomime the character of “Silas”, an ancient, long-bearded farmer in bedraggled dungarees and straw hat who is about to experience his first aeroplane ride (in a Piper Cub) as a treat for mowing the grass at the local airport. But Silas, who has apparently never climbed higher than the apple tree in his back forty, decides to steal the aircraft just as his would-be instructor is outside checking the empennage for damage (Silas having just beaten it with his walking stick before strapping inside the Cub). Of course, the hapless pilot falls flat on his back in the grass, blown over by the Piper Cub’s revving propeller as Silas firewalls the throttle. What would then follow was a thrilling demonstration of ‘how not to fly an aircraft’,  as “Silas” threw his Cub around the sky like a drunken sailor, while his friends on the ground pull at their remaining hair in horror. Charlie Kulp could put his Piper Cub into the most precarious attitudes, all within moments of calamity, to the great astonishment (and admiration) of the crowd, and it was a thrilling performance no matter how many times one witnessed it. The routine was especially popular with children, much to Charlie’s delight, as he loved to bring aviation into the hearts of younger generations. He must have flown his “Flying Farmer” routine more than a thousand times over the decades, with at least 800 performances taking place at his beloved Flying Circus in Bealeton, Virginia – an institution which he helped found back in the early 1970s. Oddly, although Bealeton was just a few dozen miles from my own home in Fairfax, the first time I saw Charlie perform was at an air show in England, a trip he made several times.

The following sequence of images took place during Charlie Kulp’s final performance as Silas the Flying Farmer at The Flying Circus air show in Bealeton, Virginia on October 28th, 2007. They should give some sense of this marvelous routine, and for the delight he provided to so many thousands of people over the years…

Charlie was inducted into the Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame in 1997, with the video interview below resulting from that well-deserved honor.

While he hung up his airshow act in October, 2007, he continued to fly and perform check rides up until a few weeks before he died. Charlie was an extraordinary human being to all who knew him, and will be missed profoundly – especially by his daughter Joanna and his long-time sweetheart, Evelyn Marshall (herself a member of the Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame).

Farewell Charlie…

For those wishing to learn more about The Flying Circus of which Charlie was so proud, please do check out our very own Stephen Chapis’s article in Warbird Digest Issue #91.

1 Comment

  1. God speed to Charlie.
    I remember seeing an act like that as a young man in the later 70’s. It just must have been him. The act was just so much like in the video with one special bit I remember occurring during the act.
    As the plane came back across the field, the announcer said something to the effect of… “Please land that plane now!” And just at that moment the pilot kicked the rudder over to the left and put the tail of the plane towards the announcer and the crowd.. And he proceeded to wag the rudder rapidly left and right as an act of defiance. I laughed so hard during the whole thing… I’ve never forgotten that experience.
    God Bless you Charlie…. RIP.

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