WILMINGTON, ILL. – Pilot, mentor, safety advocate and air show performer, Gene Littlefield, 81, died October 1, 2011 at his home from a brain tumor. Littlefield was most known in aviation circles for “Gene Littlefield Air Shows” – a wingwalking and solo aerobatic act featuring his wife, Cheryl on the wings of their 450 Stearman biplane.
Littlefield was a staunch advocate of air show performer safety, and lobbied both the International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) and the Federal Aviation Administration to require air show performers to demonstrate their ability to fly in all attitudes — including inverted flight – before they were issued a low-level waiver. Sadly, Littlefield saw many of his fellow air show performers die right before his eyes because they lacked this skill level.
After more than a decade of letter writing, public speaking and advocacy, Littlefield resigned as an Aerobatic Competency Evaluator (ACE) on May 1, 2000, because the FAA failed to make the ability to fly in all attitudes a requirement.
In a letter to then National Air Show Manager, Ed Robinson, Littlefield stated: “It is necessary that I resign, after 28 years of asking, demanding and begging that the FAA and the industry to implement reasonable skill demonstrations for the safety of the public. By the way, airshow aerobatics is the only segment of regulated flying that does not demand a skill demonstration for qualification.” In addition to aerobatic competency, Littlefield was very concerned about air show performers who directed energy towards the crowd.
Littlefield helped organize the Professional Airshow Performers & Producers Association (PAPPA), and served on its board directors and as president for many years. He also served on the air show safety committee of the International Council of Air Shows. Littlefield was awarded the FAA Master Pilot Award, inducted into the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame, and held memberships in the Experimental Aircraft Association, Quiet Birdmen, and United Flying Octogenarians.
At the time of his death, Littlefield was teaching Aviation Science at Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois and was in graduate school on a full scholarship. He received his Bachelor of Arts Degree in May 2011 in Aviation Maintenance Management.
Memorials may be sent in Littlefied’s name to Joliet Area Community Hospice, 250 Water Stone Circle, Joliet, IL 60431.
Littlefield departed peacefully at home with his wife, Cheryl, and several good friends by his side. He was a beloved husband and loving father, grandfather, great-grandfather, stepfather, step-grandfather, uncle, brother-in-law, and a friend to many. His son, Steven Littlefield, preceded Littlefield in death.