The air and sea search for famed stunt pilot Art Scholl was abandoned Tuesday as the Coast Guard concluded that he did not survive the crash of his camera-equipped aerobatic biplane while performing an upside-down spin to get footage for a movie off the coast of northern San Diego County.
The 53-year-old Scholl flew in numerous films, including “The Great Waldo Pepper,” “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” “Blue Thunder” and “The Right Stuff.” He was shooting for the Paramount Pictures film, “Top Gun,” when his Pitts Special plunged into the Pacific Ocean five miles off Encinitas late Monday afternoon.
Scholl was regarded as the last of three top Hollywood stunt pilots. The others were Paul Mantz, who was 61 when he crashed in the desert near Yuma, Ariz., in 1965 while flying for a scene in “The Flight of the Phoenix,” and Frank Tallman, who died at 58 when his twin-engine plane crashed into an Orange County cliff in 1978.
It was Mantz and Tallman who got Scholl into the movie stunt pilot business in the early 1960s, when he was teaching aeronautics at San Bernardino Valley College and doing aerobatic flying.
On Monday, mechanic Kevin Kammer and stunt pilot Chuck Wentworth were following Scholl in another plane to watch for possible air traffic about 5:45 p.m., when they saw him go into an inverted spin at about 4,000 feet.
Kammer said they suddenly heard Scholl radio, “I’ve got a problem here.”
His Pitts Special then dove into the ocean.
Debris from the plane was found Monday evening, the Coast Guard said, but neither the wreckage nor the pilot was recovered, and by Tuesday morning, the hunt was called off.
Scholl was well known throughout the country for his stunt flying at air shows, usually in his Chipmunk monoplane and frequently with his mixed-breed dog, Aileron, clinging to his shoulder as he performed loops and rolls.
He called his most notable stunt the lomcevak, the Czech word for “headache.” It involved a series of forward end-over-end rolls--or front somersaults--and it was banned in East European countries because of its danger.
Scholl also thrilled air show crowds by flying upside down a few feet off the ground to pick up a ribbon with the tail of his plane, while streaming red, white and blue smoke.
He operated Art Scholl Aviation, a school and aircraft rental business in Rialto, where on Tuesday calls were being received from pilots and aviation figures across the country.
“He was good,” said Jim Ardy, a retired Republic Airlines captain and founder of the Desert Sportsman Pilots Assn. in Arizona. “He was the best.” Scholl performed annually for the association’s air show, and Ardy said Scholl was extremely devoted to aviation--especially to the technical aspects.
Former TWA pilot Bob Van Ausdell agreed, calling Scholl, “absolutely the best in his field.”
“Something mechanical must have happened,” he speculated. “An inverted flat spin was nothing for him. He’s done so many of those.”
The bespectacled stunt pilot came to California from Milwaukee as a young man, entered Mt. San Antonio College and eventually California State University, San Jose, where he earned a degree in aeronautics. After receiving a master’s degree at California State University, Los Angeles, he taught aeronautics in San Bernardino.
After 18 years, he decided he was stagnating and quit to become a full-time stunt pilot.
His TV and film credits included air sequences in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” “Amelia Earhart” and “The Amazing Howard Hughes.”
He had been featured on television’s “ABC Wide World of Sports,” “That’s Incredible,” “Thrill Seekers” and “The Art Scholl Story.”
He was on the U.S. aerobatic team, flying in competition at Moscow in 1966; Magdeburg, East Germany, 1968; Hullavington, England, 1970, and Paris, 1972.
He is survived by his wife, Judy, who helped run his business and manage his performances, as well as two grown sons, John and David, by a former marriage.