In the Cockpit with Legendary Hollywood Stunt Pilot Corkey Fornof
Fornof has been solidifying his nerves for years through aviation. After growing up watching his dad fly air shows, he eventually took the reins and joined the act. Hammonds recalled Fornof’s early years on the circuit.
“His dad was a close friend of mine,” Hammonds said. “We used to do some air shows together. I flew their P-51 fighter and Bill would fly the Bearcat. Then (Corkey), a time or two, would sit in the back seat. The P-51 had a little jump seat in the back where you could carry a passenger so he got kind of used to flying that P-51, which he later checked out in.”
Then, in 1971, before and estimated 75,000 people in Quonset Point, Rhode Island, the 25-year-old Fornof witnessed firsthand, the unforgiving nature of aviation and the dangers of air show flying. Bill Fornof’s Bearcat came apart and crashed, killing him.
“They were doing an air show, Corkey and Bill together, and I think the left wing came off of Bill’s airplane in some real turbulent air,” Hammonds said.
Theirs was the second to last act of the day and grounded the Blue Angels, slated to cap the show. The Navy demonstration team did, however, fly the following day, honoring the elder Fornof who had a monumental career as a military pilot himself.
Corkey continued to fly and remains a prominent figure in the industry.
“He’s very well-known around the air show circuit,” Hammonds said, “even more so in the past than now, because they did the air shows with the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds and all these different people over the years. He’s well-known and he’s well-liked.”
He developed his air show skills alongside some of the finest names in aviation.
“He flew with two of the world’s best pilots,” Pevey said, “in his dad Bill and Bob Hoover. To have two guys like that teaching you to fly, you better be pretty darn good.”
Although Fornof is a refined pilot, comfortable flying at minimums and beyond, he said air shows aren’t ideal for pushing all the limits.
“You don’t try to go as close to the ground as you can during an air show,” he said. “You play the terrain but when you fly an air show, you want everybody to be able to see it. While I’m low, I still want everybody to see the show.”
For the better part of the past 5 years, Fornof has been touring air shows, demonstrating the LoPresti Fury. Roy LoPresti, father of Kurt LoPresti, was a friend of Fornof’s and a world-renown engineer and test pilot.
“They have a very successful company for modifications and aftermarket cowlings and things,” Fornof said.
About five years ago, Fornof received a call from Kurt LoPresti.
“We’ve got the Fury and we’d like to know what it would cost us for you to step back from the movie business a little bit and demonstrate this airplane for us?” LoPresti said.
They flew Fornof to Florida to fly the airplane.
“They checked me out,” he said. “I was along Vero Beach, playing with the airplane, and I started flying my old Mustang routine. I started laughing. I was literally laughing I was having so much fun with this airplane. It just did everything. The only way I can describe it, it’s like the first time you were ever on a date in the backseat of a car and you got a good kiss. It was like, ‘Wow, is this real? I can do this again?’”
“So I came back and sat down and we kind of hashed out a deal. Kurt LoPresti is the president of the company and a gentleman named RJ Siegel is the CEO. He wrote a number on a piece of paper and slid it across the conference room table, and I turned it and looked at it and I said, ‘Wow, OK, but you’re going to have to give me 2 weeks to raise the money.’ He said, ‘No, no, we’ll pay you.’ So we worked out a deal. Part of it was the airplane stayed with me and they paid all the expenses. I got press for it and would demonstrate it.”
Fornof said the Fury has everything a pilot could want.
“Roy took that sweet combination of, in my talks with lots of pilots, what every pilot wants,” he said. “He’s got an airplane that’s fantastic for flying cross-country. It halls all the luggage you could want. You could put two big people in there, you could put all the bags and fill all the tanks and you’ve still got about 100 pounds to gross weight. You burn less than 10 gallons an hour and you go 200 miles an hour. It flies like a Mustang. The controls are just so nice and easy. What more could a pilot want? The modern avionics, and it’s got all that. I mean, I’ve got three GPS’s. If I ever get lost, just shoot me. I’ve got a glass panel there that does everything.”
Fornof said his schedule is loose this year because the Fury is being updated and repainted. He did, however, make Oshkosh and will fly some events this fall for certain, including the CAF show in Midland, Texas at Midland International Airport, October 8-9.
“There are shows in Lafayette, La. in late October, Sebastian and Stewart, Fla. in November,” he said. There are several others but we won’t confirm them till I know the Fury will be available.”
To read more about Fornof’s accomplishments and see additional photos of his work, visit his website at www.corkeyfornof.com.