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Chuck Doyle “was involved in every conceivable aspect of aviation,” said Noel Allard, executive director of the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame, into which Doyle was inducted in 1992.

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Chuck Doyle's passion in life was aviation

  • Article by: BEN COHEN
  • Star Tribune
  • April 29, 2008 - 10:05 PM

Chuck Doyle did just about everything you could do in aviation, from flying a replica antique to piloting jet passenger planes.

Doyle, who was a 1992 inductee of the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame, died Friday in St. Cloud. The longtime Apple Valley resident was 91.

As a stunt pilot, Doyle walked on the wings of airplanes and flew them through clapboard houses at the Minnesota State Fair. He was a pioneering skywriter, hawking products with wisps of smoke. He dusted crops and raced planes in Reno.

During World War II, he flew cargo planes in Alaska for Northwest Orient, under contract with the Army. Later, he flew 727s for the airline.

He was an airplane mechanic, and he restored and flew war birds as well.

As a teenager, he learned to fly, trading work for flight lessons. In 1934, the 18-year-old Doyle became something of a legend when he was suspended from Minneapolis' Washburn High School after buzzing a football field at game time in a 1920s biplane.

He never returned to high school because he could make money for his family during the Depression by flying.

"He was involved in every conceivable aspect of aviation," said Noel Allard of Menahga, Minn., executive director of the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame. "He got up in the morning thinking about it."

Doyle's Curtiss Pusher, a replica of an early 20th century airplane, hangs at a gate at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. He once flew the contraption that is only a step or two ahead of the first Wright brothers plane.

"Doyle had the guts to fly it," said Allard.

He never got hurt, said his daughter, Shannon Leer of Lakeville, except for the time he was wing-walking and lost a fingernail on a safety strap.

Doyle first started flying at the Minnesota State Fair and other fairs in the mid-1930s. He would crash airplanes into false buildings or grab a line from an overhead airplane while speeding along on a motorcycle. He also jumped over cars on board a motorcycle.

"If he was ever scared, he never showed it," said his son Chuck Jr., a Sun Country Airlines pilot, who fondly recalled being taught to fly by his father.

After he retired from Northwest in 1976, he kept flying, continuing to sky-write and tow banners. His farm in Apple Valley had an airstrip, and the buildings sported his favorite color, turquoise.

"He had a pretty good sense of humor," said his son. The sign in front of his home, hangar and air strip, read "Doyle International Airport, Apple Valley's Largest. UFOs welcomed."

He gave of his time, work space and money to help others in aviation, including the donation of the antique Curtiss Pusher, said Allard.

Although he never returned to school, he was very proud when Washburn granted him an honorary diploma in 2002. The Apple Valley School District awarded him one, too, for his support there.

"I would do anything to promote education for kids," he said in a June 11, 2002, Star Tribune article. "Education is the most important thing for anyone today."

His former wife, Birdie, died in 2007. In addition to daughter Shannon and son Chuck, he is survived by another son, Brian of Lakeville, and four grandchildren.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, 12650 Johnny Cake Ridge Road, Apple Valley, with visitation at 10 a.m. at the church.

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