The following is a memoriam of Dale Nutter, one of our esteemed members who past away in 2011. By Dave Register
I first met Dale Nutter around 8:30AM on Saturday September 3, 1983.
That precision is not from memory – guys my age can’t remember why we
went to the garage until our wives remind us that we came back still
holding the trash. No, it’s from the engraving on a trophy from
TulSoar’s 2nd Annual Last Fling Of Summer that year.
What I DO remember is showing up at the contest with my SoCal gas-bag
floater (a Hi Johnson American Eagle) and just before the pilot’s
meeting this guy with a bit of a limp comes over, sticks out his hand,
and says, ‘Hi, I’m Dale Nutter. Glad you could make it to our
I can’t quite imagine the look I must’ve given him. Dale was well
known in SoCal and his trip to the first World’s in So Africa was
legendary to those of us out there. I had no idea god was on the field
that day – and he spoke to me!
You have to understand that apart from Joe Wurts, most of the top
pilot’s in SoCal wouldn’t really bother with you if you weren’t in
their ‘circle’. So here was the best saying ‘Hello’ to a newbie. I’m
equally sure some part of my jaw is still kicking around that field
from when he then offered, ‘If you need a timer, just let me know’.
And time he did – coaching me into a trophy that weekend in spite of
an inferior plane and some very rusty skills from being out of action
for several years. After 27 years it’s still the one I look to every
time I walk into my office here at home.
From my perspective, that’s a key part of the Dale Nutter legacy – a
top competitor who’d use all his skills to win, but would then turn
right around and give you all that experience to try and help you beat
him – no matter your skill level or where things stood on the score
sheets. That’s an attitude worth emulating by all of us.
A few memories over the years are drifting by today. One was of Dale
talking me into buying a Standard Duck as a step-up from my REF
(flaps) planes that mostly flew backwards in the Oklahoma breezes. I
got a call from Dale a week before the Last Fling of 1985.
“Art Slagle is coming down from Michigan and he’s got a Duck for sale.
It’s in good shape and built very stout. You should buy it.”
“How do you know it’s all that stout”, sez I.
“Art’s flying it”, said Dale. “That’s all you need to know”
Those who know Dale may recognize that, although his information was
always spot-on, it could be slightly cryptic.
At the contest, Dale called me over for one of Art’s launches and
simply said, ‘Watch this”.
At the time Art would pull out a folding chair, sit down, stomp on the
pedal and hold on for dear life until both he and the plane were
pulled off the seat. The resulting blast as the plane went from zero
to the sound barrier would generally clear most of the other guys from
the launch area. Maybe the landing area, too, if it was within a 100
ft or so of the winches.
So in my best Dale imitation, I said, “I see what you mean”.
Then I walked over to Art after he landed and bought that Duck – which
flew for many years until my son augered it not too long ago.
Another Dale euphemism that comes to mind was his uncanny ability to
sniff out lift when no one else could find it. At another Last Fling
in the ‘90s, lift had been spotty all day but there was a patch down
at the SE end of the field that had been working on and off through
the morning. Most of the guys (including many of the Texans) would
launch and make a bee-line for that patch and start circling.
Dale was timing me when I followed the Texans to that corner. Must’ve
been about 7 of us all gaggled up in what we hoped was lift. At that
distance it was hard to tell. After no more than a turn Dale asked,
“What are you doing”.
“Trying to work this little thermal”, was my somewhat annoyed reply.
“You know you’re circling in sink. All you’re doing is not going down
as fast as Bostic. The lift is NOT there. Come north about ¼ mile just
to the far side of that big oak.”
It takes trust to bail out of a perfectly good thermal on your timer’s
advice but….. Three minutes later all the Texans are down. Ten minutes
later a solitary Duck makes it’s way in for a landing. I’m not sure
who had the silliest grin on their face – me from enjoying that flight
or Dale from the sour look on Henry’s face when Dale instructed him as
to where the lift had actually been. Never miss an opportunity to kick
a Texan when he’s down.
And one last – seems the ones I remember are when he was offering
advice on my shortcomings. This time wearing that silly looking solar
powered pith helmet with the cooling fan on top – typical engineering
idea – which I went out and bought once he told me where to get them!
At one of our last contests in Tulsa, Dale was again timing and there
were Texans and Jayhawks in the air. The Okie duo stumbled into a
thermal at the north end while the other guys were working something
ephemeral on the west side. About half way through the round the west
side quit and my thermal turned into a bubble that broke loose for a
nice long ride. By the time the Kansas crowd came to the north, the
base was gone and all they could do was set up for landings.
So here we were again with the sky to ourselves, spek’ed out and
easily making the time. With about 90sec to go, Ole Dave flips the
plane inverted, does some large whifferdills around the field while
Dale is muttering some not very complimentary comments about his
pilot. A high speed inverted pass all the way down the field is
followed by an outside half loop to set up a landing culminating in so
much loss of airspeed as to dump the plane in the field about 50ft
short of the landing zone.
To the sound of raucous laughter from the Frickey’s and several Texans
falling on the ground in delight, Dale gave a disgusted look as he
walked off the field and said “if you’re gonna be a hot dog, keep it
in the bun just a bit longer willya.”
Those are some of the things I remember about Dale. The stories sound
a little silly but there are lessons from each one. All said in
Dale’s droll but friendly style. They come to mind at strange times at
the field – sometimes I can almost hear Dale’s voice reminding me of
something I should be doing. Insofar as I can, I’ll pass on what he
And visiting Dale and Donna here in NM was always a treat. Watching
Dale’s bemused look as Donna announced her next ‘earth-mother’ project
was great. Chickens, fruit trees, herbal gardens, volunteering work
for the city were all met with a slightly cross-eyed look which
evolved into proud support as these projects eventually met with
The last visit with Dale was the weekend of the FAI contest at
Moriarty last year. Got to spend about an hour or more chatting on
Friday afternoon with Dale and Donna and, after all these years, he
was talking about the So Africa trip and some stories that weren’t too
well known – like how he got shot down by one of his team mates during
a practice round and had to spend all the next day repairing his
plane. And how Dave Thornburg was their secret weapon for towing and
organizing and making the whole team work. Neat stuff. Great memories.
A competitor to the end, as I was leaving Dale asked me to do him a
favor - could I please win out over someone for him. I asked him why
this particular pilot and he answered, “Because he gets so PO’ed when
I get the chance to win and I can’t make it there this time”.
Wish granted, Dale. Thank you (and Donna) for so many great times.
January 4, 2012