But if you’re within earshot of the distant relative of Orville and Wilbur Wright, that’s where the similarities will come to a screeching halt.
I first met Wilson in March of 2017 at a celebration of life event for my flight instructor, Ron Alexander. At least that is what Wilson has convinced me to believe, as I have zero recollection of meeting him on that day.
However, over the course of the past five years, I have had the pleasure of spending several weekends with Wilson and his ever-so-tolerant bride, Eileen, at the Triple Tree Aerodrome in Woodruff, South Carolina, or at their grass strip near Charleston, South Carolina.
Whether he’s telling tall tales around the campfire, flying his newly restored Travel Air D4D Speed Wing, or helping others achieve their dreams of flight, Wilson embodies the spirit of general aviation—all the while not taking himself too seriously.
“I would not be a pilot today had [it] not been for [Wilson’s] dedicated mentorship to me,” said private pilot Kellie Brown, who flew her Luscombe to the annual Triple Tree Fly-In and camped out at the coveted “Wilsonville” campsite—named after Wilson. “He gave freely of his time, knowledge, and pushed me to always be better with unconditional support. The [Wilsons] are like family to me.”
Although one might call Wilson an inspiration, he would never own up to that designation—he will tell you he has merely been on a lifelong mission to support his old-airplane addiction.
“I knew [at age 12] these [airplane people] were my people,” recalled Wilson. “I was immediately taken in…and put to work. Cool stuff like holding the light while a guy sprayed a belly with silver dope. The sound of 4-450, and a couple 650 Stearmans at 0530 just made me nuts. I couldn’t get to the airport fast enough. I would have chewed a hole through the door if I had to.”
Although Wilson has a passion for all antique airplanes, one in particular holds a special place in his heart. In 1969 Wilson purchased a 1943 clipped-wing J–3 Cub from the New York Wing of the Civil Air Patrol. Most aircraft owners would have parted ways with the old Cub many moons ago—but not Wilson.
“Jim is quick to pull out the clip wing Cub to either give a first ride or better yet, use it to build the confidence of a pilot who needs that next push,” said Kelly Mahon, a friend of Wilson’s.
It was less than two years ago that Wilson felt I was in need of a confidence boost. He tossed me the figurative keys to his beloved Cub and said, “Go fly.” I declined his nice gesture several times (out of fear of wrecking his beloved airplane), but Wilson wouldn’t allow it. “You’re a Cub pilot, just go,” said Wilson.
With that as my cue, Wilson propped me off and out I went into the wild blue yonder for a couple laps around the Wilsons’ grass strip. It was one of the first times an airplane owner has trusted me with their airplane, and it was a feeling I’ll never forget.
In addition to giving back to aviation, Wilson simply enjoys everything that aviation has given to him.
Whether it’s flying a couple hundred miles, or to the other side of the country to attend an aviation gathering, fly-in, or see friends, the couple’s cabin class Waco takes them there.
One of the Wilsons’ favorite events is Triple Tree Aerodrome’s annual fly-in. They have been flying to this event in their Waco since the fly-in’s inaugural year.
“Triple Tree provides a venue to sit and talk with like-minded people to the exclusion of the rest of the world,” said Wilson. “They don’t try to entertain you. It is such a breakthrough for [South Carolina] to have such a great place.”
Although some might disapprove of Triple Tree for its 30-minute (or more) drive to hotels and fine dining, Wilson says he wouldn’t have it any other way. “If there was a Holiday Inn next to the pond, I would [still] camp like we do. We love it. All of it and everyone associated with it.”
While most pilots his age are starting to settle down, Wilson is just waiting for his next project to begin.
“Someone else is just waiting to tear something up that is difficult to fix so they can bring it over,” said Wilson. “The more challenging the more I like it. I haven’t come across anything on an old airplane I haven’’ been able to fix or make.”