La Crosse resident Bill Blank is an aerobatic pilot who puts on a performance in the sky that's hard to forget. He's performed for 26 years and Saturday he took off for one last flight in front of his hometown crowd.
Blank has been flying a plane for 46 years. For 26 of those years, he has spent spinning through the sky at airshows throughout the country. While he's not done flying, at 71-years-old, Blank is hanging up his performing wings, but not before one more victory lap through the La Crosse sky.
"I always wanted to be a doctor ever since I was a little kid, but I was always interested in airplanes," Blank said.
After learning to fly in 1968, Bill Blank was happy just being able to fly his own plane.
A few years later, a friend told Blank he could be a better, safer pilot if he took an aerobatics course.
"That's the only reason I did it," Blank said.
But Blank was already a good pilot. So good in fact, five years later he began teaching the course.
"That's probably how I got to be so good at it. I have, over the years, probably taught about 1,400 hours of aerobatics. But I still never would have done an airshow. I thought airshows were a little dumb," Blank said.
Twenty-six years ago, at the La Crosse airport, that thought changed.
"The first one was here at the first waffle breakfast. Somebody asked me and I didn't even know what you had to do to be legal so that's where that went. After I did it it turned out to be fun," Blank said.
Today, after nearly 200 aerial displays, Blank knows his routine like the back of his hand.
"I go out and fly a practice routine a couple times just to make sure I haven't forgotten anything, that I'm on top of my game," he said.
Someone whose been on one of those practice runs is longtime friend, and pilot himself, Jim Bloedorn.
"Bill is--I'm really going to miss his airshows because I can honestly say Bill is the smoothest pilot I've ever ridden with. I've learned a lot flying with Bill over the years and I just really really appreciate his talents and abilities," Bloedorn said.
Although Saturday is his final performance in La Crosse, Blank will keep on flying.
"I don't see any reason to quit," he said.
Blank says if no one would have asked him to perform that first year, he doesn't think he ever would have performed.
"It took me in places I never expected," he said.
Blank said he doesn't know exactly how he'll feel when he hits the runway after his final display, but he's glad he can land on the same runway he took off from all those years ago.
"It's been fun, I've enjoyed it. The reason I've done this all these years is because it's fun. I enjoy it," Blank said.
Blank does have a few more airshows scheduled this year, but this will be his final year performing.
Bill's co-pilot, his wife Judy, is the one who gave him the chance to become a pilot 46 years ago. She is now the narrator to his routine.