“Life is simple. Eat, sleep, fly.”

Clyde Bourgeois, who had a lifelong love affair with flying planes and building them, passed away peacefully in his Santa Ynez home on Sept. 14, 2009. His wife, Shy, his two daughters, Lois and Anna, and their husbands, Peter and Roger, were by his side.

Clyde was born in Omaha, Neb., on Dec.27, 1920. He was destined to have a full and colorful life with a penchant for turning hobbies into professions. In classic “do as I say not as I do” fashion, he would later in life tell his daughters, “Never make your hobbies your business.”

Early on he showed the direction his life would take. He was 7 when his built-from-scratch soap-box racer won second place in the local derby. It was his first award in a lifetime filled with awards. At 16, he raced a train in his mother’s brand-new Buick and was winning until he attempted the crossing — Clyde survived the collision; the Buick did not. His mother Ida’s only comment was, “Why didn’t you drive faster?”

It was model airplane building and airplanes in general, however, that became his real passion. During high school, Clyde took flying lessons, and in 1937 he soloed for the first time in a Waco 10. Although he had qualified for it years earlier, he received his pilot’s license in 1947.

After high school, Clyde entered the University of Omaha where he studied math, mechanical drawing and architecture. He tried Golden Gloves boxing in his spare time.

For work, he took a job at local hot spot, Peony Park, where he worked during the day as a lifeguard and at night as the dancehall bouncer because of his boxing experience. Somehow he also managed to become an expert amateur photographer.

 

While still a student Clyde took outside classes in aviation mechanics and instrumentation.

After the outbreak of World War II, he was hired by the Glen L. Martin Aircraft Company as an instrument technician and flight engineer. In those capacities, he flew Martin’s B-26 Marauder bomber.

His experience at Martin led Clyde, in 1942, to apply for enlistment in the Army’s Aviation Cadet Program. He was accepted, and after basic military training in Florida he was enrolled in the AAF technical school at Yale University. Upon graduation, he received his commission as an officer — Second Lieutenant Clyde Bourgeois.

His first assignment was at the Boeing Aircraft Factory School in Seattle, Wash., where he again flew as test flight engineer, this time in Boeing’s new YB-29 Super Fortress.

When the B-29 entered service, he was transferred with his B-29 squadron to Dalhart, Texas. In addition to his flight engineer duties there, he served as an aircraft accident investigator and was also called upon to work on and fly in B -17 Flying Fortress bombers that were being rehabbed in Dalhart for renewed service.

He was discharged in 1946 but remained in the Army Air reserve until 1955. In 1949, he received his Aircraft and Aircraft Engine mechanic certification from the Civil Aeronautics Administration.

On Feb. 20, 1943, while still in the military, Clyde married Margaret Elaine Moon. Their family grew with the addition of two daughters Anna and Lois.

As a civilian back in Omaha, Clyde opened two model airplane hobby shops. He even assembled and boxed kit planes of his own design. The market for his products was never strong, which led Clyde to sell his shops and take an engineering job with Northwest Bell Telephone.

At the beginning of this period — the late ’40s/early ’50s — Clyde pursued yet another hobby: architect/home builder.

Inspired by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Clyde designed a house and then proceeded to build it with only his wife, Margaret, and mother, Ida, to help him. It was completed and sold in 1948.

 

Other houses followed, so many that after several years, he quit his position at Bell to form a house building design and construction business. He would eventually build 35 houses around Omaha and also in Iowa and Kansas.

Present-day owners of those houses say their homes are the best in their respective neighborhoods; all have withstood the test of time.

On top of everything else — family, multiple business interests and hobbies — in 1954, Clyde finally earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Omaha.

The house building hobby had now become a profession, so Clyde took up a new hobby — restoring and racing foreign cars. In the late 50’s this passion for cars drove Clyde to open one of the city’s only foreign car repair garages – the Check Point Garage. There, he not only repaired and restored exotic foreign cars, but he also built three modified sports cars for his own racing use. To broaden his garage’s services he also became the local Citroen and Simica automobile dealer. Another hobby had been transformed into a profession.

House building was never a money maker and his foreign car repair business struggled in the land of GM and Ford, so in 1960 Clyde sold everything and moved his family to Santa Barbara where he bought an apartment complex.

Clyde’s passion for planes followed him to California. With his 1949 A&E mechanic’s license in hand, he landed work at Aztec Aviation in Goleta. About this time he also qualified for a commercial pilot’s license to go with his private pilot’s license.

Attracted by projects there, Clyde soon moved to Conroy Aircraft Corporation where he was supervisor of aircraft modifications for numerous projects including the Turbo DC-3, Turbo SA16 Albatross, Turbo C337 and the CL44 Freighter.

 

In his evenings he continued to build race cars, just as he had in Omaha, and raced his creations at various venues, even some at, of all places, the Santa Barbara Airport.

One of his many California endeavors was as co-owner of the Lazy-B Chuckwagon BBQ in Thousand Oaks. The restaurant was eventually bought by Dave Nan-Carrow who renamed it Carrows. The Chuckwagon was the first unit in the Carrows empire of eateries.

Eventually, Clyde retired from working for others and turned instead to constructing his own aircraft. His first project was an open-cockpit Starduster II, which he built from scratch from just a set of plans.

Next he restored a 1929 Davis V3; it’s the oldest Davis still flying. At the same time, Clyde began buying and selling different certified aircraft, including a Cessna 150, a Funk F2B and an Ercoupe 415-E.

With the completion of the Davis V3 project, Clyde moved on to the restoration of the second Cessna ever built, a C-34 Airmaster.

In 1977, Clyde relocated to Santa Ynez to be closer to an airport and still be able to care for his wife, Margaret, who had become an invalid (Margaret would eventually pass away in 1995 from complications related to her condition).

In Santa Ynez, Clyde tackled a massive project — the restoration of a basket case Beechcraft D-17S Staggerwing. Later he would build a Sweargen SX 300 racing plane, a Rotorway Executive 90 helicopter and a modified Glassair Super II RG.

In addition, he helped with dozens of other projects at both the Santa Ynez and Santa Barbara airports with his expert advice and suggestions. He was president at various times of the EAA Santa Barbara local chapter 527 and Santa Ynez local chapter 491.

From 1978-1982, Clyde was on the governing board of Quest Air, which ran the Santa Ynez airport. He oversaw the Santa Ynez EAA chapter’s restoration of an Aeronca Sedan 15-AC.

 

He once said, “You can get any job done by doing a little bit every day.”

Along the way, he picked up numerous awards at fly-ins, most notably at the greatest of all fly-ins, the EAA’s annual event at Oshkosh, Wisc. There he received awards for Antique Aircraft Custom Class Runner Up and for Outstanding Contemporary Age Closed Cockpit Bi-Plane.

In 1991, he was honored by the EAA with the Major Achievement Award for Outstanding Service to Sport Aviation. Clyde was a lifelong EAA member and for many years served as a judge at fly-ins

His most prestigious recognition, however, came from the Department Of Transportation in 1999 with the FAA’s “Charles Taylor ‘Master Mechanic’ Award.”

The year 1999 was more special, however, because of his marriage to fellow airplane enthusiast Shy Smith.

Clyde’s longtime friend and fellow pilot, Bob Kirby, said of him: “He had a good run … I never worked with a guy that was so easy to work with … he was so damn smart.”

Clyde thought outside the box and was always building something — remodeling, modifying, restoring — whether it was a house, a restaurant, cars, boats, planes, a helicopter and even an award-winning telephone booth.

Clyde did not want a funeral. Instead he asked for a celebration at the hanger where he, his wife Shy and all of their airplane buddies spent countless hours doing what they all loved best — working on planes or talking about it.