Douglas “Hollywood” Jackson Interview
His first airshow performance was in 1990.
He owns and pilots the Tora 101 plane.
We talked with Mr. Jackson about his background and this unique plane he flies.
Q - So, you are Douglas “Hollywood” Jackson.
A - (Laughs). I’ve been called worse. (Laughs). That actually came out of an interesting little story. When I was flying with the rest of the Japanese replicas, most all of them fly with the commemorative Air Force and do a Pearl Harbor routine. We would fly with eight airplanes and we had a bunch of Doug’s on the team. We had four of them. And so every time Tora lead would say, hey Doug? We’d all go, me? Me? Me? So, at any date we got assigned call signs. So, I’m originally from North Hollywood, California. So, that’s how I got the name “Hollywood” call sign and that kind of stuck with the rest of the airshow performers. (Laughs).
Q - Being from North Hollywood, did you ever have dreams of a showbiz career? You are I guess in showbiz being an airshow performer, but, did you ever want to be an actor?
A - No. Actually, I was kind of born into aviation. My father was in aviation. My mother was formerly a stewardess and she was in aviation. I was technically named after an airplane, the Douglas DC-6 and so I was doomed to stay in aviation. I did try to make a start at being an astronomer and going to UCLA as an engineer but, that didn’t work out. You actually had to study. The acting side was going to happen. It was aviation or aviation or aviation. (Laughs).
Q - Or aviation.
A - Or aviation, yeah. We had airplanes when I was little and of course we’d always go to the airport. I even started logging flight time. You can’t legally log flight time but I would log observation time in a logbook when I was five years old. It was inevitable that I was going to stay in the airplane world.
Q - The airshows are really in their infancy aren’t they? They are just so popular with the public.
A - Yes. The one thing we’ve never really captured in airshows is TV like NASCAR or some of the big venues and because of that I agree we’re still in infancy. I just performed some. It’s probably up to people higher up in the airshow world. But, yeah, it certainly is in the infancy and we don’t necessarily have the sponsorship money or anything else that may other larger venues do.
Q - Airshows aren’t being presented yearly anymore like they used to be. I imagine money enters into the picture somewhere.
A - Hugely, and the economy is tight now. Air Force, military bases, particularly Air Force, although Navy and Marine Corps do some shows also, but, they’ve had cutbacks particularly military historical airplane like the one I fly. The military bases are important and what used to be every year at a show is now potentially every other year, every five years and part of it is just money itself and also personnel. They don’t have the people, because many of them are deployed. They don’t have the people to put the show on. I’m guessing were off every year now by a third to 40% of what we used to do, what I’d call the heyday of the 80s and 90s.
Q - Before you were flying the Tora 101, you were doing what? I know you have 3900 hours as a commercial pilot according to your website, but, you also have a degree in economics. Were you ever in the business world at all?
A - I actually am. I’ve actually had so many press releases over the years, you have an old one. Believe it or not I just hit 5999 hours. My next flight will actually kick over 6000 hours. I have an undergraduate degree in economics from UCLA and an M BA from Pepperdine (University). I’m actually in the aircraft brokerage world and aircraft marketing world. So, that’s my main business. I basically buy and sell, and lease airplanes for clients for 30 years and a quarter of $1 billion worth of airplanes. That’s what we call the day job.
Q - Seems like a pretty lucrative and interesting day job as well.
A - It can be. It has great years and rotten years. It’s not like real estate or any other business like that. I kind of have a core cadre of very long time clients and when the moons all align and their all doing something that year, it’s a great year. If they’re not I am trying to pick up other business and it might not be that great, but, I actually have some great clients and I have bought and sold, you name it, from Boeings all the way down to dinky vintage some things. I’ve actually done a fair amount of warbirds just because of my connection in the warbird show world.
Q - Why did you select the Tora 101 to do your aerobatic show with?
A - I actually didn’t consciously look for a Novak zero. In 1992, I’d had some smaller airplanes like the T 34 mentors, and decathlon’s. All my airshow stuff was much more amateur. I was looking in a magazine called Trade A Plane which is where a lot of people put their planes up for sale. The experimental aircraft Association had one of these movie replica zeros up for sale, up in Oshkosh. I remember the price was $55,000. So through a connection of mine I got a hold of the director then and did my usual brokerage deal. I’ll give you $45,000 and he basically said $55,000. That’s the price. I got 45 people ready to pull the trigger on it. He’s a straight arrow guys so I know he wasn’t playing. So, I said, here’s the deal, I’ll give you the 55 grand but here’s how I’ll do it and here’s my recommendations so you know I’m a straight guy, I’ll give you 55 grand if you can get it to Wichita and it doesn’t crash or catch fire. It took him a month to do that. (Laughs) it was an airplane that was used in the movie Tora, Tora, Tora, Tora but it hadn’t been flown a lot and it was up there sort of sitting in the Museum. It’s not a real zero. It’s just a movie replica. They weren’t using it much. I’m not going to say it was falling apart but it was what we call a local airplane, good for flying locally only. You didn’t want to fly to the next county because you never knew if it was going to break down and you were going to get back. So, it took him a month. We needed to do firm out. The price was fair. So, we tor the airplane down for that winter and through the beginning of the next year and got the airplane up so I could start using the airplane. So, here I have this movie zero. Again, it was just out of the blue. This looks like fun. I contacted someone who turned out to be close friend of mine, a one star general, one star Air Force general, Reg Urschler, who was the sponsor of this commemorative Air Force P-51, gunfighter out of Omaha. We’d known Reg from airshows and other stuff. I said, I know you do your aerobatic stuff. How about let’s do a dogfight? That’d be kind of fun. Certainly others had done it, but we glommed on to doing the dogfight and between him and I we ended up doing some 200 dogfights, 200 airshows all over the country until he retired and then passed the torch onto a fellow named Larry Lumpkin also out of Omaha who I now fly with some although I don’t fly anywhere near the numbers they used to. Over time we were doing 22 to 23 shows a year which you got to remember you don’t do shows in the winter, so that was like every weekend, all over the country and had a wonderful time. But that’s how it all got started. It was really a random chance. If I hadn’t been to seen the ad I would’ve never bought the airplane.
Q - You fly a replica Tora. I take it there are no original Tora planes in existence anymore?
A - They do now, but, the story of how the replicas came upon us is in 1968, 20th Century Fox wanted to shoot this blockbuster movie called Tora, Tora, Tora which of course is the re-creation of the Pearl Harbor attack. They didn’t have computers like they do now. So, and they needed airplanes to do the attack. They needed some 45 airplanes. So, they went out and through a fellow named Jack Cantury and others in the southern California area, actually bought airplanes that could be made to look similar on camera to the Japanese airplanes. The zeros were basically Harvard fours which were otherwise known as North American 8T-6’s that were modified to look a lot more like zero. They were a little bit bigger than the zero in fact about 10%bigger than the Zero. Then the cates which were the torpedo bombers were made out of a couple of different airplanes and there was a Val which was a dive bomber was made out of a couple different airplanes and that’s what they used in the movies. But, back then they didn’t have any Japanese airplanes at all and they canvassed the world to try and come up with some real airplanes and they figured with unlimited funds at the time they might be able to come up with one airplane which wasn’t going to be enough. Since then, for a lot of reasons one of which is the price of warbirds have exploded in price up. There are actually now three real zeros flying here in 2017 that have been restored and then there is two exact knockoffs copies and then there is another trainer version that Paul Allen has built up. So, there is six that I know of that are real zeros that are flying. Because of the costs to restore them, it costs a couple of million dollars to restore them; they’re not often flown at airshows. There is a couple that are. One is on the West Coast and ones in Texas actually getting rebuilt. You don’t see them that often. So, were kind of lucky in having these lower-cost replicas so you see us a lot. We kind of take up the slack of being the bad guy. You’ll also see where we don’t have replica versions of the German airplane. You very seldom see a World War II German airplane at an airshow. Again because the ones that happen to be rebuilt are so expensive to rebuild. When you’re starting to get in the 2, 3,4 million dollar range, it’s typically owned by a pretty wealthy collector and he’s just not interested in willy-nilly flying his airplane to a lot of airshows and risking his airplane because he probably doesn’t have full insurance on it. He probably only has liability just because the cost of all insurance.
Q - What would a person do with a Zero, and original Zero that was restored? What’s the point of doing all that?
A - Well, there’s a couple of economic issues why you might do it. A couple of airplanes I’ve sold to a fellow by the name of Rod Lewis out of the South of San Antonio area. He’s a mega-wealthy a gas guy. He has Lewis energy, a huge company. He has some hellacious amount of warbirds like 30 or 40. He must have $50-$75 million worth of warbirds, he is also a pilot and flies some of them, not all of them. And certainly when he wants three or four of them to go to an airshow like Oshkosh he has other pilots that fly. But, there are economic reasons why restoring warbirds is not that bad of an idea. They’ll form of 501-3C tax-free Museum and they’ll put in all the money into restoring an airplane and of course they get a tax write off for doing that. They put the airplane in the 501-3C into a qualified Museum and it works out for them tax wise and it works out for the industry because now we have the museum with particularly expensive rare airplanes. It’s not it uncommon to see some of these airplanes, like P-51 that are $2 million-$3 million and more rare airplanes that are even more expensive, but you don’t often see , you see some, at airshows just because of their cost. It isn’t that the guy can’t afford to fly it, it’s just that he doesn’t necessarily want to risk it. He’s kind of careful because of investment he has in it.
Q - Do warbirds increase in value as the years go by?
A - They have.
Q - It almost seems like it’s better than money in the bank.
A - Exactly. It certainly is a love of history and airplanes, but, there is a lot to not only restoring them but keeping them flying. You have to have a staff and pay a staff to do this. It’s not a bad investment. It’s whether it’s a vintage world war two airplane. They’ve all gone up in value some to quite a bit depending on how many are out there and their historical importance.
Q - How are you moving this plane of yours to shows? Are you flying it or trucking it?
A - To take it apart would be two or three days, to get it all apart. You can take them apart. They were made to containerized and ship back in the world war two era if they had to, but, no, we flying them. They fly like regular airplanes. They are a little bit more sensitive in some of the flying areas but, with all of today’s avionics and laptop and iPads with all the GPS we have it’s not that difficult to move them around. It’s not necessarily super expensive. Mine which is a replica is $500-$600 a flight hour to operate. So, at the end of the year I certainly don’t make any money, but, if I can come close to sort of refilling the water bottle were happy. (Laughs). My airplane is basically a 200 mile an hour airplane. As an example, I am primarily doing airshows in the Midwest. I am potentially doing, I don’t normally go this far, but, they’ve asked and were going to bundle a couple of shows together, I may do a show,a static show at Dulles and the flying show at Leesburg Virginia at the end of September (2017) and that’s a little bit further out. That’s a good six hours to get there, and 6 ½, seven hours to get back, and I will have to make a filed stop to do that because I’ve got about 3 ½ hours of gas of usable gas before I go into my reserves, but, I can do cross country, but, it’s just wear and tear on the airplane and there is a lot of different factors you have to look at whether you’re going to do the show or not.
Q - How much competition do you have? Are there quite a few guys doing what you’re doing?
A - Not really. There are two guys who can do it if the stars all aligned, there used to be a fellow out of Illinois who had a replica Zero. His name is Tom Frasca, of the Frasac Simulator Empire. He and another fella out of Chicago would sometimes do them, but, he’s not hardly flying. So, at least in the Zero replica world, in that little small slice there’s not a lot. However, there are a fair amount of warbirds out there and there is not as many shows, so more people competing for a smaller number of shows. And there’s a lot of other stuff that competes with me. Just simple aerobatic people in the shows have a limited budget. How I tell everybody about how airshows work is there trying to raise as much money as they can. So, let’s fix it at say $200,000 for performers. They’re going to try and get a jet team or a major aerobatic team. That could be $150,000. They don’t charge but it’s just for the expense of getting there jet team there. Then they are going to fill it with some local people who are supporters and they’re not necessarily charging anything, but, they’re going to get gas and a room at the hotel and a car. Then the rest of us kind of compete in the middle, whether it’s some of the warbirds people, jet trucks, and guys on motorcycles leaping over whatever. It is certainly an entertainment venue. There can be a lot of directions that the airshow can go. Then there is a lot of shows that would like to do more shows but they just don’t have the money and I just can’t afford to do “freebies”. I wish I could.
Q - Did you know that in the 1980s there was a hard rock group called “Tora, Tora”?
A - Yeah, I did. I even got one of their T-shirts at one time. I never got any of their music.
Q - Do you remember the first airshow you did? Was it 1990 or before that?
A - Oh, yeah. It would have actually been before that and I did a whole bunch of local stuff in smaller airplanes. I wouldn’t at all remember that. The first show I actually did in Tora 101 was in Pratt Canada. Then I did a few shows with Tora, Tora, Tora. The CAF group. At one time I did keep a running count of it but, after about 350+ you start to forget about this stuff. Well I stand corrected. In 1992 I bought it and we spent the year restoring it. It was in 93, a little show in Hugoton , Kansas a metropolis in far western Kansas.
Q - Just thinking, to be technically correct you should be known as Douglas “North Hollywood Jackson.
A - (Laughs). You gotta remember airshow folks, we have a fairly limited vocabulary and time to say things. I’m lucky I got Hollywood and nothing nastier because airshow pilots we can be rather interesting crowd when it comes to harassing our friends. (Laughs).
Q - I’m glad the airshow audience doesn’t hear that side of it.
A - They’d probably get a big charge out of it. Were all pilots and all the jokes about pilots are true. The best one is actually a very clean one. A little boy goes up to his mother and says, mom, when I grow up I want to be a pilot. His mother looks at him and says, son you can’t do both. So, we'll just leave it at that. (Laughs)
Official website: www.tora101.com
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