Mineral Wells Area News

High Above the PK Sky

High Above the PK Sky
September 15
18:39 2022
Photos Provide By Martha Martin

By Michael Pearce – PK Magazine

David Martin might have been the coolest youngster at Graham High School in the mid-1970s, because his ride to school – the family’s Bonanza airplane – literally soared way above the fastest vehicles in the school’s parking lot.

“I flew to high school a lot of mornings,” Martin said. “It was only about 15 air miles to school, and I’d have a friend pick me up at the airport at the edge of town. I’ve been raised around airplanes all my life, and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be flying. It’s always been there.”

He also can’t remember a time when piloting that workhorse Bonanza would be enough to keep him aviation desires content. To quote a famous line from Tom Cruise’s character, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, in both “Top Gun” movies, Martin said he’s always felt “the need for speed.” He’s quenched that desire in several types of aircraft in his flying career – and accumulated some national and world flying championships along the way, too.

Photos Provided By Martha Martin

Born to fly

Martin was born in 1959, the same year his parents, Bobby and Carole Martin, came to PK to open what’s now Villa Marina. His father was a commercial pilot at the time, and a runway by the marina allowed pilots to access PK by air, which was easier than by automobile much of the time back then because of the primitive road systems.

Martin’s maternal grandfather also was a commercial pilot with many flying accomplishments – and skills – to share with his grandson.

“It was an early enough deal in my life that I remember my mom used to make airplane-shaped peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches to get me to eat my lunch in the first grade,” Martin said. “I think she even had little emblems on the wings.”

Martin already was an accomplished pilot when he graduated from high school and headed to Southeastern Oklahoma State University, located in Durant. Naturally, his major and degree were in aviation, and after a few jobs flying for private companies, Martin went to where he could fly the fastest planes in the country and have someone else pay for it: the Texas Air National Guard.

He started flying McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs – an impressive jet fighter/bomber used extensively by the United States in the Vietnam War – but his goal was to fly something even better and faster.

As a youth, Martin remembers working at the marina and looking up as F-16 Fighting Falcons, built by General Dynamics, passed overhead, usually on test flights from where they were made in Fort Worth. 

“There was never any doubt it was the ultimate jet, and that’s what I wanted to fly,” he said. “I remember going to air shows, looking at all the jets, dreaming of what I wanted to fly. The F-16 was best, being fast and the most high-tech.”

Martin logged about 800 hours of flight time in F-16s before leaving the military in 1994, and by then it was clear what style of flight he wanted to pursue when his military days ended.

Combat-trained, world-champion competitor

Martin was around 16 when his grandfather first showed him a few things about aerobatic flying, and before he left the National Guard some friends introduced him to specialized aerobatic airplanes.

It was love at first flight.

Photos By Martha Martin

“They’re small, light and very powerful,” he said. “They’re like a fighter but not as fast, but they’re more maneuverable than a fighter. They’re kind of the ultimate airplane, performance-wise.”

Martin built his first aerobatic airplane and was a member of the U.S. aerobatic flying team for many years, serving as captain of the group four times. Most aerobatic competitions were held in Europe, he said, and world championships took place every other year.

Success wasn’t rated on speed, and sometimes not even flying performance, he said.

“It’s kind of like figure skating, in that you have judges rating you on things like how well you fly your loops and the difficulty of what you’re attempting,” Martin said. “There’s also some favoritism from the judges to deal with.”

The pinnacle of his aerobatic flying career came in 2001, when he won a gold medal at those world games. While he dearly loved the flying and competing, Martin said participating in world competitions eventually became too expensive and problematic.

For the first few years of Martin’s competitive career, the U.S. military flew the aerobatic team’s planes to Europe in huge Lockheed Galaxy C-5 transports. When that option ended, Martin and others shipped the planes themselves for a few years, but that was expensive, time-consuming and difficult.

However, a side benefit to the aerial competition materialized when Martin landed a job flying for Breitling Watches, a Swiss manufacturer of luxury watches popular with affluent pilots.

“That was a really good job, working with Breitling,” he said. “They sent me to fly their plane at big air shows. One of the big things they had me do was give rides to their best customers. It was a dream job that paid well with a first-class company.”

No place like home

Martin flew his last event for the Swiss company in 2017, after 14 years, because he felt himself being pulled back to a business that was more important to him: the family marina in PK. His parents, who have been married 67 years, still work there every day, 63 years after they started the business.

“That marina has always been a part of my life,” Martin said. “It’s always been important to me. I think I’ve lived most of my life near the marina. I worked there a lot as a kid, pumping gas or whatever needed to be done. I know my parents would be needing the help.”

His parents  have turned over most of the management and decision-making to Martin and his wife, Martha, and the couple is taking on the responsibilities so his parents can just enjoy doing only what they want to do at the business for as long as they like.

But Martin’s not done flying. He enjoys buying planes, often rebuilding, and then selling them – maybe.

“I seem to be a lot better at the buying part than the selling part,” he said with a chuckle. “I have nine airplanes. I’ll still do some air shows. Not as many as I used to, but I still enjoy going and flying at some.” 

Martin did some of the telephone interviews for this article between flights at the legendary AirVenture Oshkosh 2022 event in Wisconsin. It’s probably the best-known air show in the nation, and the world-champion aviator said it always feels good to show up to work in the heart of PK after any aviation trip.

“It’s a fun job and so nice to be working with my parents every day I go to work,” Martin said. “Not many people can say they’re working with their 90-year-old dad. I’m really enjoying it.”

It’s so much fun that his mother doesn’t even have to bribe him with airplane-shaped peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches to get him to come to work.

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