Ron Alexander, known among fellow pilots as a “quiet giant” of aviation, died Nov. 17 in a Curtiss JN-4 Jenny aircraft crash near his Peach State Aerodrome home field in Williamson, Georgia. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that witnesses saw the vintage aircraft take off before the aircraft burst into flames and crashed near the Candler Field Museum’s grass landing strip, killing Alexander and an unidentified passenger.
Alexander was a retired Delta captain, war hero, and forward-looking aviation businessman with a fondness for keeping the Golden Age of aviation history alive. He regularly flew to airfields around the country in a restored Douglas DC-3 and gave rides to passengers young and old so they could experience the joy of aviation.
An Indiana native, he joined the U.S. Air Force and flew both C-130s and de Havilland Caribous in the Vietnam War on extremely high-risk missions to deliver and retrieve Special Forces. Alexander was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his skill and bravery there.
He joined Delta Air Lines when he returned to the United States and had a spotless record until retirement. Alexander was also a highly successful aviation entrepreneur. When he restored a vintage Stearman biplane in the 1970s and 1980s, he started Alexander Aeroplane Co., an aviation supply company that made restorations easier for other enthusiasts.
In the 1990s he launched a highly successful series of traveling SportAir Workshops in which experts provided hands-on experience for restorers learning skills including rib stitching, fabric application, and welding. The workshops were later sold to the Experimental Aircraft Association and remain a big draw for EAA members and other aircraft builders. Alexander Aeroplane business interests were purchased by Aircraft Spruce to anchor an East Coast outpost for the popular aircraft parts and supply company. The entrepreneur then established Atlanta Aerospace Composites in the 2000s to repair composite-constructed general aviation and Embraer ERJ 145 commercial aircraft.
Alexander bought the neglected Peach State Airport and transformed the sleepy grass strip into a popular weekend stop for aviators with the idea to re-create the look and feel of Atlanta’s Candler Field Airport, which later became Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
His concept was to showcase the Golden Age of aviation, circa 1927, and Alexander held a popular yearly fly-in complete with period costumes, World War I vehicles, and aircraft that embodied the bygone era. The place became a magnet for residential development, aircraft restoration, the busy Barnstormer’s Grill restaurant, and the site for the Candler Field Museum, which showcased Alexander’s personal airplanes and many others from the period.
Looking ahead to keep aviation alive for the next generation, the airman founded the Candler Field Youth Mentorship Program to help young people establish an aviation career.
As news of the crash spread, tributes quickly poured into Facebook and other social media sites where Alexander was remembered as a mentor and an inspiration to others.
Youth program member Douglas Dunn wrote that he began his relationship with Alexander doing odd jobs around the museum and the airfield. “I honestly can’t remember a single time that he took my work for granted,” wrote Dunn. “He always made sure I had everything I needed. And more than once, he came out and gave me a hand, even with the mopping. Ron may have been the big boss, but there wasn’t a single task he considered below him … he made an enormously positive impact on my life.”
AOPA Editor at Large Dave Hirschman, who met Alexander through the Atlanta aviation community, praised him as a “quiet giant” of aviation. “Ron was extremely active in teaching others to fly and preparing them for aviation careers as pilots and technicians,” Hirschman said.
The EAA Vintage Aircraft Association board of directors member was a certificated flight instructor, mechanic, flight engineer, and air transport pilot with type ratings for Boeing’s 737, 757, 767, DC-3, and DC-9 airliners and de Havilland’s DHC-4.