An article by Mike Mooneyham
Published in 2001
With a name like Rip Hawk, you’d think that flying would be this guy’s cup of tea. But for the former pro mat great, traveling on airplanes is for the birds.
Hawk, who began wrestling professionally in the late ’40s and retired in 1982, has had more than his share of near misses flying the friendly skies.
You name it, Hawk’s seen it. Blown-out doors and wheels, ticking devices, overloaded single-engine planes, and flying with inexperienced pilots who follow the outline of highways as flying guides.
“They were truly hair-raising experiences,” Hawk says of his many airplane escapades.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Hawk credits Ric Flair with saving his life on one occasion by talking him out of a plane flight back in the early ’70s. That particular flight was an ill-fated trip from Charleston to Charlotte.
Hawk had worked a Friday night show at the old County Hall and agreed to stop by the motel for a couple of drinks with Flair and Ivan Koloff before catching his flight back to Charlotte.
“Everybody drank a lot on the way back, and if I could fly I would, because of guys dying in those car wrecks. But that night it saved me.”
“Flair said, `Why don’t you back with us tonight and we’ll have some drinks on the way back?’ I told him I already had my hotel room and flight in the morning, and told him I’d just go back. After a couple more drinks, we had something to eat. He said, `Come on and go with us.’ I finally agreed to go back with them. I checked out of the room and went back with them. The next morning the girl who took care of all my flights called. I told her I had come back home with Flair and Koloff last night. She said, `Thank God, because that plane you were supposed to be on crashed this morning. She called me up and woke me up.
Hawk, who along with Swede Hanson formed one of the top teams in the business during the ’60s and ’70s, recounts another close call involving Koloff as they were flying on an old F-27 prop jet that left Charlotte.
“The wheel fell off as we were taking off and they were pulling up the landing gear. Koloff and I looked at one another at the same time. He asked me if I saw that. I said I think so. We called the stewardess and said, “Look, we’re not trying to frighten you and we’re not ribbing you, but the wheel just fell off this plane.
“She said, `Oh, you wrestlers are all alike.’ We told her to go get the captain and tell him to come back and check. They dropped that wheel down. The pilot went back to the cockpit and made this announcement: `Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to have to fly around a little while and use up some gas. We just blew a recap.'[ad#MikeMooneyham-468×15]
“We flew for hours, and they finally brought us down in Winston-Salem. That guy had to be a tremendous pilot, an old fighter pilot or something, because he brought that sucker down on one side and set it down like he laid it on a pillow. Ivan just picked him up and hugged him when we got off the plane.”
Hawk shared many frightening plane rides with Hanson.
“One time Swede and I were over in Japan. This plane starts taking off and all of a sudden it dropped about a thousand feet. It was like our bellies went out from under us. We were scared to death. We couldn’t talk to anyone, because it was a Japanese airlines, and nobody spoke English. Then we found out that it does that all the time because it was on top of a mountain but nobody notified us.
“On that same lovely trip we were due to come back at a certain time, but the plane in front of us crashed into the mountain over there
Mount Fujiyama -and there was a guy with Swede’s initials and his name: Robert F. Hanson. They found his body, and they didn’t come up with any other names, so my mother panicked when she thought that was Swede and they just couldn’t find my body.”
Hawk recalls the time he was sure the plane he was on was going to explode.
“Back in the ’60s there were a lot of plane bombings, I was on a plane, and I heard that little ticking. It was coming from this guy’s briefcase. I kept looking at that briefcase, and I wondered if I should try to take it from him and knock him out. I called the stewardess and she made him open his briefcase. It was a little clock. What a relief.”
The plane door fell off during a flight to St. Louis.
“The door popped right out,” says Hawk. “We had just taken off and were circling, and there was this big bang. The pilot called for an emergency landing. That was another hairy experience.”
One time in Miami Swede and I were taking off. All of a sudden that plane went right up under its nose. We saw another plane out the window coming that way. The brakes went on that plane, reversed the engines and that plane shot right in front of us.
And then there was the plane loaded way past capacity.
“We were on a flight going into Charleston. It was a private plane and it was overloaded. Lightning started hitting all around the plane and knocking us up in the air. Swede’s hair was standing straight up on end. It was a sight. Finally that pilot got it straightened out. Davey Crockett was up in the front, and Swede took a bottle from him, saying he needed it more than Davy did.”
“We were on this plane when we hit a big-time storm. That plane was flopping around, and the coffee contraption came right out of the wall and hit the stewardess, sending her flying down the aisle. Swede and I always sat across from one another and took outside seats. We grabbed that girl and held her. That plane was going up and down. We didn’t know if we were coming back or not. Fortunately we made it.”
Among Hawk’s most memorable flying experiences was flying with Terry and Dory Funk Jr. on their many trips through the Texas Panhandle.
“Flying with Dory Jr. was something else. We were flying over to Alberquerque. I thought it was sort of strange when we looked down and saw Interstate 40. I thought Dory was just taking the scenic route. On the way back that night we were flying around and Dory asked us to look down and see if we could see I-40. He asked us where all the cars were going. He told us if we wanted to get back we had to follow that road. Needless to say we had our eyes pealed to I-40 all the way back to Amarillo on that little plane. He had to make about eight passes because that West Texas wind got so bad. Every time he’d set it down we’d go up again. I told him if we got close enough to ground, we were going to jump out of that sucker.”
Dory’s younger brother, Terry, was even more inexperienced, says Hawk.
“Terry was worse. He thought he could fly but he couldn’t. I don’t think he ever took any lessons. I thought it was bad enough driving to the airport in an automobile with Terry, but when we got in that plane it was even worse.”
“We flew into a flock of ducks in Colorado. We made a few bumps over those mountains. Snow, ducks, when I got home, I said I’d never get on a small plane again. And I don’t believe I have.”
Hawk, who has spent the past 20 years in West Texas, admits he felt a slight twinge when he sat next to Johnny Valentine on a recent flight from their home state to Charleston for the recent legends reunion.
“I was a little leery. I thought, `Oh, boy.'”