The Warbird and Air Racing Communities lost a great friend on March 17, 2010. Al Goss was flying his beloved T-6, Warlock, with his crew chief, Steve Ballard, when tragedy struck.
Alfred Fredrick Goss Jr., or “Papa Goss” or “Al”to all that knew him, was born December 16, 1941 in Shenandoah, Iowa to Alfred and Lucille Goss.
At 18, Al started flying and soon found employment as a crop duster flying for Pat Tomlinson of M & W Flying in Porterville, CA. After several years he migrated to Northern California and flew for several different organizations. Twenty-two years ago, he took a job in the Bakersfield, CA area with Old River Crop Dusting, owned by dear friend and fellow air racer, Eddie Van Fossen.
A crop duster by day, his real passion was Warlock and the people who surrounded him and supported him while he raced the pylons at Reno. He had two sons, Randy and David and a daughter, Sandra; but he adopted the rest of us and made everyone feel like family.
His Racing Story started in 1981, when Al decided to make the trek over the hills to the National Championship Air Races. Twenty-nine years later, he was the favorite of both fans and racers alike.
He finished 2nd in the Gold six times, or as he would say, “the first loser”. But, he won it all in 2004. Walking away with the title of National Champion after all those years meant so much to him. Regardless of win or lose, however, his devoted fans loved him.
The Warlock Crew would show up every year and work from dawn to dusk. They polished that airplane, mingled with the crowds and watched with great interest all of the races over the many days. Photographers were welcomed, and could always be found huddled on top of the Warlock trailer with their camera equipment trying to get the best pictures. (I always wondered how he managed to assemble such an amazing array of people. He was magnetic in that way.) Still, he always seemed to give much more than he received, although I’m sure he would disagree.
The big bash every year was the Warlock Party. It happened on Wednesday night as a way to celebrate the beginning of the races. There was always a band, dancing, singing and friendship being passed around the ramp. Everyone was there and Al knew all of them.
From a pilot’s standpoint, he did it all. He flew for a living, and lived for his flying. When an Airshow needed him, he was there. When a friend was in need, they knew they could call him anytime. He was the hardest working and the kindest man I have ever known.
I met Al in 2004, my first year racing in the Biplane Class. He was a mentor and a friend to me. After every race, I would get debriefed by him. If I did well, it was a big hug and if I made mistakes, he would shake his head and share with me his insight. I felt as though I was the luckiest pilot in the world to have this great man take such a personal interest in me and my flying. But, he did that to so many of us.
From the phone calls I have received since the news went out, everyone was touched by him. Every interaction made people feel special. He remembered wives’ and childrens' names, details of everyone’s life, and showed deep concern and compassion towards all of us.
In addition to his children and grandchildren, Al had a special friend in Anita. They were inseparable and just about the most adorable couple you’d ever meet. They would dance together at the Warlock Party and everyone would stop and watch them. As loving and amiable as Al was, Anita just multiplied the affection.
His passenger on that day was Steven Ballard, a long time friend, Fed-ex pilot and flight instructor. Steve was also a fixture at the Air Races as part of the Warlock Crew each year.
This year was to be Al’s 30th Anniversary racing at Reno. I know Team Ruby will put together a special memorial to our mentor this year and it’s likely that other teams will too.
But for many of us, without Al, Warlock, and the team, the races will simply never be the same.
A public memorial was held at Shafter Minter Field on April 10th at noon in Eddie's Hangar. The crowd was amazing and the fly-bys were a fitting tribute to a great man. Special thanks to Tiger, Eddie and Sandy Sanders for their efforts that day.
Please keep the Goss, Warlock and Reno families in your hearts. For we have all suffered a great loss.
RIP Papa Goss. I loved you and will miss you always.
Ruby Red Racing