Rock music dominates the sound system. A capacity crowd gets into the mood and is on their feet. A narration begins – a unique and creative story that some of the kids already know by heart. Suddenly, the roar of an R-985 at maximum power replaces the music and narrative. A new biplane named Dracula is put through its paces right at show center. Pouring out white and blood red smoke, roaring with over 500 horsepower, it twists and tumbles like a much smaller airplane. The crowd is captivated. The performance is as perfect as the story, and the landing is even better. The monster Dracula coasts to a stop in front of the crowd and airshow legend Kyle Franklin emerges from the cockpit.
Some people follow in the footsteps of their parents, some blaze a new trail – Kyle Franklin has done both. For nearly 50 years, the Franklin family name has been synonymous with creative, theme-based airshows that pack the grand stands and bring the crowds to their feet.
Kyle’s story likely began years before he was born. His father Jimmy Franklin started flying airshows in 1967 with a stock Waco UPF-7. Jimmy’s father Zip was a self-taught pilot who was also a New Mexico cattle rancher. Zip was a hard working, independent man who valued his family more than anything. Jimmy took the independence and work ethic of his father, combined it with his dream to become an airshow pilot, and never looked back. The legendary airshow career that Jimmy Franklin will always be known for was literally Kyle’s playground.
Kyle was born into a family that embodied classic American values but also embraced the creativity and artistry that would set them apart from the rest of the airshow profession. Like many pilots, Kyle grew up around airplanes, but not just any airplanes. The Bellanca Viking he first rode in as an infant was fully aerobatic and later featured in one of Bellanca’s promotional videos. The Waco biplane his dad bought in the 1960’s grew in horsepower from 220 to 330 to 450 to 600 and finally boasted a jet engine mounted under the fuselage. The “spare” Waco was modified and became the Mystery Ship. The rum running Aerostar bought at a Marshall Service auction became the Starship Pride, flown by the mysterious Zar. The workhorse Super Cub was used for the world’s only motorcycle to airplane transfer and the much beloved comedy routine. Even his grandfather’s Cessna 180 had a unique ranch pedigree.
Kyle’s world had few limits – BMX bicycles and skateboards were mastered while other kids were struggling with walking; motorcycles became a favorite toy at the age of thirteen; and the DeLorean from “Back To The Future” needed a bigger engine, a flamethrower, and a smoke system to be truly cool. And of course, eight years old was about the right age to learn to fly a Super Cub.
As a youngster, Kyle understood that his family was in the airshow business and he knew his dad was one of the best in the business. In addition to his airshow work, Jimmy Franklin performed some of the aerial scenes in Hollywood hits such as “Three Amigos”, “The Rocketeer”, “Choke Canyon”, “Terminal Velocity”, and “Forever Young”. His list of professional accolades is unprecedented:
- The Bill Barber Award for Showmanship in 1989;
- The Clifford W. Henderson Achievement Award in 1999;
- The General Aviation News and Flyer ‘Reader’s Choice’ Award for Favorite Overall Performer and Favorite Specialty Act in 1990 and 1996, respectively;
- The Art Scholl Showmanship Award twice – in 1986 for the Zar act in the Aerostar and again in 1999 for his showmanship in the Jet Waco;
- Jimmy was also honored posthumously in 2007 with induction into the ICAS Foundation Airshow Hall of Fame
Jimmy set the example for his son – hard work, creativity, business sense, passion, and a commitment to the fans would be the standard that Kyle would have to meet and exceed. And Kyle did exactly that. First inspired by his dad’s character Zar and the Starship Pride, Kyle realized at the age of ten that an airshow act had to be unique. Zar combined the space age themes that made “Star Wars” a hit with precision aerobatics, unique costumes, and a captivating theme. Kyle contributed to the success of Zar by acting as a sounding board for the costumes and the unique story. The unprecedented Jet Waco routine was enhanced when Kyle participated as the world’s only jet wing walker and the only father and son wingwalking act in the industry. Masters of Disaster remains one of the most unique acts in the history of airshows and incorporates a number of themes and ideas conceived by Kyle while he was still in high school.When Jimmy died tragically in 2005, Kyle had already mastered wingwalking, the motorcycle to airplane transfer, the Cub Comedy routine, and flying the Jet Waco. Adding his own ideas to the Cub Comedy routine and the motorcycle to airplane transfer, Kyle quickly established a reputation for putting on crowd pleasing acts and having a fantastic rapport with his fans.
Never one to rest on family laurels, he immediately set out to create his own acts that would attract a new segment of airshow fans. He brought a pirate theme to his wingwalking act and named it “Pirated Skies”. Kids of all ages flocked to hear the story of Captain Kyro, Scandalous Scarlett, and the Waco Mystery Ship. Kids and adults loved the routine, the costumes, the story, and most importantly – the charismatic young couple that made it all look so graceful and effortless. The advertising and promotional materials for “Pirated Skies” received industry awards and recognition and remain today among the most visually stunning ads in the airshow industry.
Since 2005, Kyle and his unique acts have been featured on the following magazine and newspaper covers:
- “In Flight USA” – June 2007 and May 2010 covers
- “Trade-A-Plane” – April 2009 Sun-N-Fun Edition cover
- “Fly Low” – March 2008, August 2009, and December 2009 covers
- “Midwest Flyer” – August 2009 cover
- “Atlantic Flyer” – October 2009 cover
- “World Airshow News” – March 2008 centerfold article and October 2009 cover
- USA Today – Cover of Business section, December 1, 2009
While crowds were being enthralled by the Mystery Ship and laughing at the antics in the Cub, Kyle was looking for a new act. Years earlier, his dad had envisioned a one of a kind biplane that would look and sound like the Waco that made him famous, but be smaller, lighter, and as maneuverable as the monoplanes that were taking center stage. Kyle added the vampire theme, a riveting story, and unique costumes and promotional material.
Dracula. The immortal monster of dreams and nightmares takes the form of a new biplane and a thrilling airshow act. Kyle Franklin has created a one of a kind airplane with a classic theme, an appealing story, and a commitment to his fans that is rooted in creativity and passion. He has emerged from a storied, sometimes tragic, past as a man who is a product of his unique upbringing, but who has also brought forth his own talents and ideas. Building on the success of his predecessors, Kyle has grown into a leading role in his profession. As Dracula grows as an act, Kyle will continue to create new ideas and new acts that will appeal to an ever-widening fan base. Always at the forefront of creativity, always rooted in classic themes, Kyle Franklin has brought to life a monster that will take the world by storm – Dracula has grown from apparition to reality. Prepare your souls for an encounter with immortality!