Pilot alumni flies WWII Helldiver, brings history to life


Courtesy of Edward Vesely

The Helldiver is Edward Vesely’s favorite to fly.

Among the five World War II Curtiss SB2-C Helldiver aircrafts in existence, only one is prepared to take flight. On top of that, Oakland University School of Business Administration class of 1979 alum, Edward Vesely, is one of only two pilots qualified to fly it.

Despite his busy schedule as the senior director of sales for Welsch Aviation in Houston, Texas, Vesely spends his free time flying in airshows nationwide as a way to allow others to experience a piece of history.

He calls his opportunities to share the experience and history of the aircraft an honor, a privilege and responsibility, and celebrates a well-seasoned and highly qualified background in the air.

The son of a U.S. Air Force mechanic, Vesely was 11 when his family moved from Ohio to Michigan, where his father accepted a position with the U.S. Department of Defense at the Warren Chrysler Tank Plant. He lived one mile away from the (then) Big Beaver Airport at 16 Mile and John R Road, and would ride his bicycle to watch airplanes on the weekends.

His tenacity spoke for itself when he stumbled upon an abandoned 1940 Piper J-3 Cub. He then set his mind to restoring it back to flight in what he called the “ultimate father-son project.”

Vesely is now a resident of Texas, where he and his wife and fellow pilot continue to fly the Cub for fun. They also use their Beech A-36 Bonanza for domestic travel and support for their corporate jet sales business.

“When your vocation and avocation merge, it can make for a satisfying and rewarding career and life,” Vesely said.

This seems to be the case for Vesely, who created a career in corporate aircraft sales after receiving his Bachelor of Science in Business Management/Economics from OU and combining it with his lifetime love of aviation.

After he earned his private pilot’s license at the age of 16, he moved on to flying light WWII-type aircraft early in his flying career. He then spent time as a flight instructor in Pontiac, MI before relocating to Houston, TX in 1980, shortly after receiving his degree from OU.

From there, Vesely was hired by Mitsubishi Aircraft as a sales/demonstration pilot, followed by the launch of his career as a jet broker for the sale and acquisition of corporate aircraft.

He also began volunteering with the Lone Star Flight Museum and its WWII flying collection during this time, which led to the invitation to fly the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) West Texas Wing’s Helldiver in 2005.

Although he has flown many WWII-era warbirds, including the Grumman F6F Hellcat, Grumman TBM, P-51 Mustang, B-25 Mitchell and S2 Tracker, his favorite is the Helldiver.

“As far as the mechanical aspects of the airplane, it is a very enjoyable airplane to fly. Roll is very light, pitch is medium in pressure and the rudder is extremely heavy,” Vesely said. “We don’t deploy dive brakes, as we have to respect the fact we are flying a one-of-a-kind airplane that is 70 years old.”

Vesely said that because of his OU education, his satisfying career in corporate jet sales and extensive volunteer work, he has traveled to five continents and enjoyed associations with people at all levels of society.

“These experiences have helped me to recognize the importance of quality education which led me to such a vast array of opportunities,” he said. “Your college degree holds your ability to open up doors and seek your dreams.”

Through his educational leadership and involvement with the CAF in perpetuating living history, Vesely hopes to help the next generation understand the importance of education and the role that history serves. When young people can honor the lessons of “The Greatest Generation” and experience living history, perhaps they will better understand how to avoid errors of the past.

“History doesn’t come alive until you see it alive,”Vesely said . “That is why we fly these aircraft.”