A Tale of Two Aircraft Tragedies - Twenty Years Apart

History of Adventure at Lake Berryessa: 

A Tale of Two Aircraft Tragedies - Twenty Years Apart

by Peter Kilkus

I was contacted by Cassandra Herrman a few weeks ago. Cassandra told me she had not been to Lake Berryessa in 20 years - since her father, Bob Herrman, was killed in a tragic biplane crash off the shore of Rancho Monticello on Saturday,  March 14, 1998. She wished to have a quiet remembrance here at the lake on the anniversary of his death. It struck me that seeking adventure and exceptional life experiences also entails acceptance of risk.

Sometimes adventurous people live to be more than 90 years old. And sometimes they don’t! But even those who don’t seem to have enjoyed every minute of what they had because of the sense of adventure that defined their lives. I don’t recall the accident that killed Bob Herrman. But 20 years later his daughter caused me to relive it. And it obviously brought to mind the tragic crash of an ICON A5 on Monday, May 8, 2017 - a plane I had just flown the previous Friday - in which two people were also killed. The pilot of the ICON A5 was a legendary pilot and aircraft designer - John Karkow. Their stories are connected by Lake Berryessa and history.


Robert Herrman (1937-1998)

Custom Biplane Adventure

Stories from his childhood reveal unmistakable hints of an early obsession with planes and trains. As a kid, he used to sneak away at every chance to a local airport, built a makeshift helicopter in an attempt to (unsuccessfully) launch himself off the family garage, started a stock car racing club.

Bob's legitimate flying career began when he was selected as a pilot for the Marine Corps VMA 331 Squadron flying A4's on the Aircraft Carrier Forrestal. On June 7, 1965, Bob joined TWA as a commercial pilot and in a small way the airline would never be the same.

Although we can neither confirm nor deny the incident in which Bob had the cockpit crew don Burger King hats and post a ''For Sale: 1-800-Call Carl'' sign in the 1011 window (as a snub to then corporate raider Carl Icahn), his distinguished record and unquestionable dedication to TWA saved him from this and other alleged antics.

On August 3rd, 1997, he retired as Captain of the Lockheed 1011, after a 32 year career and six million miles in the air.

It’s difficult to choose which was a more colorful highlight of Bob's life: his in-flight wedding to Kaye in the Eagle (guests listened to the ceremony from the Vianssa winery) and reception on the Napa Valley Wine Train or his retirement celebration 4 years later.

Organized by Kaye, his gift was a cross-country train trip thrown as an ongoing surprise party. Starting in Chicago and ending in Victoria, B.C., Bob's friends and family secretly boarded the train or popped up in disguise along the way as waiters, outlaws, a homeless person and a mugger. 

Not one to take ''retirement'' literally, Bob's post­TWA career included welding Southwestern metal sculptures, and the meticulous restoration of a vintage railcar which he planned to inaugurate on a group trip through Mexico. In addition to these many pursuits, the relocation of the Eagle to the Nut Tree Airport allowed Bob to fly more frequently and form many new friendships. Bob's final flight was on March 14, 1998 in his beloved Eagle with longtime friend Mike Bullock. When looking back over the course of his life, he will be remembered for his unique sense of humor, his devotion to family and friends,  and most of all, his passion for life itself.


Jon Karkow (1962-2017)

ICON Aircraft: High Tech Adventure

The crash of an ICON A5 at Lake Berryessa on May 8, 2017, killing two people, Jon Karkow and Cargi Sever, was also a personal shock to me since the A5 that went down was the one I had just flown the previous Friday.

The pilot of the crashed aircraft, Jon Karkow, was a superstar of aeronautical research and development and had spent 21 years in aircraft development at Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites and over that time rightfully earned the reputation as the most accomplished aeronautical engineer and project engineer in the history of Scaled.

He led more than 20 aircraft programs and five complete airplanes including the record-breaking, around-the-world Virgin GlobalFlyer that won him a 2006 Aeronautics Laureate Award from Aviation Week & Space Technology.

 Most recently, he served as the Technical Program Manager for Richard Branson's commercial space program SpaceShipTwo. He was an active pilot and experimental test pilot with instrument, multi-engine, seaplane, helicopter, and glider ratings.

Jon dedicated the last ten years of his career to ICON and the A5. His unwavering goal was to build a production aircraft that embodied the essence of his love and passion for flying and adventure. 

Jon led the ground-breaking safety innovation around the A5’s Spin Resistant Airframe design, which made the A5 the first conventional production aircraft in history to meet the FAA Part 23 spin-resistance standard - a monumental aeronautical achievement that was nominated for the Collier Trophy in 2016.

He was a truly brilliant engineer, passionate aviator, tireless worker, and loyal friend. The A5 represented his vision for the joy of flying in its purest form – it was his final gift to aviation.


pKilkus@gmail.com                       © Peter Kilkus 2018