Aviation Partners Inc. (API) co-founder and CEO Joe Clark, the aviation pioneer and entrepreneur whose vision of blended winglets led to the design being incorporated on thousands of aircraft, died on March 30. He was 78.
"Joe revolutionized the aviation industry," said Tom Gibbons, COO of API joint venture APiJET. "He would dream it and then find people who could make it happen."
Born in Calgary, Alberta, Clark soon moved to the Seattle area, where he grew up. According to the San Diego Air & Space Museum, he discovered his affinity for aviation while at the University of Washington, taking flying lessons at the time. Cementing that was a trip he took to the 1964 Reno Air Races with friend Clay Lacy aboard a Learjet 23.
When he was 24, he founded Jet Air, the first Learjet dealership in the Northwest. "We'd land the Learjet in places where jets had never landed before," API had quoted Clark as saying. "People would come out to the airplane and they'd think you were in a spaceship." He became involved in marketing and sales with Gates Learjet, as well as the Raisbeck Group.
In 1981, Clark shifted into regional operations, co-founding Horizon Air, which was later sold to Alaska Airlines. He subsequently founded a company to market ex-military jet trainers, Avstar, and co-founded the Friendship Foundation, which established an around-the-world speed record of 36 hours, 54 minutes and 15 seconds in a Boeing 747-SP and raised $500,000 for children’s charities in the process.
Clark co-founded Aviation Partners in 1991 when Dennis Washington asked him to find a means for his Gulfstream II to fly across the country nonstop, according to NBAA. That launched their Seattle-based firm, which initially developed for the Gulfstream II blended winglets that reduced drag by more than 7 percent. In the subsequent decades, the technology took root, and now more than 70 percent of the Gulfstream fleet uses blended winglets, as do more than some 6,000 Boeing aircraft and numerous other business jet models. At NBAA-BACE 2019, API estimated that its winglets have saved in excess of 10 billion gallons of fuel.
Over his career, Clark was involved in a number of organizations and garnered numerous accolades, including being inducted into the San Diego International Air and Space Hall of Fame, becoming a Living Legends of Aviation's Aviation Entrepreneur of the Year, and receiving one of NBAA’s highest honors, the Meritorious Service to Aviation Award.
“Everyone here at the museum is deeply saddened by the news of Joe Clark’s passing,” said Jim Kidrick, president and CEO of the San Diego Air & Space Museum, where Clark had served as a trustee. “Joe’s innovations in aviation technologies have been felt all over the world. Joe was such an important and beloved friend to the museum, and he is already greatly missed.”
“Joe found extraordinary joy in all things aviation,” said NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. “His legacy will long be visible on the thousands of business and commercial aircraft fitted with his winglets to increase performance and efficiency, while also reducing carbon emissions. It will also be deeply felt by the thousands of individuals and aviation organizations Joe touched in his remarkable lifetime.”