Joe Ronald "Ron" Bower, who set two speed records circumnavigating the earth in helicopters, died on October 12. He was 78.
Born on Dec. 28, 1941, Bower had amassed more than 9,000 hours over his 55 years of flying and obtained nearly every aircraft rating, except for blimps and hot air balloons. He had served in multiple roles, including as a flight instructor, combat pilot, sales executive, and purchasing consultant, in addition to his east- and west-bound helicopter world records. Soloing in 1962, Bower’s flying and business expeditions led him to pilot aircraft in 37 countries and visit more than 50, according to a tribute site.
Bower originally gained experience in the U.S. Army flying Hiller observation helicopters on the demilitarized zone border with North Korea and then Hueys during the Vietnam War. He earned 11 medals for air combat. After his service, he joined IBM in 1967 to sell computers but in 1982 jumped back into aviation when he joined a fellow IBM colleague to help launch an aircraft sales company. There, he built a team of mechanics, pilots, salespeople, and administrators to support the sales business, as well as establish a database of Bell 206 records.
In 1994, he broke an around-the-world record set in 1982 by Ross Perot Jr. and Jay Coburn. Bower flew eastbound in the 206B3 Jet Ranger III, departing and ending at the Bell Helicopter Textron delivery center in Fort Worth, Texas. The trip began on June 28, 1994, and ended a month later on July 28, gaining recognitions for a world speed record, five specific city-to-city speed records, and as the first western helicopter to fly across Russia.
His westbound trip followed in 1996, beginning and ending in London in a Bell 430, setting a world speed record for a twin helicopter. That trip began Aug. 17, 1996, and ended on less than three weeks later on September 3, averaging 10.2 hours a day, with the longest day reaching 17.5 hours. The total distance traversed was 20,508 nm and he logged a high of 2,263 nm in one day.
Bower is survived by his wife of 57 years, Peggy, along with his children, their spouses, grandchildren, and a great-grandchild. Outdoor services will be held on December 28.