Robertson, Clifford Parker, III
AdvocateEnshrined 2006 1925-2011
When Robertson heard the Belgian Air Force was to surplus WWII era Spitfires, he obtained one. Asked if he ever flew his Spitfire, Robertson replied “I’ll give you the same answer I gave my insurance adjustor – ‘Of course I didn’t fly it.’ That’s my answer and I’m sticking to it.” Robertson owned his Spitfire for over 20 years, one of the many vintage aircraft the pilot and noted actor has owned and may (or may not) have flown.
- In 1969, as Nigeria was ravaged by civil war, Robertson helped organize flights bringing food and medicine into the area.
- In 1978, when Ethiopia was hit by famine, Robertson again organized incoming supply flights for charity.
- Served as Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) Young Eagles program’s first honorary chairman in 1992.
- Within EAA, he founded the Cliff Robertson Work Experience, in 1993 offering youths the chance to work for flight and ground school instruction.
Cliff, a native of La Jolla, California, developed an early love for aviation from the age of five when he saw – as he puts it- “that little yellow airplane gamboling over his house doing aerobatics.”
At the age of 14 Cliff would bicycle every day during the summer to a little airport where he would work all day long to clean airplanes and engines, and was never paid a nickel. But, every third or fourth day, the chief pilot would say to Cliff, a young lad of short stature, “Go get your cushion.” Cliff would race out with his cushion to a little red Taylor cub, where he and the chief pilot would fly for fifteen minutes. Flying was his compensation and he always felt overpaid.
Just out of high school, Robertson sought a Jack London adventure. He shipped out of San Francisco on a tramp steamer the SS Admiral Cole. Just 100 miles off ILO ILO in the Philippines, the ship was bombed by the Japanese. Miraculously the ship escaped and made it to the Philippines, where he declined an offer to join a small Philippine-American Army unit. In New Zealand, Cliff wanted to take advantage of New Zealand’s lenient eye requirements. With less than 20/20 vision Cliff was ineligible to fly in the States. He contacted the U.S. Counsul’s office and volunteered for New Zealand’s Air Force, but at the last minute the police returned him to the ship.
Back in the States Cliff attended college in Ohio. He attempted to join the Naval Air Corps; but was sent to maritime officers’ school and thence to the Pacific, Atlantic and Mediterranean theaters of war.
After the war, Robertson pursued an acting and writing career. He was accepted in the Actor’s Studio and worked in off-Broadway shows and then on Broadway. Robertson received an Emmy for his leading role in “The Game”, an Oscar for Best Actor for “Charly”, and he was selected to portray President John F. Kennedy by the President himself in “PT-109.” Cliff just finished filming Spiderman 3, his 77th major motion picture. Robertson received the highest commendation from the Screen Actor’s Guild as well as Washington Congress Record for his singular stand against corporate corruption in the infamous “Hollywoodgate” scandal.
Robertson is a public and powerful advocate for general and military aviation and is a highly respected and sought-after speaker at many aviation events. He has given more non-compensated speeches to groups on behalf of aviation than any other celebrity. In 1981, he received the L. P. Sharples Award from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association for his significant contributions to general aviation. He received the EAA’s highest honor the “Freedom of Flight” award in 1987 and in 2003, Robertson was awarded the Veteran of the year award by the America Veteran’s Association.
In 1969, Robertson helped organize an effort to fly food and medical supplies to war ravaged Biafra, Nigeria. When a famine hit Ethiopia in 1978, Robertson again organized relief flights of supplies to that country.
He’s dedicated to helping others experience the joy of flight as he did, by earning it. Robertson takes an active part in the Cliff Robertson Work Experience Program. Each summer, two youths, 16 or 17 years old, are invited to Oshkosh, through the EAA Air Academy, where they work for ground and flight instruction.
The EAA’s Young Eagles program began in 1992 with Robertson as its first honorary chairman. In 1999, he helped kick off the EAA’s campaign, “Vision of Eagles”, a unique set of initiatives designed to educate, motivate and provide direction to young people through aviation-based activities.
Robertson maintains a stable of aircraft: a Messerschmitt BF 108; a Beech Baron; a French Stampe Biplane; and DeHaviland Tiger Moth for which he spent five years in a bureaucratic battle with the FAA to get a standard license for this popular British biplane. He also has a Grobe Astir glider. Robertson holds a Nevada state distance soaring record.
He stresses the importance of giving back what you take and he has done that. And in his words “Flying is freedom – the essence of the good life.”
For these contributions, Cliff Robertson has earned his place in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
Clifford Parker Robertson III died in New York of natural causes on September 10, 2011, just a day after his 86th birthday.