Duane Cole took his first flying lesson on Christmas Day 1937, got his private license in 1938, his commercial license in 1939, and his instructor rating in 1940. That was also the year he flew his first air show. In the next 15 years, he taught aerobatics to Civilian Pilot Training Program students, Royal Air Force Cadets, and United States Army Air Force Cadets. With his brothers Marion, Arnold and Lester, he formed the Cole Brothers Air Circus. But, afraid of infringement on the name of the Cole Brother Circus, they quickly changed the name to The Cole Brothers Airshow.
Due to his friendship with Paul Poberezny, Duane became one of twelve members at a meeting held in January 1951 for the purpose of organizing a pilots’ association. In 1953, that association was named the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). Duane’s wife Judy became his air show wing rider in 1957. In 1962, Duane won the National Aerobatics Championship, and was named to the U.S.A. team that competed in Budapest, Hungary for the World Championship.
In January 1963, at his Phoenix 100 Air Race, he introduced an Indy-type pace plane. He used the same start at the Pendleton 100 Air Race for Jack Brown in 1964. That same year, he put together and ran the Reno Air Races, using the same start for the unlimited race, and won the National Aerobatic Championship once again. He served as Director of the Reno Air Races through 1967. After 1967, Duane ran an aerobatic school for the next twenty years. He was inducted into the State of Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame in 1983 and the International Aerobatic Hall of Fame in 1987.
In 1996, he was inducted into the ICAS Foundation Hall of Fame and was also the recipient of the ICAS Sword of Excellence. Duane Cole has written nine books, been on nearly 1,500 airports (a world record) in 47 states, 10 foreign countries and two U.S. territories. He has lectured throughout the country and brags about having 30,000 hours of flying time, but doesn’t know how to turn a radio on! Regretfully, Duane Cole passed away in February 2004 at the age of 83. His wife, Judy, died in June of the same year.