Aviation World Mourns Passing of Arnold Palmer

Known as one of golf’s greatest champions ever, Palmer also maintained a lifelong love affair with flying and served as a tireless advocate for business aviation.

Arnold Palmer Citation X
Arnold Palmer in the cockpit of his Citation X.ArnoldPalmer.com

As Arnie’s Army takes time out to reflect on the incredible career and life of one of golf’s most beloved figures, the aviation world is also mourning the loss of Arnold Palmer, 87, an accomplished pilot who served for decades as a steadfast ambassador for flying.

Palmer died September 25 in Pittsburgh of complications from heart problems. His 62 wins on the PGA tour, including seven major championships, place him among golf’s greatest ever. He was also one of the sports world’s first celebrity pitchmen, appearing in television ads for everything from cars to shoes to liquor, transforming the endorsement landscape for generations of sports stars who followed.

Holding an interest in aviation from a young age, Palmer decided to learn to fly only after a scare on an airline flight in his early pro golfing days in the 1950s. He started taking flying lessons in a Cessna 172 in 1955 and earned his private pilot license a year later. It didn’t take long before Palmer was hooked on aviation and was flying himself to tournaments. In 1961 he bought an Aero Commander 500, and in 1966 a Rockwell Jet Commander. In 1976, Palmer flew around the world in a Learjet 36, circumnavigating the globe in 57 hours, 25 minutes and 42 seconds.

He probably would have remained a loyal Learjet customer, but as fate would have it, he came to be a repeat customer of the Cessna Citation line of business jets through his close personal friendship with then-Cessna president Russ Meyer. He owned several Citation models through the years, and even had a say in the design of the speedy Citation X, the last airplane he owned before ending his piloting career in 2011.

Arnold Palmer Aviation
Arnold Palmer was a staunch advocate for business aviation.ArnoldPalmer.com

Over a 55-year span, Palmer amassed nearly 20,000 hours in the left seat. Later in his life he became a staunch advocate for business aviation, lending his celebrity to push back anytime the industry came under unfair attack.

“Arnold Palmer is a national hero who transcended golf,” said National Business Aviation Association President Ed Bolen. “While Arnold’s appeal is universal, he holds a truly special place in the hearts of everyone in aviation. His passion for flying, his professionalism, with over 19,000 hours in the left seat, and his tireless advocacy for our industry combined to make him our great champion.”

To honor his legacy, NBAA will dedicate its upcoming convention in Orlando, Florida, to Palmer’s memory.