Super Bowl Flyover Is One of Many Star Turns for Steve Hinton

Legendary pilot has done it all, from movies and TV to world speed records.

Vintage warbird pilot Steve Hinton says Sunday’s Super Bowl flyover will be his final heritage flight. [Courtesy: AFHFF]

Most of the fans taking in Super Bowl LVI this weekend wouldn’t recognize Steve Hinton, though they probably have seen his work. After all, the pilot has flown, coordinated, and consulted on aerial scenes in dozens of feature films and television shows.

Remember Pearl Harbor, the 2001 film version, that is? Hinton worked on the flight sequences. Dunkirk? Check. American Made? Oh, for sure. He even flew the bad-guy airplane that tried to shoot down James Bond’s Douglas DC-3 in Quantum of Solace. He has also led lots of pregame flyovers, as he will on Sunday.

But longtime aviation fans know there is much more to Hinton’s resume. 

For anyone attending air shows or, especially, air races during the 1970s and 1980s, he’s a star. He won the National Championship Air Races at Reno in 1978 flying Red Baron, a highly modified P-51 Mustang with a Rolls-Royce Griffon engine and contra-rotating propellers.

The next year, Hinton flew the Red Baron to a new 3-kilometer speed record of 499 mph, placing him among a handful of pilots to have set the mark, including Jimmy Doolittle and Darryl Greenamyer. 

The Red Baron Mustang, photographed in the Reno pits the day before its crash. [Photo: Jon R. Wallace]

Near-Death Experience

But later in 1979, his racing career took a nearly fatal turn. Flying the Red Baron at Reno, near the finish of the premier Unlimited Gold event, Hinton felt a severe engine vibration and throttled back, instinctively looking for a place to land quickly. Then his engine quit, forcing him down onto rocky terrain.

ABC’s Wide World of Sports covered the race, and viewers could hear Hinton’s last radio call before the crash. “Tell Karen I love her,” he said, referring to his girlfriend, Karen Maloney. 

A plume of dark smoke rose from the crash. Few thought Hinton could have survived, but he did, although with severe injuries, including a broken back, leg, and ankle. Hinton and Maloney married the next year and he returned to racing, eventually taking the 1985 Unlimited Gold in the Super Corsair.

A look at Tsunami in 1989. [Photo: John Bjornstad]

For several years during the 1980s, Hinton test flew and competed in Tsunami, a one-off design meant to beat the modified World War II fighters that had always won the Reno championship race. The airplane, which resembled a P-51, never won but succeeded in shaking up the air racing scene. 

Hinton retired from racing in 1990 and has worked in the aircraft restoration and film businesses ever since, regularly making time to perform in airshows. So far, the biggest threat to his legendary status has come from his son, Steven Jr., who has won Reno seven times and set a new speed record of 531 mph in 2017.

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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