Last night I received the terrible news concerning CAF Col Ray Hofman. As I understand it, yesterday (Feb 18) Ray was at Breckenridge, Texas flying his Sea Fury that just came out of restoration. Soon after taking off on one of the flights, the Sea Fury crashed with the resulting fatality of pilot Ray Hofman.
All of us who have been in this business for very long have been impacted by tragedies such as this…which makes it no easier to handle; perhaps it makes it even harder… I first experienced it as a young lieutenant in Army Flight School when a member of my flight class and his crew were killed during instruction. It shook me up that a guy I had just been talking to at a party, only two days previous, had now simply vanished. I remember the feeling of 30 years ago…and it feels exactly the same today.
I have only known Ray for two years, but as I am sure with many, he made a deep impact. At first, he seemed almost too good to be true – a tall, handsome young guy who had been very successful, all on his own talents and hard work….and he was a nice guy; a VERY nice guy. But, Ray was the Real Deal. He was just that successful and just that nice – and generous.
A race car lover, who had decided to extend his passion to warbirds; when we first met, I was inquisitive as to why the new focus on warbirds? Ray told me his story about growing up in Canada and his childhood room covered with pictures of the CAF’s airplanes on the walls. And that when he had decided to move to Midland for the oil business, he arrived late in the night, only to wake up and see the CAF letters on the water tower. He told me he was so excited because he never realized that the CAF was located in the town he was relocating too! So now, more than 10 years later, he had the time and resources to pursue this passion.
And Ray pursued this passion with enthusiasm! He got the best instructors, bought the best aircraft and had them maintained by the best mechanics. And from all accounts he was a helluva pilot.
But, beyond his passion and success, Ray was a good family man and a good friend. I had the pleasure of seeing him with Janna and their four boys (Dylan, Justin, Byron and Jayden) several times and it always brought a smile to my face. Their home is a young boy’s dream and he got to be the fifth little-boy in their backyard Disneyland…
Ray was very generous – sometimes men of means will get involved in warbirds but not get involved with us blue-collar CAF types. This was the opposite with Ray. He and Janna became active members of the High Sky Wing and were exceedingly generous with their time, resources and airplanes. He loved hanging out with any of the membership to talk airplanes and history.
On a personal note, Ray was a great friend to me in my role here at the CAF. He and I collaborated on the long-term plans for the CAF and he quickly became a member of my “kitchen cabinet”. He was very helpful and supportive to me during the turmoil created around the move of CAF HQ. He felt it was the right thing for the organization and worked behind the scenes to bring differing views together and he would often call or text me encouragement. Ray had great dreams about building a hangar across from the Commemorative Center and Janna and I had just met with the Airport to get things rolling. He wanted to be close to the CAF so that he could help improve our Museum with his collection of airplanes on display in OUR hangar – such generosity!
As I look back in my phone, his last text to me was a request to help him source WWII flags for his “hangar / museum”. That makes me smile – Ray planned on his new hangar being as much a museum for others to enjoy- as a repository for his fun.
I will miss you Ray.
Top photo by Frank Mormillo from AIRSHO 2012, other photos from Facebook.