Bill Cowden knew what he did was dangerous. He did it anyway, because he loved to fly and because, for thousands upon thousands of people, watching the climbs and dives, rolls and flips that were the hallmark of his aerobatics was a source of joy.
Cowden’s loved ones are mourning his loss this week after the plane he was piloting Sunday in the Stevens Point Air Show spiraled to a crash near the Green Circle Trail. Cowden, 47, of Menominee did not survive.
And because of the sadly, tragically public nature of his death, the circle of those who mourn him extends well beyond his own family and friends and to all those in his air show audience, the Stevens Point community itself and the broader community of those who care about aviation, those who love aerobatics and flying demonstrations. All are processing his death, coming to terms with the facts of the crash.
And our condolences go out to all. We cannot claim to have known Cowden well, but the record he left behind in his interviews, in videos of his performances and on his Facebook page all show us a man who loved planes and loved flying so much that he built his life around spending as much time as possible in the cockpit.
In the Air Force, he flew F-16s. He was a commercial pilot for Delta Air Lines. And, of course, he performed at air shows — performances of what in one interview he called “precision flying,” at speeds up to 225 mph.
The passion and commitment Cowden brought to aviation is something to be admired. Many young boys and girls dream of becoming a pilot; Cowden grew up and became one. He spent much of his life in the air, feeling the weight of an aircraft under his own control — something few of us will ever experience.
But on Sunday, something went wrong.
We don’t yet know what caused the crash. Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration have taken over the investigation, which we expect will be thorough and will determine the facts of exactly what happened — a necessary step toward giving Cowden’s loved ones some sense of closure in the tragedy. The investigation is crucially important because they are entitled to answers, and also because that information about the causes of the crash may be used to help prevent anything like it from happening again.
But that investigation will take time. For today, for right now, all we can do is mourn, extend our deepest sympathies to Cowden’s family and thank him, truly, for his dedication to flight.