Ethanol plane pilot Greg Poe dies at age 57

By Kris Bevill | July 26, 2011

Airshow performer and pilot of the Fagen Inc.-sponsored ethanol plane Greg Poe, 57, died suddenly of an apparent heart attack on July 24. Considered to be one of the best aerobatic performers in the world, Poe had racked up more than 10,000 flight hours throughout his 20-year career as an airshow pilot and flown more than 100 types of aircraft.

In 2006, Fagen Inc. became Poe’s corporate sponsor and began supplying ethanol to fuel his specialized plane. Greg Gibson, media relations coordinator for Greg Poe Airshows Inc., said Poe approached the concept of using ethanol as plane fuel as an interesting experiment. His team gradually increased the ratio of ethanol used until they achieved superior results using between 85 and 95 percent ethanol. “Over the course of a couple of years, it went from being a function of sponsorship to a function of preference,” Gibson said.

Poe’s plane is considered flex-fuel because it can run on either ethanol or traditional fuel, but Poe preferred to use ethanol. “It was just a breath of fresh air when we’d strap that ethanol servo on,” Gibson said. “He’d get a spring in his step. ‘I’m flying on ethanol today!’ It was really a dramatic difference in performance. The engine ran cooler, he got more horsepower. And it became very easy to discuss with people the benefits of how ethanol is a solution to our dependence on foreign oil.”

Poe’s love of air travel began at an early age when he was inspired by the U.S. space program. In a cover story published in the July 2008 issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine, Poe said he worked part-time jobs as a teenager to save up enough money to attend flight school and from there, did anything he could to keep flying. His ultimate goal was to be an airshow pilot. In another recent interview he said he “wants to be remembered as a pilot, an entertainer and someone who gives back to the community.”

Poe’s last airshow performance was on July 9 in Tarkio, Mo. Gibson said he had flown the plane as recently as July 22, however, and that he was typically up in the air practicing every day. Poe was scheduled to attend 23 airshows this year. Gibson said the team intends to continue the performances and that preliminary discussions have been had to determine the best course forward.

Obviously, someone who flies an airplane at 300 miles per hour for a living has a contingency plan, Gibson said, and Poe wanted the ethanol plane to continue to fly. “In the event that Fagen was no longer sponsoring for some reason, he probably would have used ethanol anyway,” he said. “These guys in these hotrod airplanes are always trying to figure out how to tweak them and twist them to get one more knot out of the speed or get a little faster turn rate and all these things. We found 8 percent horsepower increase and that’s the Holy Grail of an aerobatic pilot’s goal. They’re always trying to fly lighter, faster, and we do it with a simple fuel change. He was the envy of the group, for sure.”

Diane Fagen of Fagen Inc. said Poe and his team were more than just a business relationship to Fagen. “He was the ultimate professional and a dynamic person, and kind and humble,” she said. “A lot of people in that industry are ego-driven and he was not. He loved to perform and entertain and if it’s possible to be humble in that situation; that was the way to describe him. He was at the top of his game. He was phenomenal.”

Service arrangements are being planned and will be released on Poe is survived by his daughter, Kelsey, girlfriend Terri and brothers Russ and Rick Poe.