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Johnny Carson's Flight Bag to be Displayed at AirVenture Museum

Is there a photo out there?

One element that would top off the Johnny Carson Flight Bag display is a photo of Johnny flying in or pictured with the Cessna 172, N2997U.  None is known to exist, but odds are some photos were taken at some time. If you know of such a photo, or other items relating to Johnny Carson’s aviation experience, we’d love to hear from you at editorial@eaa.org.

Johnny Carson's flight bag
Johnny Carson's flight bag will be displayed at EAA's AirVenture Museum.

Johnny Carson's flight bag
David Huntington was surprised to learn that Johnny Carson had learned to fly in his C-172.

June 11, 2009 — Late-night talk show legend Johnny Carson is well known for his quick wit and midwestern values, but not many people know that he was also a private pilot. In 1963, when The Tonight Show was just getting started in New York, Carson began flight training out of Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. Like many pilots, he learned to fly in a 1963 Cessna 172, N2997U.

Carson’s nephew and EAA member, Jeff Sotzing, of Fullerton, California, was in Oshkosh this week to deliver a very special artifact - Carson’s personal flight bag- which is being loaned to EAA for a special display in the EAA AirVenture Museum. An instrument-rated private pilot, Sotzing, EAA 393689, received the flight bag from his uncle’s widow after Carson’s death in 2005.

Contents include a kneeboard holding a chart from 1962 of then-New York City airport (now JFK International) along with Carson’s logbook that shows entries from 1963-1972; a Jeppesen Airway Manual with Johnny’s name embossed on it; and several various mechanical plotters.

One notable logbook entry was entered on November 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The entry indicates Carson was taking a flight lesson that day, and Sotzing noted his uncle learned the news after he had landed.

Sotzing, president of the Orange County-based Carson Entertainment Group that licenses “Tonight Show” clips for broadcast and releases DVD compilations for the consumer market, had the large bag in his office for several years, ultimately deciding to put it on display at a museum. EAA’s AirVenture Museum seemed a perfect fit because of a natural tie-in with one of the airplanes in the Oshkosh collection.

Art Scholl’s Chipmunk
In 1968, when The Tonight Show was occasionally produced in Burbank, California, Carson invited aerobatic champion Art Scholl to be a guest on the show. He flew with Art prior to the appearance and although the tape of the original show was destroyed, the playback segment with Carson flying with Scholl was saved and has not been seen publicly since it originally aired. One of Scholl’s DeHavilland Chipmunks is on display in Oshkosh and this rare footage with Carson and Scholl, along with the flight bag, will be included in a special display near the airplane.

“Johnny was always intrigued by flying,” said Sotzing, who’s been flying for 30 years and owns a 2004 Cessna 182 turbo. Sotzing is a past president of the Orange County Flying Samaritans, a group of pilots and medical personnel that provide medical services to remote villages in Baja California, Mexico. His wife, Peggy, also a pilot, was membership coordinator for the organization.

By the way, that other Cessna - N2997U that Johnny trained in - now belongs to David Huntington, EAA 859454, of Syracuse, New York. Huntington was pleasantly surprised to learn that the “King of Late Night” conducted flight training in his airplane, and has graciously agreed to participate in a special AeroShell Square presentation during AirVenture this year.

Other activities include an evening program on Tuesday evening, July 28, at Theater in the Woods, and a display dedication ceremony to be held early in the week at the museum, date and time to be announced.

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