Loosing a Gentleman

RIP Keith Trillo

Keith Trillo passed away on March 15 aged 81.  He’d been in ill, one way or another, for a long time, but it was leukaemia that finally got him.  Keith was one of the original “dirty dozen” pilots who flew in the first New Zealand Aerobatics Competition way back in 1985.  This is no attempt at an obituary, and no obituary can ever really tell you about someone you’ve known, or would have liked to have known more.  This, then, is but a brief reminiscence mainly from Ray and myself, about a man we knew and would gladly have spent more time with.  In brief, we have lost a gentleman of the air.

Keith was a professional aviator, in every sense of the word.  There’s few whose interest spanned so long and so broadly.   He’d flown Boeing 747s, and he’d flown radio controlled models, and anything in between.  If it had wings he was not just interested but vitally interested, immersed in it, utterly in love with it.

He turned up at the first contest in the plane he built himself, a Pitts S1, EEU – he had white hair even then.  He won the Open class against Merv Meredith and John Luff. In the first few contests our “open” class wouldn’t have been much more complex than Intermediate is today, but it pressed pilots, and what we thought were the cream of aircraft, to their very limits.  We have moved on a long way since the days when most of us arrived in Cessna 152As and tried to do things in them that Mr Cessna would never have conceived of, but there was no doubting who was the best there in ‘85.  

Keith’s biggest impact on the club, however, would come when he moved from flying to the judges’ bench.  It took Ray some years to convince Keith to return as a judge, but he took to that arcane occupation as everything else with aviation, with total commitment and thoroughness.  Most of that time there was the triumvirate of Keith, Marinka and Ray. Marinka and Ray would carefully enter the scores into the computer, and Keith would be in the corner with his calculator checking the computer was adding it all up properly, and that the pair of them hadn’t erred in inputting.  Careful was our Keith.

His care was reflected also when acting as our technical inspector.  No hundred-hour or annual check was more nerve-wracking than Keith’s inspection at a contest.  One time he was delving deep in the back of PPS and told me he could see something down the back but had no idea what it was.  I had a look and knew exactly what it was – a mobile phone specifications label visible only when the battery was removed from the unit.  The phone was jammed against the rudder post.  The battery was found stuck between a longeron and skin. How did they get there?  Why hadn’t they been seen before!?  One thing you were certain of, if Keith was happy, then you could be happy.  He had that a quiet ability to instil knowledge and confidence.

There was a time when the contest was in full swing when Ray had to call  “break break break” on an unlimited pilot at very low altitude who was clearly not going to stop and the next snap roll was going to be underground.  Ray was worried about the consequences back in the club house amongst pilots who are often hyper-competitive and ultra-sensitive AND stressed to the max.  Keith just calmly said  “Correct decision, we will stand with you.  Just think to yourself, if you hadn’t have stopped him what the Court of Enquiry would have to say?”  And of course there was a storm back in the club house, but it was short-lived such was the mana of Keith.  He was always available for some good level headed advice and no pilot in NZAC would go head to head with him over aviation knowledge.  And he was a gentleman. 

Judging, however, can’t keep you forever.  There’s too much to analyse and assess too quickly and there’s the ever-present nagging in your head that you have to be right Every…Single…Time across a thousand manoeuvres judged at any contest.  After decades of being cooked in a Waipukurau paddock for days on end Keith decided he could no longer think fast enough and the time had come to flag it away.

In later years he turned his over-generous enthusiasm to radio controlled models and particularly enjoyed vintage types. It was almost full circle – after all, what was EEU but a scaled up vintage model?

And right now he’s probably in earnest conversation about the perfect landing technique for angel wings.  They won’t be arguing with him.