Henry Grady Thrasher, Jr.

Henry Grady Thrasher, Jr.

Henry “Grady” Thrasher, Jr. was born in 1917. He served as flight instructor for the Army Air Corps during World War II, teaching hundreds of new cadets their primary flight skills.

Returning home to Athens, Georgia in 1945, Grady was determined to make a living as a pilot in northeast Georgia. Using $600 in savings and a modest bank loan, he purchased a war surplus J-3 Piper Cub, a Waco biplane trainer and ordered a new 1946 Ford two-door sedan, which was delivered in late 1945. He also taught his two younger brothers, Richard (Bud) and Tunis, who were home from service in the Navy, to fly.

Determined to stimulate interest in private aviation, Grady began performing stunts in his airplanes to attract people, first at the Athens airport, then at the nearby Elberton, GA airport (a grass field with a 2000 foot dirt runway) that had been abandoned during the War.

In late 1945, Grady was invited to perform at an air show being organized in Anderson, SC. For that event, he designed and built the “World’s Smallest Airport”, an 8 x 20 platform on top of the new 1946 Ford (which also served as our family car). In two weeks, with Tunis driving the car on the short, rolling field in Elberton, Grady perfected making full stop landings if the Cub on the World’s Smallest Airport. Then, with Tunis turning the car back into the wind, Grady would take off. The Thrasher Brothers Aerial Circus had been born.

From December 1945 to November 1950 Grady was featured in a total of 378 air shows, from Houston, TX in the west to Erie, PA in the north to Miami, FL, most of which were organized and promoted by Grady. Grady and his brothers also performed as featured acts in combined air shows with such well-known pilots as Woody Edmundson, Bevo Howard, Betty Skelton, and Ben F. Huntley.

Among the many acts developed for the aerial circus, Grady believed he had three firsts:

  1. The full stop landing on and takeoff from “The World’s Smallest Airport”
  2. The Human Pick Up and Return, whereby Bud, riding atop the World’s Smallest Airport would grab a ladder hanging from the struts as Grady flew by on the piper Cub, hang on as they circled the field, then drop back onto the moving platform.
  3. The World’s only (then or ever) Twin Ercoupes bolted together and flown by Grady from the left fuselage (he could loop and roll it and did so in 270 air shows, including the 1948 Cleveland Air Races.

Grady and his brothers designed the Thrasher Brothers Aerial Circus to be a unique “spectator-friendly” event that could adapt to rural and small town airports as well as big city venues. Using combinations of skill, courage, ingenuity, and originality; Grady and his brothers were instrumental in bringing the wonders of exhibition flying to small towns (as well as big cities) post WWII America.