Aerlex Law Group

Recalling David G. Price, a Most Deserving Legend of Aviation

by Stephen R. Hofer
Aerlex Law Group Founder and President

The Living Legends of Aviation ceremony, held every year in January in Beverly Hills, California, always features a video segment called “Flown West,” the wistful term used to describe pilots who have died. The four men whose passing was acknowledged this year on January 19th in the ballroom at the Beverly Hilton, Jimmy Buffett, Larry Flynn, Hamish Harding and Treat Williams, were all aviators who had previously been inducted into the Living Legends of Aviation and all were worthy of recognition, but the program brought to mind someone else who had died in the past year who I thought was also very deserving of aviators’ appreciation: golf course and airport entrepreneur David Glyn Price.

(Left to Right) David G. Price in Warbird cockpit; on tarmac in front of P-51 Mustang; in the “Little Willie” Warbird cockpit

Some of our readers may know the name David G. Price while others may not, but in my mind, he most definitely was, in his time, a living legend of aviation. I worked for David Price for eight years in two different capacities, first as venue press chief for the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and thereafter as general counsel of American Golf Corporation (AGC). David and his wife, Dallas, had been appointed by Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee (LAOOC) President Peter Ueberroth as co-commissioners for the Olympic basketball competition. David had hired me to head up press operations for the basketball venue after learning that I had gotten to know Bobby Knight, the notoriously fiery coach of the United States’ men’s basketball team for the 1984 Olympics, during my years as managing editor of the daily newspaper in Bloomington, Indiana, home of Knight’s Indiana University Hoosiers basketball team. “How well do you get along with Bobby Knight?” David asked me when we first met. “About as well as any journalist,” I responded. David laughed, “That’s not much of a recommendation.”

I left the Los Angeles-based mega-law firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, to work for the LAOOC, then accepted David Price’s offer to head up AGC’s legal department after the Olympic Games ended. Over the next eight years together, we grew AGC’s roster of golf courses, country clubs, tennis clubs and health clubs from 20 to over 200. As Christmas 1984 approached, my first holiday season at AGC, I wanted to give David a gift that would acknowledge what he had done to bring about an important change in my professional career. With that sense of gratitude, I purchased the most expensive set of golf balls I could afford and brought them to his office. When he unwrapped the present, David was polite, but his lack of enthusiasm was palpable. Deflated, I returned to my office. His secretary followed me. “I saw what happened in there,” she said. “What you don’t understand is that even though David owns a company that runs golf courses, golf isn’t something that he’s passionate about; flying is his passion. If you want to know the way to David’s heart, it’s through aviation.”

Bonnie was right. David has been a member of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) at the University of Southern California (USC) during the Korean War and after graduation in 1954, he entered active service in the United States Navy as an ensign. He learned to fly at the Naval Air Station at Whiting Field in Pensacola, Florida, won his wings in 1955 and was promoted to lieutenant junior grade. He spent the next two years as a Naval flight instructor and received The Secretary of the Navy’s award for 1,000 hours of accident-free flying.

After leaving the Navy in 1957, David enrolled in law school at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), then went to work for another LA mega-law firm, O’Melveny and Myers, specializing in entertainment law. In 1961, David was introduced to a real estate developer, hotelier and entrepreneur named Joseph Drown, who had developed, among other properties, the famed Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. Drown hired David to manage several of his companies, including Don the Beachcomber Enterprises, Getty Resorts and Garden Land Company.

David G. Price at American Golf Corporation

Drown’s holdings included two public golf courses and a country club and in 1971, he agreed to sell David Price those three courses, a deal that was initially memorialized with signatures on a one dollar bill that would later be framed and hang on the wall of David’s office. This was the beginning of what would become the Price golf empire, but even as he began to build California Golf Corporation, later renamed American Golf, David never lost his zest for flying. Indeed, as it turned out, his success in golf paved the way for new ventures in aviation, which were just beginning to take wing when I arrived at AGC in 1984.

David (or “DGP” as he was known to everyone who ever worked for him) had reached a deal with the City of Santa Monica to redevelop the north side of the Santa Monica Airport (SMO) and in the mid-1980s, I worked with David on legal matters as he and his wife, Dallas Peterman Price (also a pilot), designed SMO’s first modern fixed base operation (FBO), Supermarine of Santa Monica (today operated by Atlantic Aviation), which was part of a larger complex that included what was, for several years, one of Los Angeles’s most popular restaurants, DC-3, with its open-air view of the airport runway, and the Museum of Flying, which provided a beautiful home for Douglas Aircraft Company memorabilia that recalled the company that had built thousands of the world’s most famous airplanes at SMO from 1921 to 1967, and an impressive display of many classic airplanes, including several World War II Warbirds that David had acquired as his prosperity flourished. David’s SMO development also included all of the new hangars on either side of Supermarine and, during the Clinton Administration, Marine One, the Sikorsky VH-60N Whitehawk that ferried the President whenever he was in Southern California, was regularly hangered at Supermarine – as were the aircraft of several high-profile SMO celebrity tenants. I also worked with David on the acquisition of the other FBO on the north side of the airport owned by Robert and Lois “Gil” Gunnell.

I left AGC in 1992 and joined an aviation law firm based at SMO. Although my connection with DGP was more attenuated after that, I still followed his career and was aware that aviation was never far from his heart. In 1997, he founded American Airports Corporation, a company that sought to apply the business management and financing techniques he had perfected at AGC to the operation of general aviation airports. He also expanded the Supermarine FBO network to Little Rock National Airport in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Stewart Airport in Newburgh, New York. And David continued to fly his beloved World War II Warbirds. Logging more than 4,800 flight hours, he flew in the National Championship Air Races at Reno’s Stead Field several times, winning the silver medal in the Unlimited Gold Division in 1996 in a North American P-51 Mustang known as “Dago Red” (N5410V). The following year, he set an unofficial world speed record for a single-engine propeller aircraft of 535.765 miles per hour in that same cockpit. David also owned and flew another P-51 called “Cottonmouth” (N151DP) in the Reno Air Races until a crash in 1988 did significant damage to that airplane (more on that below). He also acquired and enjoyed flying several other vintage aircraft, including the Supermarine Spitfire (from which the SMO FBO took its name), Messerschmitt Bf 109, Douglas A-1 Skyraider, Hawker Hurricane, Grumman F8F Bearcat and Boeing-Stearman N2S-3.

I do not know why the Living Legends of Aviation never chose to induct David Price into its membership. From my own perspective, he was richly deserving of the honor. Perhaps it’s possible DGP’s role as the long-time owner and chairman of AGC and, after 1993, a publicly held real estate investment trust he founded called National Golf Properties, overshadowed his involvement in aviation. David also largely withdrew from public life after suffering a debilitating stroke in 2012 and it’s likely that many in the aviation community lost awareness of him after that. Sadly, DGP “flew West” on Halloween, October 31, 2023 at the age of 91. He was honored at a Celebration of Life held at the SMO Museum of Flying on January 10th. Several hundred friends, former AGC employees and family members came to the museum that David had conceived and endowed to recall his many personal and professional accomplishments. The celebration culminated with a “Missing Man” flyover, a tribute offered by the Condor Squadron from Van Nuys Airport, four pilots who flew overhead in one of David’s favorite airplanes, the North American SNJ/T-6 trainer known as the “Texan.”

David G. Price flying the Mustang P-51 “Cottonmouth” (with David’s Museum of Flying logo on tail)

In the 32 years that I have been specializing in aviation law, I have had the honor to represent many famous aviators and one of the most acclaimed was the beloved Robert A. “Bob” Hoover. General James “Jimmy” Doolittle, leader of the daring Doolittle Raid in World War II, once described Bob Hoover as the “greatest stick and rudder man who ever lived.” I did legal work for both David Price and Bob Hoover and, more importantly, regarded both men as personal friends and mentors. In April 2013, on the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) online forum, Bill Greenwood recalled an incident that involved both David and Bob. It’s a well-known story to folks who follow aerial racing and rather than paraphrase it, I’ll just repeat Mr. Greenwood’s account:

In past years at the Reno Air Races, Bob Hoover was the starter for the Unlimited Class. He flew his yellow P-51 and the race planes would take off and form up on Bob and he would lead them to the start line.

After the start Bob would circle over the field and keep an eye on the planes below.

His sharp eyes and cool attention may have well saved a friend’s life one day.

David Price was an ex-Navy pilot who owned Warbirds and a museum at Santa Monica [Airport] . . . . I was lucky enough to fly in one of their events back about 10 years ago, then go and fly at Chino the next week.

The course at Reno is somewhat like a triangle, with the long east west runway being the front part at the grandstands.

David was racing and somewhere on the course he had an engine failure. He pulled up and radioed Mayday and turned to land, coming anti-clockwise around the course and from the west to east.

Best glide in a Mustang is 175 mph and it glides pretty flat, if the prop is working and can be pulled back to high pitch, low rpm.

Anyway, David has enough altitude to make the main runway, coming in from the west. He gets the gear down and crosses the numbers.

But he is really moving, nowhere nearly slowed down enough to land and stop. He can’t really flare, touches down flat on the main wheels, tail high in the air, and is probably doing 150 mph, twice as fast as he needs. He is quickly running out of runway, and short of praying hard, he is running out of options. It is too fast for the brakes to do much good, and as he tries to pull back on the stick to get the tail down there is too much lift and the wheels come off the ground. David is good enough to get the wheels back on the runway, but he is perhaps 500 feet from running off the end.

The major problem is that this runway ends at a cliff on the east end; it is not flat at all. If he goes off, he may well flip upside down. His life expectancy may be down to about 20 seconds. And as good a pilot as David is, I am sure that things are happening very fast and his thinking seems like slow motion. He is likely feeling very mortal, and some of the thrill of racing is now gone, and panic is starting to replace competence.

But there is one other thing on his side, from the time he had the Mayday, Bob Hoover has been right overhead.

Bob comes on the radio in a calm, but firm voice, no delay, but no hysteria and says: “David, when I tell you, I want you to ground loop it to the left. Stick back and full left rudder and full brake. Get ready.”

And at about 200 feet from the end, Bob called, “Now, full left rudder and brake.”

David did what he was told, the plane went off into the grass, and slid to a stop on the belly and David climbed out alive and unhurt.

Steve Hinton now flies overhead, in, I think, a T-33 and does the same job Bob did. I would trust either one of these guys if I ever raced at Reno.

Ironically, at that most recent Living Legends of Aviation awards ceremony, my wife, Tammy, and I were sitting right next to Steve Hinton and his wife, Karen. For those of you who follow aviation, you may know that Hinton, who held the official world speed record for piston-driven aircraft from 1979 to 1989 at 499.018 miles per hour in a P-51 Mustang and twice won the Unlimited Class national championship at Reno in 1978 and 1985, was one of four new inductees into the Living Legends of Aviation that night. It was a real treat to dine with Steve Hinton and we swapped stories about David Price and Bob Hoover and other aviators we both knew and, for me, it was a delightful night that brought both of those wonderful gentlemen and skilled pilots very much back to life. And later that evening, as I watched the video honoring the other four Legends who had flown West, pensive memories of David Price also played in my head. As I sat there, I thought of that famous poem, “High Flight,” by an Anglo-American World War II fighter pilot, John Gillespie Magee, and I will close this remembrance with those words:

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air . . .

“Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”


Rest in peace, DGP, a Legend of Aviation always.

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