Ron Strauss, a former pilot for American music icon Elvis Presley, will be presenting about his career and his years piloting Elvis’ private Convair jet as part of the EAA Aviation Museum Aviation Adventure Speaker Series on Thursday, June 20, at 7 p.m.
Ron, EAA 298961, began his career as a pilot in 1969 after
working on C-141s during the Vietnam War as a flight engineer. He was initially
hired by an airline to fly the Convair 990, but also flew the Convair 880
during jobs with a few different airlines in the early 1970s. In 1975, Ron was
hired to fly Elvis’ personal Convair 880, Lisa
Marie, which he used to tour the world for two years before his death in
“I had a lot of
Convair 880, 880M, and 990 time, and between the two pilots and the flight
engineer, we had just about 80 years of experience flying different equipment,”
Ron said. “I knew the broker [that sold Elvis the airplane]. I got hired with
Elvis, I never did interview with him, I interviewed with his father, Vernon
Presley. Basically through the broker is how I got the job, plus I had a lot of
In his two years
flying for Elvis, Ron said the King of Rock and Roll treated him and the other
pilots and crew very well, paid them well, and often gave out gifts.
“It was great,
fantastic. He treated us very well financially,” Ron said. “He would come to
the cockpit every time he’d come on the airplane. He’d give us a lot of
different items. … He gave me a gold necklace, jackets, and other items.”
One instance in
which Elvis showed his appreciation for his pilots came on a trip to Hawaii in
which Ron tried to bring his wife along, but there wasn’t room on the plane. When
Elvis found out about it over the Pacific Ocean, he told Ron to buy his wife a
first-class ticket and fly her out as soon as possible.
That in mind, being
Elvis’ personal pilot was a demanding job and Ron was on call around the clock
for two years.
“We got hired as a
crew and basically that’s all we did — we were on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a
week. What he really bought the airplane for, among other reasons, was he was
going back on tour in 1975. We would go for two weeks, sometimes we’d stop and
do a show every night, sometimes we’d stay a couple days, it varied. Then he
would take two weeks off. During that two weeks off, it was his vacation, but
we were working. We were always on call, that’s the way it was and we knew that
While Ron did get to know Elvis in his time working for him, he wasn’t fully aware that Elvis’ health had deteriorated as much as it did by the end of his life, and his death in 1977 came as a shock.
“We were leaving that night to go to Portland, Maine, I think. I was at the mansion and his father was not in very good health — in fact, a lot of times when we would go on a trip, Elvis would take him and the nurse would come along,” Ron said. “I was at his house using one of his go-karts as that was something he allowed us to do and I saw Elvis’ father entering the mansion and he didn’t look well. I decided I should go home and get some sleep before we left that night. When I got home my daughter was crying ‘Elvis died, Elvis died!’ and I said ‘No, that was his father.’ It was a big surprise for me [to learn Elvis had died].”