Monday, January 21, 2013
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FRED R. CABANAS

Fred R. Cabanas, 60, of Key West, Fla., began his final journey on Jan. 15 when the airplane he was flying crashed in Cozumel, Mexico.

Fred was born in Key West, Fla., to the late Gaudioso and Dorothy Cabanas on Sept. 19, 1952.

His first airplane ride was in South Carolina at the age of 12. He wrangled $5 from his mother, disappeared and without permission convinced the pilot to barnstorm over the family's vacation home. Since then, his mischievous spirit was inexorably linked to aviation. He started washing airplanes at the Key West airport; learned to fly at 16; started aerobatics at 20; earned his Air Frame and Power Plant License from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach at 21; and worked as a mechanic for Air Sunshine in Key West after graduation. Predictably, he married his wife Susan in a DC-3 aircraft at 6,500 feet over Key West in 1977.

Fred started his family biplane ride business at the Key West International Airport in 1987. In 1991, the mayor of Key West declared Fred the "General of the Conch Republic Air Force" when he intercepted a defecting Cuban MiG aircraft.

Having accumulated more than 25,000 hours of flight time, Fred's accomplishments in aviation are staggering. He performed in countless air shows across the globe and was qualified to fly an extensive array of aircrafts. Known for pushing boundaries, on the day before his 53rd birthday, Fred made aviation history becoming the first rookie ever to qualify for the Gold Cup at the 2005 Reno Air Races. Flying a vintage Sea Fury, aptly named, "Conch Fury," he was named Rookie of the Year. As a member of the Screen Actors Guild, he appeared in numerous movies and TV shows.

His accomplishments were equaled by his ability to give back. He dedicated his air show performances to the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces. Fred shared his passion and introduced countless people to the joy of flight through biplane and aerobatic rides, teaching many how to fly, and mentoring a number of aerobatic pilots. Fellow pilots paint a picture of a man who had an incredible talent, yet would graciously share all of his experience.

Although he only stood at only 5 feet 4 ¬½ inches, Fred was larger-than-life. His personality defied description and his enthusiasm knew no limits. His zest for life was only rivaled by the spice in his "legally" obtained conch salad. His incredible sense of humor and his infectious laugh made him unforgettable. In language often peppered with expletives, he mesmerized new-found and lifelong friends alike with colorful tales of his amazing life experiences that rivaled any story Ernest Hemingway could write.

His mischievous attitude would result in many memorable endeavors that are now Conch Republic legend, including pioneering the bombing of Coast Guard cutters with toilet paper during the Conch Republic Independence Day battle. Now, every April, thousands of streamers parade through the skies draping the Coast Guard in infamy.

Fred was not only a legend to the citizens of Key West and airshow fans worldwide, he was a hero as a husband, father and friend. His spirit will continue to fly through all of those he inspired and through the continuation of the family business, Key West Biplanes at the Key West airport.

The only love Fred had greater than aviation was the love of his family. Fred is survived by his wife Susan; daughter, Kelly (Mark); son, Fred "Raymond" Cabanas Jr.; grandson, Riley; brother George (Sheri) and numerous cousins,nephews and nieces.

Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, Fred will be buried at sea aboard the Topsail Schooner Wolf. A celebration of life will be at the Conch Republic Air Force Hangar at the Key West airport starting at 5 p.m. with a pig roast to follow. Services will be streamed live at www.cabanasaerobatics.com for those that cannot attend. In lieu of flowers, please send booze or donations to the Fred R. Cabanas Memorial Scholarship Fund to help Key West High School students in the advancement of a career in the world of aviation. (Fred wasn't fond of flowers.) Please make the check payable to Fred R. Cabanas, Jr and in the memo section write for Fred R. Cabanas Sr. Memorial Scholarship Fund and send it to Sheri Cabanas, 2510 Harris Ave., Key West, Fla., 33040.