Inducted November 7, 2015
Curtis L. Watson was born in Winchester, Tennessee. His family moved to Crossville when he was 9-months old where his father practiced Optometry. His Dad was a partner in a Piper Tri-Pacer with five other Doctors but his college sweetheart’s father, Donald W. McKibbin, a Pan Am Captain, became the key influence behind Curt’s later interest in and entry into aviation.
Curt played football at Cumberland County High School and made a lasting name for himself as a University of Tennessee football star in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Known as “The Crossville Comet”, he ended his college career with a school-record of 2,364 yards on 529 rushes, 22 touchdowns and a 5.4 yard per carry average. He still ranks among Tennessee’s all-time rushing leaders. Watson was a 6th round NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints and was cut by the Green Bay Packers following a training camp injury.
Curt joined the Navy and was accepted into flight school at Pensacola Naval Air Station in September 1975. He acquired the call sign “Griz” while in flight training at Kingsville, TX and it stuck with him ever since. Griz earned his “Wings of Gold” June 10, 1977. Watson carrier qualed aboard the USS Lexington CV-16 and served two West Pacific Deployments aboard the USS Constellation CV-64. He made 303 carrier landings as a Naval Aviator. During his eleven years in the United States Navy Curt became a member of the elite “Blue Angels” precision flight team.
In 1987 Watson joined his sister, also a former Naval Aviator, and brother-in-law at Federal Express and spent 8 of his 28 years there in flight management. He flew 9,522 accident-free hours until retiring in 2015 as an international Captain on the McDonald-Douglas MD-11 and Boeing 777.
Motivated by his son, Dustin’s Down Syndrome, Curt Watson founded the Memphis Mid South Air Show in 1999 to raise money for the Madonna Learning Center. The first year donation was $213,000 and this event has donated over $1,600,000 to children’s charities in Memphis that now include the Boy Scouts of America Chickasaw Council, Madonna Learning Center and Memphis Oral School for the Deaf. He continues to volunteer for two other charity events that benefit Cystic Fibrosis and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
For extraordinary achievement and service to aviation for Tennessee, our nation and the world, and for his service to our country, Curtis L. Watson is honored by and inducted into the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame this 7th day of November 2015.