Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Dining through the Decades

Part VI: Flying high with the Red Baron® Pizza Squadron

July 12, 2017 — By the late 1970s, Red Baron® pizza was beginning to take off making its way into more grocery-store freezers. To continue the momentum, Marvin Schwan's marketing team pushed to figure out breakthrough advertising that would capture audiences and excite families about the pizza brand.

One of those ideas was finding a Fokker triplane just like the one flown by the real Red Baron; however, after much research, the team suggested that a Stearman aircraft would be the better choice. The Stearman was a biplane that entered production in 1927. There were more surviving Stearmans than Fokkers, and they were sturdier. Schwan’s bought its first Stearman, a 1941 model, in upstate New York in 1979.

To fly the first Red Baron® Stearman, Schwan's hired Steve Thompson, a pilot from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Towing a banner touting Red Baron® pizza, Thompson made his first promotional flight in New Ulm, Minnesota, a community with strong German roots. For gathering crowds at the airport, he did aerobatic maneuvers and offered heart-stopping rides. The visit was a hit, and Thompson flew on to Cherokee, Iowa, then to Norfolk, Nebraska, and Loveland, Colorado.

Crowds of enthusiastic people turned out where the Red Baron biplane appeared. The company located three more Stearmans, had them renovated, and hired three more pilots. Red Baron® pizza sales soared with the excitement garnered by the biplanes.

Eventually, the biplanes formed to become the Red Baron® Pizza Squadron. The squadron eventually became the longest-serving civilian aerobatic team in the United States, and the group became one of America’s favorite air-show teams, performing in front of millions every year.

After 28 years, the Red Baron® Pizza Squadron retired in 2007. While the Squadron is no longer active, our Red Baron® pizza remains one of the best-selling frozen pizza brands in the United States. And, occasionally, an old Red Baron® Pizza biplane will make an appearance at a local Minnesota event.

Here are some quick facts about the Red Baron® Pizza Squadron:

  • Performed more than 2,000 formation aerobatic air-show performances.
  • Flew more than 80,000 passengers.
  • Traveled more than six-million miles.
  • Squadron pilots flew in formation less than a wingspan apart while performing aerobatic maneuvers such as loops, clover leafs, hammerheads and barrel rolls.
  • The Red Baron® Pizza Squadron aircraft were fully restored historic Boeing Stearman biplanes built between 1941 and 1943.
  • The Boeing Stearman was the primary training aircraft in the United States, Canada and Europe during World War II. More pilots have trained in a Stearman than any other plane.

"Dining Through the Decades” is a blog series commemorating our company’s 65 years of commitment, quality, growth and service with customers, consumers and employees all across the United States. We invite you to stay tuned throughout the year as we continue to share some of our company's best stories and highlights of how we got to where we are now."

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