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Sure, there were perks: Flying a rock star around the U.S. in his private plane, free concert tickets, hobnobbing with celebrities.

But there were also drawbacks like always being on call, extended time away from family, not being able to drink alcohol.

Still, Ron Strauss loved flying Elvis Presley for two years in his four-engine jet, the Lisa Marie. How many pilots can list that on their resume?

Strauss had experience piloting Convair 880 and 900 planes so when Elvis bought a former Delta Airlines Convair 880 in 1975, Strauss was asked if he wanted to work for the King.
Of course, he did.

"It was a real hoot to meet Elvis," Strauss, 79, said in a phone interview from his Florida home.

"After he toured the plane he introduced himself. He said 'Well, Ron, I guess you know who I am.' I said 'Yes sir, Mr. Presley.' He said 'Oh no, it's not sir or mister. Just call me Elvis.'"
Strauss is speaking at EAA Aviation Museum in Oshkosh on June 20.

EAA Aviation Museum Programs Coordinator Chris Henry schedules speakers and events and tries to find interesting people with unique backgrounds.

"I was driving by (Presley's Memphis home) Graceland and I thought 'Holy cow, we need to get Elvis' pilot if he's still around,'" said Henry. "Turns out he's an EAA member."

With a radio call sign of  "Hound Dog 1," the Lisa Marie featured a dining room that seated eight, a bed with seat belt, a bathroom outfitted with a shower and gold-plated fixtures,
four TVs, seven telephones and a conference room. The Lisa Marie, named after Elvis's daughter, could accommodate 29 passengers and a four-person crew - two pilots, flight
engineer and flight attendant.

Elvis bought the plane mostly to travel to concerts, vacations and a home he owned in Palm Springs, California, said Strauss. The schedule was usually two weeks of concerts and
then two weeks off back in Memphis.

"He would come in the cockpit every flight to say hello, except after the concerts because they really took a toll on him," said Strauss.

"He gave us a talk before our first flight, he said 'You know, I'm uneasy about flying but I know I need you and the plane. Don't ever let anyone talk you into doing something you
don't want to do whether it's maintenance or weather."

Strauss flew Elvis on 250 flights and managed to see him in concert about a dozen times.

Strauss and the flight engineer would check the plane every day while in Memphis and ensure it was fueled up because they never knew when they would get a call. There were
many times when he got a call at 2 a.m. that Elvis wanted to leave for some destination and the flight crew had to be ready to be airborne in two to three hours.

Sometimes the crew would get a call to get ready and then Elvis wouldn't show up. One time Strauss was waiting for Elvis and his entourage to arrive at the airport but got tired and
decided to take a nap. On the King's queen-sized bed.

One of the security members woke him up "and said 'What the hell are you doing on Elvis' bed?' I said I was tired," said Strauss.

The security guard told Elvis about Strauss's napping spot and the singer later came up to the cockpit and told Strauss, "I understand security got on your butt. Any time you're
tired, you can sleep in my bed," the pilot recalled.

One time Strauss flew Elvis to Denver for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Which sounds kind of crazy. But of course, the owner of the Lisa Marie was not known for eating
healthy or being stingy.

Strauss recalled the sandwiches were expensive. Called Fool's Gold Loaf and made by a restaurant in Denver, the sandwich was in a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with creamy
peanut butter, grape jelly and bacon. The son of the restaurant owner drove up to the plane on the tarmac with a couple trays of the sandwiches.

"Of course Elvis didn't give a damn about what it cost. I think they were $28 each. He just liked it," recalled Strauss. "We spent a lot of time in Denver. We'd go to Vail because Elvis
liked to ski."

By the time Strauss was hired by Elvis, he had already flown cargo planes in Vietnam and was working for Nicaragua's Lanka Airlines when he was forced to fly 20 political prisoners
to Cuba in exchange for the lives of people taken hostage by leftist guerrillas at a Christmas party in Managua in 1974.

Strauss was supposed to fly Elvis to Portland, Maine, on the evening of Aug. 16, 1977, and had been at Graceland during the day talking to Elvis's father and getting bills ready.
Late that afternoon Strauss decided to go home to sleep before the flight. When he returned home his daughter told him Elvis had been found dead.

Strauss flew to California to pick up Elvis' ex-wife and his daughter to bring them to Memphis for the funeral and took them back after the services. The flight back to Memphis was
the last Strauss made in the Lisa Marie, which was placed on permanent display at Graceland in 1984.

Visitors to Graceland and the adjacent museum complex can pay an extra $5 to see the Lisa Marie and a smaller JetStar plane called "Hound Dog II," which most do, said Christian
Ross, an Elvis Presley Enterprises spokesman.

Strauss has returned to Graceland a few times including two years ago for events for the 40th anniversary of Elvis' death. He has also attended half a dozen EAA AirVenture
gatherings in Oshkosh.

After Elvis died, Strauss continued working for Elvis' father for a year before returning to commercial aviation, retiring from UPS.

"I enjoyed it but it had some setbacks: you were on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We had to live in Memphis. You couldn't drink so I just quit drinking," said Strauss. After
Elvis died "I went back to flying passengers around the world. I enjoyed that, too."

If you go: Ron Strauss will speak about his experience as one of Elvis Presley's pilots at 7 p.m. June 20 at EAA Aviation Museum, 3000 W. Poberezny Drive, Oshkosh. Free for EAA
members, $5 for non-members.

Originating Source - Journal Sentinel

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