Local flying ace passes awayPublished 2:09pm Friday, October 12, 2012
‘He flew like no one else’
A daredevil yet humble man on the inside sat quietly with crossed arms, face shielded by Aviators next to his iconic warbird at the Austin Municipal Airport last year. Many remember it.
It was the last day Roger Christgau of Dexter claimed that P-51 Mustang as his own before passing it on to Paul Ehlen of Minneapolis, who is in the midst of having the plane restored to original beauty.
Roger, however, won’t see the completion of that project. He died last Friday, Oct. 5. He was 81.
“It’s a real loss with Roger,” Ehlen said, who added the aircraft, forever remembered as Sierra Sue II, will be finished in 2013. “I was really hoping his health would hold out until he could see the original restoration.”
Roger was born Sept. 9, 1931, in Crookston, Minn. For a somewhat quiet man who mostly kept to himself, he became a celebrity to family, friends and strangers. He was that coolest uncle that many people have, and others wish they had. He was a doctor, Air Force gunnery instructor at Nellis Air Force Base and airshow pilot.
His story will forever be told with the P-51 Mustang’s. His brother, John Christgau, wrote a book about it. John and his daughter, Sally Christgau, remember when Roger flew so low to the ground that they each ducked for cover.
Many remember Roger as one of the best airshow performers of all time. In a P-51, he may have been the best of all time, they said. Fellow airshow performers, among others, remember him simply as “Doc.”
“They knew — first of all — he could fly the socks off of the Mustang,” John said. “But second, he was a damn-good doctor.”
Roger was severely injured in a plane crash in his mid 20s; however, he pulled through and never complained about pain despite his lifelong struggles from a broken leg and back. Instead, he became a doctor.
For decades, Roger owned Sierra Sue II and pushed its limits.
“He could do things in that that no other Mustang pilot in the country could do,” John said.
Ehlen added, “He could fly that airplane right to the ragged edge. He flew like no one else.”
Sierra Sue II is one of few remaining P-51s that flew in combat operations in World War II. Roger cherished it, then passed it on to Ehlen, as he knew Ehlen would care for the warbird’s legacy.
“He was a great custodian of a national treasure,” Ehlen said about Roger.
While Roger had a passion for cars, boats, planes and speed, he was an intellectual. At 81, he learned how to use the Internet, send emails and even use an iPad.
“He didn’t just want to know how to browse and look at things, he wanted to know how it worked,” Sally said.
Roger was preceded in death by his parents, Rufus and Alice Christgau; and sister, Kathleen Devaney. He is survived by his brother, John Christgau; sister-in-law, Peggy; two nieces; three nephews and five grand nieces/nephews.
In place of a formal funeral, Roger’s family is organizing a Doc Christgau Memorial Airshow for fall 2013, in which Doc’s Sierra Sue II will be flown at the Austin Municipal Airport. Roger was too humble to want a formal funeral and much too humble to receive an honorary air show, his family said. But he’s going to get one. People want to remember him.