Grampaw Pettibone

In 1943, Lt. Robert Osborn, in collaboration with Commander Seth Warner, created the “sage of safety” character for a column in the BUAER News Letter produced by the Bureau of Aeronautics to address the increasing aircraft mishap rate. Osborn’s illustrations commingled with Warner’s narrative accounts of aircraft accidents. Following a description of a mishap, the old curmudgeon aviator railed at young fliers for making stupid mistakes. More than one aviator caught in a pinch in the sky has suddenly remembered a timely pearl of wisdom from Gramps that helped the flier avoid a costly- and perhaps fatal-error.

Osborn is also the creator of more than 2,000 of the famed “Dilbert the Pilot” and “Spoiler the Mechanic” posters. These safety gems were liberally displayed in hangars and aboard ships during WW II and into the 1950s. In addition, he produced “Sense” pamphlets, which gave WW II fliers common sense safety rules on aviation subjects, such as “Flight Deck Sense.”

In 1977, Osborn’s dedicated service to Naval Aviation was recognized when he was designated No. 14 in the elite group of Honorary Naval Aviators. This honor was one of his most cherished.

Recognized as one of America’s great satirists/artists, Osborn’s works have been published in prestigious magazines, newspapers and books. Naval Aviation was only one of his many subjects, but Osborn had a special place in his heart for the Navy. It helped give him his start and he had great admiration for the people he knew in the service.

At age 89, the artist stepped down as the illustrator of “Grampaw Pettibone” for 51 years in Naval Aviation News-from the 15 January 1943 issue to May-June 1994. No one has had a more remarkable and productive tour of duty in service to Naval Aviation than Bob Osborn.

There have been 13 Gramps writers, including Cdr. Warner, who gave the character his “voice.” Fortunately, when Osborn retired he wanted “Grampaw Pettibone” to live on, and the column has continued to appear in Naval Aviation News with illustrations by retired Navy captain and well-known artist Ted Wilbur.


Presented annually to an individual and an organization that contributed the most toward aviation safety awareness through publications. To obtain submission information for nominations, contact the editor of Approach magazine at or phone 757-444-3520 x7257; DSN 564-3520 x7257.