Bill Zivko grew up at the Hartford Municipal Airport (HXF), in Wisconsin, where his father was the airport manager and ran the fixed base operation (FBO). He owned and operated a Cessna dealership on the airport as well; the passion for aviation was instilled early in life. Bill started sweeping floors at the FBO and moved up to working as a helper under several mechanics. He earned his private pilot certificate in 1966 and his A&P certificate in 1974. Bill also served in the Wisconsin Air National Guard from 1964 to 1972 as a helicopter mechanic.
Bill and Judy were married in the summer of 1967 and began their life together. They moved to Newton, Kansas in 1972, as Bill was hired to work for Jim Bede on the BD-5 and first BD-5J projects. It was here they met a young aerospace engineer named Burt Rutan.
Family called Bill and Judy back to Wisconsin in 1974, where Bill worked at Air Wisconsin. Soon Bill was asked to return to Newton to manage Ames Industrial, a subsidiary of Micro Turbo, a French company. He built 20 BD-5 Jets for the French government. Several years later, they were back in Wisconsin, where the couple started Zivko Aeroworks at the Hartford airport. Bill and Judy were busy maintaining aircraft, completing restorations, and building/modifying BD-5s.
In 1982, Bill and Judy moved to Mojave, California, at the request of Burt Rutan and Herb Iverson, so Bill could manage a new venture called Scaled Composites. During his time at Scaled, among other projects, Bill built the Beechcraft Starship prototype and the Voyager, the first aircraft to fly around the world without stopping or refueling.
In the winter of 1985, they moved to the South-Central region of the United States. Bill was hired to manage the Coors Light Silver Bullet Jet Air Show Team in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This experience led them to the world of competitive aerobatics. Judy and Bill started Zivko Aeronautics, Inc. (ZAI) in 1987. ZAI’s first customer was Leo Loudenslager; they rebuilt his jet and worked on his Lazer. Leo talked about an aircraft he had been dreaming of, the ultimate airshow aircraft capable of performing maneuvers no other aircraft had done. Collaboration between Leo and ZAI commenced, and finally the “Shark” was born. Sadly, Leo was killed in a motorcycle accident only months before its first flight. The aircraft was displayed in the Smithsonian Museum and then moved to the EAA Museum.
Later, Bill and Judy decided to create a new competition aircraft that could compete in the highest aerobatic category. Working with a colleague from the past, they designed the all new Zivko Edge 540. The first Edge was delivered to Kirby Chambliss in 1993, who went on to win five Unlimited National titles. In 2002 Chambliss, Mike Mangold, and Steve Andelin, flying their Edge 540s, came in first, second, and third in the Unlimited category at the US Nationals. Over the years, the aircraft evolved and the Zivko Edge 540V3 became the preferred and most successful aircraft used in the Red Bull Air Race Series.
Today, ZAI is primarily involved in the design, development, and manufacture of UAVs and custom composite parts, such as instrument wing pods. ZAI, located at Guthrie Municipal Airport, employs approximately 25 people. The company continues to be a small family-owned and operated business. Since 2012, Zivko Aeronautics, Inc., has been owned by Judy and Bill Zivko, as well as their four children. The day-to-day operations are managed by their son, their three daughters, and a son-in-law.
In 2016, Judy and Bill Zivko were inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame.