By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Test Pilot
Author: Collins, Jimmy
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Test Pilot" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.





Garden City — New York


  PRINTED AT THE _Country Life Press_, GARDEN CITY, N. Y., U. S. A.





  GEORGE HORACE LORIMER (_Saturday Evening Post_)
  J. DAVID STERN (_New York Post_)

  for permissions to reprint such parts of this book
  as appeared serially in their newspapers
  and periodicals.




   Jimmy Collins used periodically to try to change his name to Jim
   Collins, but he never could make it stick. There was something
   about him that made everybody call him Jimmy. He did sign his
   wonderful article in the _Saturday Evening Post_ about dive
   testing “Jim Collins,” but his friends kidded him so much about
   wanting to be a “he-man” that he went back to Jimmy in his
   articles for the New York _Daily News_.

   The article from the _Saturday Evening Post_, “Return to Earth,”
   which is printed in this book, is the most extraordinary flying
   story I have ever read, and as a newspaper and former magazine
   editor I have read hundreds of them, from _The Red Knight of
   Germany_ down.

   Jimmy wrote his own stuff—every word of it. Not one line has
   been added to or taken from any of the stories that appeared in
   the _Daily News_. If a story had any unkindness in it, or
   reflected on any other pilot’s ability, Jimmy omitted or changed
   the name of the person under reproach.

   Jimmy graduated from the army training schools of Brooks and
   Kelly fields, in the same class as Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh.
   Collins and Lindbergh were two of the four selected for the
   pursuit group, which means they were considered to have the
   greatest ability in their class. Jimmy afterwards became the
   youngest instructor at Kelly Field.

   I was privileged to receive some instruction from Jimmy. He was
   a fine teacher, making you know precisely what he wanted and
   why. He told me promptly that I lacked coördination. He said,
   “Every student lacks coördination, but you lack more of it than
   any student I ever saw.” In driving a car, you can go forward or
   backward, left or right. An airplane cannot go backward. It can
   go forward, right, left, up, down. The coördination that Collins
   kept talking about meant that when, for instance, you were going
   up and to the right, you should do it in one perfect arc between
   the two desired points, not in a wavering line that sometimes
   bulged and sometimes flattened itself out.

   Pretty near any dub can be taught to fly some if he has patience
   enough and can afford to pay for two or three times as much
   instruction as the ordinary man gets. But nobody not born for it
   can learn to fly like Collins. His rhythm and reflexes were like
   a good orchestra. He was just a natural aviator. He had the
   wings of an angel all right, and he was more at home, more
   comfortable, more at peace with himself and the world in the air
   than he was on the ground, where he sometimes thought himself to
   be a misfit.

   Jimmy talked as well as he wrote, drank less than most aviators,
   and that’s not so much, and smoked a considerable number of

   Until the last couple of years, when the depression and his
   trade had deepened the lines in his face, he might almost have
   been called “pretty,” though it would have been better not to
   say that to him. He had light wavy hair, blue eyes, fine white
   teeth, smiled a good deal, and as far as his appearance went he
   could have been a romantic hero in Hollywood.

   He was the most fearless man I ever knew. No, I take that back.
   I have known other aviators whom I considered to be without
   fear. Collins was as brave as any of them. Even at best, in
   spite of what its adherents say, flying is not a particularly
   safe business, and Collins chose the most dangerous branch of
   it, that is, dive testing. “Return to Earth,” in this book,
   explains that. He said he did it for the money, which was partly
   true, but I don’t think entirely so. I think he liked to pull
   the whiskers of death and see if he could get away with it.
   Anyhow, he had made a resolution that the dive that killed him
   should be his last one. Whether he would have kept that
   resolution, I doubt. I think he liked the thrill of having
   everybody on the field say, “Jimmy is dive testing a bomber this

   The story, as told by McCory, the photographer, who had a desk
   near to him, is that he said to Collins, “Jimmy, you are making
   some money now out of your newspaper articles. Why don’t you
   stop this test racket?” And Collins answered, “I will. I was
   under contract to do twelve dives on this navy ship, and I have
   done eleven. The next one is going to be my last.” Then he
   paused, smiled his bright smile, and said, “At that, it might

                                          —JOSEPH MEDILL PATTERSON



  “YES, SIR!”


I am an American citizen. I was born in Warren, O., U. S. A., on April
25, 1904. I am the youngest of the three remaining children of a family
of seven. My paternal grandfather came to this country from Ireland. He
was a basket weaver by trade and a Protestant by religion. My father was
a bricklayer by trade. He died when I was five. My mother, whose people
hailed largely from Pennsylvania, scrubbed floors, took in washings,
sewed, baked, made handiwork and sold it, worked in restaurants, and so
managed, with the help of charity, relatives, and my older sister when
she got old enough to help, to send me to grammar school and through two
years of high school. Then she died.

I was sixteen. My sister was unable to carry me further. I went to work
in the boot-and-shoe department of the Goodrich Rubber Factory at Akron,

I worked there a year and found conditions and my prospects intolerable.
I applied for permission to work a part shift at night. It was granted.
This reduced my income but allowed me to go to school in the daytime.

For three years I worked at night in the factory and went to school by
day. I completed my high schooling and a year of college (Akron, O.) in
this manner.

Then I applied for entrance to the United States Army Air Service
Primary Flying School, was examined, found qualified, and admitted. One
hundred and four others were admitted to this same class. Charles A.
Lindbergh was one of them. Our status, as well as that of the other 104,
was that of an enlisted man with a flying cadet rating.

A year later, in March, 1925, I was one of eighteen who graduated from
the Army Advanced Flying School, Kelly Field, San Antonio, Tex. The rest
of the 104 had been disqualified during the course, only the eighteen
most apt being kept. Of these eighteen who graduated, four had been
chosen to specialize in pursuit flying. Lindbergh and myself were two of
these four. Upon graduating from the Advanced Flying School, I was
discharged from the army, and commissioned a second lieutenant in the
United States Army Reserve Flying Service (now Air Corps).

I went back to Akron after getting my commission as a reserve flyer and
discovered that there was no market for my newly acquired ability. I
tried to get a job as mail pilot with N. A. T. in Cleveland but was told
I didn’t have enough experience. I tried to get a job with Martin
Airplane Company in Cleveland and couldn’t. I was almost broke. I
decided to return to the rubber factories and go back to school the next
fall. I got a job with the Goodyear Company, in the factory.

But I couldn’t take it any more. I quit the job in two months and took
my one bag and my eighty dollars and went to Columbus, O., where there
was a reserve flying field. I flew a couple of weeks there, sleeping in
a deserted clubhouse and eating at the gas station across the street. I
was earning no money, of course, the ship being available to me for
practice only. So I applied for a two weeks’ tour of active duty at
Wright Field and got it. I was paid for that. While there I applied for
a six months’ tour of active duty at Selfridge Field, and also got that.
I was paid an officer’s (second lieutenant) salary on this duty.

At the expiration of the active duty tour at Selfridge I applied for
another six months but couldn’t get it because there was no more money
available for that purpose, but I was told that there was some cadet
money left over and that if I was willing to reënlist as a cadet they
could keep me there in that status for another six months. I decided I
would try to get on with Ford first, and if that failed to accept the
cadet status.

Ford was just getting under way with his tri-motor aviation venture at
that time. He had an airplane factory at Dearborn Airport. Selfridge
Field is just outside of Detroit, so I moved into Detroit and applied
for a job as pilot at Ford’s Dearborn Airport. I was told that the only
way I could get on as pilot was first to get a job in the automobile
plant, and that I would later be transferred to the airplane plant, and
still later to the airline between Detroit and Chicago as pilot. After
standing in long lines every morning for a week I finally got a job in
the automobile factory. I was given a badge with a number and told to
report to such and such a department the next morning.

Early on the morning I was to start work at the Ford factory I got on a
street car and started for the plant. I had on work clothes and my
badge. Long lines of workers sat on either side of me. Across the aisle
another long line sat facing me. They sat with hunched shoulders and
vacant faces, dinner pails on their laps, eyes staring lifelessly at
nothing. The car lurched and jolted along, and their bodies lurched and
jolted listlessly like corpses in it. A sense of unspeakable horror
seized me. I had forgotten the rubber factories. Now I remembered them
again, but I didn’t remember anything as horrible as this. These men
impressed me as things, not men, horribly identical things, degraded,
hopeless, lifeless units of some grotesque machines. I felt my identity
and my self-respect oozing out of me. I couldn’t become part of that. I
couldn’t. Not even for a short time. Not even long enough to get into
the airplane factory and then to become pilot. Not even for that. I
wouldn’t. Not for anything. Life was too short. Even cadet status in the
army was better. I got off the car at the factory. I watched the men
file into the factory. I shuddered across the street. I caught the next
car back to town. It was like getting away from a prison I had almost
been put into. I went out to Selfridge Field and enlisted as a cadet.

I began to think. What would I do when the six months was up? Go back to
Akron, the factories, and school? I couldn’t stand the thought of the
factories. A college degree wouldn’t be worth it. Besides, I would drop
out of aviation. But how? Stay in aviation? Stay in the army? How? As an
enlisted man? I didn’t like that thought. As an officer? It would be
difficult to get a regular commission, and even so, where would I get in
the army? Go outside and take my chances? The outside was a cold
unfriendly place. I was afraid of it by then. Your percentage chance was
small outside. The army was warm and secure. O. K. I’d try to get a

Two months after my sudden decision not to work in a factory I passed my
army exams and got my commission. But unfortunately I began to read. I
had made up my mind to get the equivalent of a liberal college degree by
reading. And I accidentally ran across Bernard Shaw. I was twenty-one
years old. All my life I had been keenly aware of contradictions in life
all around me, and all my life they had worried me and I had wrestled
with them, attempting to resolve them in my own way. Shaw opened a whole
new world to me which I explored eagerly. I was transferred to Brooks
Field, Tex., as an instructor. I had a lot of fine times. I continued to
read Shaw. The idea of socialism struck me immediately as eminently
just. I agreed with the wrong of capitalism. I had already thrown over
religion. But I remember that the whole experience left me unsatisfied.
The question of what to do about it kept arising in my mind. And I
remember the inadequacy I felt for the only implied answer in Shaw’s
works I could find, that to preach was the answer, and hope that the
other preachers in other generations would take up the good work, until
some hazy future generation, in the dim and distant, the beautiful, and
perfect beyond, would benefit from the preaching and start living by
it—or maybe it would just happen gradually, evolutionarily, as lungs
develop out of gills.

By 1928 I was still in the air corps, instructing, and reading Shaw.
Early in that year I was transferred from Brooks Field, San Antonio,
Tex., to March Field, Riverside, Calif., and again assigned to work as
instructor. I considered myself a Socialist by then. I also considered
myself a pacifist. To find one’s self a convinced Socialist and a
pacifist and at the same time a professional soldier, at the age of
twenty-four, places one, if one is conscientious, as I was, in a
considerable dilemma.

In the days when I was instructing army flyers and reading socialism I
still had something that I fondly and innocently called morals, an evil
left-over from my early and vigorous religious upbringing. So I decided
that the only moral thing I could do was to get out of the army. Several
other practical considerations supported my “morality” in this decision.
One was the fact that I had had four years of military training as an
aviator. The other was the fact that Lindbergh had flown to Paris, and,
as a result of the stimulus that aviation received from the publicity
given Lindbergh upon his return, there existed a commercial market for
my flying ability, in which I could at that time sell that ability for a
much higher wage than the army was paying me for it.

Accordingly I resigned my commission in the Air Corps in April, 1928,
and accepted a job as airplane and engine inspector for the newly found
aeronautic branch of the Department of Commerce, and, after a little
schooling at Washington on the nature of my new duties, and after flying
Secretary McCracken on a long tour around the country, I was assigned
the charge of the Metropolitan area and headquartered at Roosevelt

I found the post very uncongenial because I found myself with no
assistant, swamped with more work than I could adequately have handled
even with a couple of assistants, and because there was too much paper
work and office work and too little flying. So, six months later, after
receiving a pay raise and a letter of commendation, I resigned from the
department and I took a job with Curtiss Flying Service, which I found
much more congenial because it was almost purely a flying job.

My work there soon attracted the attention of the Curtiss Airplane and
Motor Company, and I was asked to become their chief test pilot, which I
did in November, 1928.

I worked for them for six months, mostly on military stuff, and when I
resigned to take what I thought was going to be a better job, I was
asked to stay on with them.

For almost a year after that I was vice president of a little aviation
corporation. The company didn’t do well. The depression was in full
swing. I didn’t agree with the company policies. Early in 1930 I

After my resignation from the vice presidency of the aviation concern I
did private flying—flying for private owners of aircraft, rich men—and I
experienced wide gaps of unemployment between jobs. But since I left the
army I had been reading and thinking about “social” matters. I ran
across the “radical” press in New York. I began reading Walter Duranty
in the _Times_. I read books on Russia. I fought against the idea of
communism. It seemed stupid and crude to me. But step by step—I
stubbornly fought all the way—the beautifully clear logic of communism
broke down all my barriers, and I was forced to admit to myself that the
Bolsheviks had the only complete and effective answer to the riddle of
the world I lived in.

I began to consider myself a Communist. My bourgeois friends, and they
ranged from the very elite to the petty, thought I was nuts. I, in turn,
thought they were unreasonable and talked myself blue in the face trying
to convince them of it. I became quite a parlor pink. It took me a
couple of years to realize the futile ridiculousness of my antics, of
attempting to turn the bourgeoisie to communism. It took me that long
because I didn’t at first grasp the full implications of the class basis
of my convictions and did not realize that, like a fish out of water, I
was a born and bred proletarian justified by peculiar circumstances with
a position of isolation from my class and with contact with an alien

And when that realization began to dawn on me—dimly at first—the
question of what to do about it again arose in my mind.

I pondered the matter a long time. I was already over the romantic
notion that the thing to do was to go to Russia, as I had had a spell of
thinking. I sensed that that, in a way, would be running away. It
occurred to me to join the party, but I didn’t know exactly how to go
about it or even if I could. I furthermore didn’t get a very clear
picture of just what good I could do even if I did. I was also, having
got married and begun a family in the meantime, pretty much absorbed in
personal adjustment and just the plain economic details necessary to

It finally occurred to me that I could do something for the radical
cause right where I was, in aviation, instead of going to Russia. But
what? And how? I didn’t know. I decided that there were undoubtedly
people in the party who did. If you want to build a house, go to an
architect. If you want to build an airplane, go to an aeronautical
engineer. If you want to build a revolutionary organization, go to a
revolutionary leader. It was a naïve but a direct, an honest, and a
logical method of reasoning, you must admit. So I found out from the
_Daily Worker_ where headquarters was and went down.

I felt a little ridiculous and abashed when I got there. I sensed,
rather than reasoned, that I was suspected because of my approach. It
didn’t bother me enough to stop me, because I was sincere, but it did
embarrass me.

Shortly after that, at Roosevelt, I accidentally ran across a
mimeographed four-page paper, the organ of a club of aviation students.
I picked it up and idly began reading it. It sat me bolt upright in my
chair. It expressed everything that I felt. I had thought I was an
exception, that nobody else in the whole game felt as I did about
economic, social, and political matters. But this paper indicated that I
wasn’t a complete exception. It excited me terrifically. I noted the
name of the paper and the name of the club that had issued it. I had
never before heard of either one. I ran around madly asking everybody I
knew what the club was, where it was, who it was. I couldn’t find out
much, but I did find where the club rooms were and when meetings were
held. I went down to the next meeting. I joined up.

Out of that organization grew another, on a broader basis, planned to
move adequately to meet the needs of the workers as a whole in the
industry, which was still small, and of which I was an active member.

Word of my organizing activities with this group got around to my boss,
and that, together with other things, was the reason for my being fired
from my job of private pilot for a certain very rich man.

After being discharged for radical activity by my rich boss I learned
discretion, which, somebody said long ago, is the better part of valor.
And I did not lose my valor: I continued to work with the disapproved
group. But I was out of a job, and I had a wife and two small children
to support. I had also learned a few things, so that I knew them now
utterly, and not only intellectually, as I did a while ago. One of them
is the class basis of my convictions. I began inquiring, and I learned
that I was the only pilot of my training and experience that I knew of
who had a working-class background. All others that I knew, and also a
good many mechanics, had middle-class background. That accounted for the
different way I saw things.

I was now face to face with a peculiar problem. Unemployment was rampant
in this industry as in every other. In looking for a job, I discovered
that the Chinese government (Nationalist-Nanking and Canton) was looking
for a few men. I submitted qualifications to a high-ranking Chinese in
this country and was answered by him that owing to my military and
testing experience I was eminently qualified, and that he would set
machinery in motion immediately to get me a job. China, of course, was
very busy building up a Nationalist air force. I would be used as an
adviser in their school and factories.

But I was a Communist. Would the Chinese Nationalist Air Force, which I
would be helping to build up, be used against the Chinese Soviets?
Against the U. S. S. R.? And still I must earn a living. What if several
prospects I had for jobs failed to materialize before the Chinese
proposition did? Should I or should I not go? If I went, what rôle
should I play? How dangerous would my position be? Would I be of more
value here, now that our organizational efforts were bearing fruit? And
so on did the questions in my mind run.

At that time my wife and two small children were on the farm with my
mother-in-law and father-in-law in Oklahoma. What should I do?


I was sitting around the restaurant at Roosevelt Field Hotel with the
rest of the unemployed pilots, smoking, talking, sipping the eternal cup
of coffee, hoping that something would turn up, when the phone rang and
the girl who answered it called for me.

“It’s long distance,” she added as I brushed past her on my way out to
take the call, and I couldn’t help running the rest of the way. I had
put in word at a factory some time ago if anything turned up to let me
know. Maybe my luck was changing.

“Hello,” I said eagerly as I grabbed the receiver, and before the
familiar voice on the other end told me I knew I was talking to the guy
who hired the pilots for the company.

“I’ve got a job for you,” he announced, “demonstrating one of our new
airplanes for the navy.”

“What kind of a demonstration?” I asked warily.

“A dive demonstration,” he said. I knew what that meant all right. Ten
thousand feet straight down, just to see if it would hang together. I
wasn’t so sure my luck was changing after all.

“What kind of a ship?” I asked. I hoped it wasn’t too experimental. I
had dived airplanes before. The last one, six years before, I had dived
to pieces. I still remembered the exploding crack of those wings tearing
off. I remember the dazing blow of the instrument board as my head had
snapped forward against it from the sudden lurch of the midair failure,
and dimly then the slow, limp slumping into unconsciousness. I
remembered how I had come to, thousands of feet later, and leaped my way
clear, only to be threatened by the falling wreck on top and the
rushing-at-me earth beneath. I remembered the tumbling, jerking stop as
my chute had opened after the long drop, and how startlingly close the
ground had looked. I remembered how white and safe against the blue sky
those billowing folds of that chute had looked, and then immediately the
awful heart-pound, breath-stop fear that that milling wreck would take a
derelict pass at it. I remembered the acute relief of hearing the loud
report that told me the wreck had hit the ground, and then the “What if
that had clutched me!” when they told me afterward how close it really
had come.

“It’s a bomber fighter, second model, first-production job, a
single-seater biplane with a seven-hundred-horsepower engine,” the man
at the other end said. That was encouraging anyway. It wasn’t the
experimental job.

I had heard that another free-lance test pilot like myself had recently
jumped out of a ship he had been diving. His prop had broken and torn
his motor clear out of his ship. He had got down with his chute all
right, but he had hit the fin as he had gone past the tail surfaces
getting out of the wreck. He had broken a couple of legs and an arm and
was in the hospital at that moment. I knew he had been doing some

I wondered why they didn’t use one of their own men. They had a very
fine staff of test pilots right there at the factory. “What’s wrong with
your pilots?” I asked.

“Well, to be frank about it,” was the answer, “while we really don’t
expect any trouble with this ship, because we have taken every possible
precaution that we know about, still, you never can tell. Our chief test
pilot now, you know, has done seven of these dive demonstrations. We
feel that that is about enough to ask one man to do on a salary, and he
feels that he has had about enough anyway. None of the rest of our men
have ever done any of this work before. Besides, why should we take a
chance on breaking up our organization if we can call a free lance in?”
So that was it! After all, why shouldn’t they look at it that way?

I thought of the already long absence of my family. My wife and my
year-and-a-half-old son and my half-year-old daughter were still on my
father-in-law’s farm in Oklahoma, where I had sent them in the spring to
make sure they would be able to eat during the summer. If I could make
enough money——

“How much is there in it for me?” I asked.

“Fifteen hundred dollars,” he said. “If the job takes longer than ten
days we will pay you an additional thirty-five dollars a day. We will
insure your life for fifteen thousand dollars for the duration of the
demonstrations and provide for disability compensation. We will also pay
your expenses, of course. So, if you are still free, white, and
twenty-one—” His voice trailed off, posing the question.

“Well, I’m still free and white,” I answered, “but I am no longer
twenty-one. I’m thirty now, you know. Old enough to know better. But
I’ll take your job.”

“We will wire you as soon as the ship is ready,” he said and hung up.

I came back to the gang at the table. They were still sipping their
coffee, smoking, talking, and undoubtedly hoping for an odd job to come

“I’ve got a job,” I announced, beaming.

“What kind of a job?” they all piped up.

“Diving one of the new fighters for the navy,” I replied as casually as
I could.

“Boy, you can have it!” they chorused.

“I’ve got it,” I snapped. “And anyway,” I added, “I won’t be dropping
dead of starvation around here this winter.”

They razzed me for a while, and I razzed them back. They wanted to know
what kind of flowers I wanted. I wanted to know if they were planning on
just breakfast or just dinner when they got down to that one meal a day
this winter.

After a while, as soon as my elation in contemplation of the fifteen
hundred bucks wore off, I didn’t feel so cocky. I really might get
bumped off in that crate. Maybe I could have got by without taking the

I remembered that dive of six years before. It had been different then.
It hadn’t occurred to me at that time that airplanes would fall apart.
Oh, I knew they would. I knew they had. It was something, however, that
had happened to other test pilots and might happen to some more, but not
to me.

I remembered the times I had jumped, startled wide awake from sleep in
the nights, not immediately after that failure, but some months later.
No special dreams of horror. Just the delayed action of some
subterranean mechanism of fright in my subconscious brain. I had been
honestly convinced during my waking hours up to that time that that
failure had not made much of an impression on me.

I remembered the subconscious fear of just normal excess speed that had
grown on me since then. I wouldn’t nose an airplane down very much from
level cruising speed and open the throttle coming in from a
cross-country, for instance. A couple of times when I had done it
without thinking, I had found myself practically bending the throttle
backwards to kill the speed when I had suddenly become aware of it.

These things convinced me that that failure had made a deeper impression
on me than I had thought. I realized it the more when I contemplated
these new dives I was about to do. I knew I was more afraid of them than
I would admit.

“Death in the Afternoon, or Reunion in Oklahoma,” I thought. You’ve got
to take some chances. I didn’t see how I was going to get the money to
bring the family back any other way.

Besides, I thought I could beat the game by being smart. I knew a lot of
boys who hadn’t been able to, and I knew they had had good heads on
their shoulders.


Two weeks later I stepped out of a taxi in front of the hangar at the
airport. Some experimental military airplanes were sitting outside. It
was good to see military airplanes again. There is something about
military airplanes—something businesslike.

I entered the hangar office. The engineers were waiting for me. I knew
most of them from working with them before. They were all still just
pink-faced kids. But I knew they were bright kids. They knew their stuff
and had all had quite a lot of experience.

They greeted me with a queer sort of smile on their faces, the way you
greet somebody you know is being played for a sucker. Maybe they were
right. Undoubtedly they were. But I resented that smile in a mild sort
of way.

Bill was there. I had known Bill since before he had become their chief
test pilot. He had that same queer smile on his face.

“Hey, Bill,” I said to him, greeting him with a quizzical smile
answering his own, “why don’t you dive this funny airplane?”

“I got smart and chiseled my way out of this one,” he said.

“It is a sap’s game,” I agreed with him. “But starvation is dangerous
too.” He laughed, and we all laughed.

He studied me for a minute. We hadn’t seen each other in a couple of
years. Finally he said soberly, “You’ve grown older, Jim.”

“Yeah, I’ve grown older, Bill,” I answered him banteringly, “and I want
to grow a lot older too. I want to have a nice long white beard trailing
out in the slip stream some day. So I hope you guys are building good
airplanes for diving. By the way, let’s go out in the hangar and take a
look at the crate. After all, I’m mildly interested in it, you know.”

We all went out into the hangar. There was the ship, suspended from a
chain hoist with its wheels just off the cement in the middle of a large
cleared area. It was silver and gleamed even in the somewhat darkened
interior. It looked sturdy and squat and bulldoggish, as only a military
fighting ship can. I was glad it looked sturdy.

A group of mechanics were swarming around it and over it and under it.
They all looked up as we approached the ship. I knew most of them. I was
introduced to the others. You could see that they felt toward that ship
as a brood hen feels toward her eggs. They didn’t want me to break it. I
didn’t want to break it either.

I walked around the ship and looked it over. The engineers pointed out
special features and talked metal construction and forged fittings and
stress analysis and safety factors, and I asked questions. I was
fascinated by the wires that braced the wings. They looked big enough to
hold up the Brooklyn Bridge. I liked those wires.

I learned that a pilot had been up there and had gone over the whole
stress analysis with them and had recommended only one little change in
the ship, which had been made. I learned that he had expressed
willingness to dive the ship after that, but that he had been unable to
because another job he had contracted to do some time previously was
coming up at the same time this one was. I was glad to hear this man had
gone over the ship. He was not only one of the most, if not the most,
competent test pilots in the country, but also a very good engineer,
which I was not.

I crawled into the cockpit. There were more gadgets in it. Something for
everything except putting wings back on in the air. The racket had
changed, I decided. In the old days, dive demonstrating hadn’t been so
accurate a thing. You took a ship up and did a good dive with it and
came down and everybody was happy. But now, as I could see, they had
developed a lot of recording as well as indicating instruments. You used
to be able to get away with something. You couldn’t get away with
anything now. They could take a look at all those trick instruments
after you had come down and tell just what you had done. They could tell
accurately and didn’t have to take your word for it.

There was one instrument there, for instance, that the pilot couldn’t
see. It was called a vee-gee recorder. It made a pattern on a smoked
glass of about the size of one of those paper packets of matches. This
pattern told them, after the pilot had come down, just how fast he had
dived, what kind of a dive he had made, and what kind of a pull-out he
had done.

There was another instrument there that I had never seen before. It
looked something like a speedometer and was called an accelerometer. I
was soon to find out what that was for! Oh, they told me what it was for
then. They explained everything in the cockpit to me, and I sat there
and familiarized myself with it as best I could on the ground before
taking the ship out. But I wasn’t really to find out what that
accelerometer was for until I used it. And did I find out then!

We rolled the ship out that afternoon, after last-minute adjustments had
been made on it—an airplane is like a woman that way: it always has to
have last-minute adjustments—and I made a familiarization flight in it.
I just took it off and flew it around at first. Then I began feeling it
out. I rocked it and horsed it and yanked it and pulled it and watched.
I watched the wires, the wings, the tail. Any unusual flexing? Abnormal
vibration? Any flutter? I brought the ship down and had it inspected
that night.

The next day I did the same thing. But I went a little bit further this
time. I built up some speed. I did shallow dives. I listened and felt
and watched. I did steeper dives. Anything unusual?

This went on for several days. Some minor changes and adjustments were
made. Finally I said I was ready to start the official demonstrations,
and the official naval observers were called out to watch.

I did five speed dives first. These were to demonstrate that the ship
would dive to terminal velocity. Contrary to popular opinion, a falling
object will not go faster and faster and faster and faster. It will go
faster and faster only up to a certain point. That point is reached when
the object creates by its own passage through the air enough air
resistance to that passage to equal in pounds the weight of the object.
When that point is reached, the object will not fall any faster, no
matter how much longer it falls. It is said to be at terminal velocity.
A diving airplane is only a falling object, but it is a highly
streamlined one, and therefore capable of a very high terminal velocity.
A man falling through the air cannot attain a speed greater than about a
hundred and twenty miles an hour. But the terminal velocity of an
airplane is a lot more than that.

I led up to it carefully. I went to fifteen thousand feet to start the
first dive. The ship dove smooth and steady. I pulled out at three
hundred miles an hour and climbed back up to do the next dive. I dove to
three hundred and twenty miles an hour this time. Everything was fine.
Everything was fine as far as I could tell, but when I had eased out of
the dive I brought the ship down for inspection before I did the next
two dives.

I did the next two dives to three hundred and forty miles an hour and
three hundred and sixty. I lost seven thousand feet in the last one. It
had me casting the old fish eye around to see if everything was holding
before I got through it. Everything held, but I brought the ship down
for inspection again before the final speed dive.

I went to eighteen thousand feet for the final one. It was cold up
there, and the sky was very blue. I lined all up facing down wind and
found myself checking everything very methodically. Was I in high pitch?
Was the mixture rich? Was the landing gear folded tightly? Was the
stabilizer rolled? Was the rudder tab adjusted? I was a little extra
methodical and extra deliberate. I knew that my mind wasn’t normally
clear. I was breathing harder than usual. It was the altitude. There
wasn’t enough oxygen. I was a little groggy.

I was a little worried about my ears. I had always had to blow my ears
out when just normally losing altitude. I had funny ears like that that
wouldn’t adjust themselves. I might break an eardrum.

I eased the throttle back, rolled the ship over in a half roll, and
stuck her down. I felt the dead, still drop of the first part of the
dive. I saw the air-speed needle race around its dial, heard the roaring
of the motor mounting and the whistle of the wires rising, and felt the
increasing stress and stiffness of the gathering speed. I saw the
altimeter winding up—winding down, rather! Down to twelve thousand feet
now. Eleven and a half. Eleven. I saw the air-speed needle slowing down
its racing on its second lap around the dial. I heard the roaring motor
whining now, and the whistling wires screaming, and felt the awful
racking of the terrific speed. I glanced at the air-speed needle. It was
barely creeping around the dial. It was almost once and a half around
and was just passing the three-eighty mark. I glanced at the altimeter.
It was really winding up now! The sensitive needle was going around and
around. The other needle read ten thousand, nine and a half, nine. I
looked at the air-speed needle. It was standing still. It read three
ninety-five. You could feel it was terminal velocity. You could feel the
lack of acceleration. You could hear it too. You could hear the motor at
a peak whine, holding it. You could hear the wires at a peak scream,
holding it. I checked the altimeter. Eight and a half. At eight I would
pull out.

Suddenly something shifted on the instrument board and something hit me
in the face. I sickeningly remembered that dazing smack on the head of
six years before, and the old electric startle shock convulsed me as I
remembered the resounding crack of those wings tearing off. I
involuntarily took a fear-glazed glance at my wings and instinctively
tightened up on the stick and began to ease out of the dive. Through the
half-daze pull-out and the dawning ice-cold clearness always
aftermathing fright I dimly checked the trouble while I leveled out.
When I had got level and got things quieted down and my head had cleared
I saw that I was right. Only the glass cover had vibrated off the
manifold-pressure instrument, and the needle had popped off the dial. I
was thoroughly shaken. And I was mad because I had allowed so little a
thing to upset me so much.

I checked my altimeter. It read five thousand feet. I figured I had
dived eleven thousand and taken two for recovery.

My ears had a lot of pressure on them. I held both nostrils and blew.
The pressure inside popped my ears out easily. They were going to stand
the diving all right.

I brought the ship down to be inspected that night and decided to
celebrate the successful conclusion of the long dive. Cirrus clouds were
forming high up in the blue sky, so I figured maybe I could do it
safely. I went up to the weather bureau on the field to check on it.

“How is the weather for tomorrow?” I asked. “Terrible, I hope.”

“I think it will be,” the weather man said. He consulted his charts
further. “Yes, it will be,” he assured me.

“Definitely?” I pressed him.

He looked his charts over again. “Yes,” he reassured me, “definitely.
You won’t be able to fly tomorrow.”

“Swell!” I exclaimed to the mildly startled man. He didn’t quite get it.

It was lousy the next morning, all right. You couldn’t see across the
field. Even the birds were walking. The engineers were dismayed. They
wanted to get on with the demonstrations. I was overjoyed. I had a head.
I had celebrated a little too much.

Along about the middle of the morning it began to lift. The engineers
began to cheer up. I watched with gathering apprehension while it lifted
still further and began to break. In an incredibly short time there were
only a few clouds in the sky. I was practically sick about it, but the
engineers, with beaming faces, were having the ship pushed out.

I went up to the field lunch wagon to get a cup of coffee while the
mechanics warmed up the ship.

I went back down to the hangar and crawled into the ship to do the first
two of the next set of five dives. These were to demonstrate pull-outs
instead of speed. Here was where I found out what the accelerometer was

I knew that the accelerometer was to indicate the force of the
pull-outs. I knew that it indicated them in terms of _g_, or gravity. I
knew that in level flight it registered one _g_, which meant, among
other things, that I was being pulled into my seat with a force equal to
my own weight, or one hundred and fifty pounds. I knew that when I
pulled out of a dive, the centrifugal force of the pull-out would push
the _g_ reading up in exactly the same proportion that it would pull me
down into my seat. I knew that I had to pull out of a ten-thousand-foot
dive hard enough to push the _g_ reading up to nine, and pull me down
into my seat with a force equal to nine times my own weight, or thirteen
hundred and fifty pounds. I knew that that would put a considerable
stress on the airplane, and that that was the reason the Navy wanted me
to do it; they wanted to see if it could take it. But what I didn’t know
was that it would put such a terrific stress on me. I had no idea what a
nine _g_ pull-out meant to the pilot.

I decided to start the dives out at three hundred miles an hour and
increase each succeeding dive in increments of twenty miles an hour for
the first four dives, as I had in the speed dives. I decided to pull out
of the first dive to five and a half _g_, and pull out of each
succeedingly faster dive one _g_ harder, until I had pulled out of the
fourth dive of three hundred and sixty miles an hour to eight and a half
_g_. Then I would do the grand dive of ten thousand feet to terminal
velocity and pull out to nine _g_.

I took off and went up to fifteen thousand feet and stuck her down to
three hundred miles an hour. I horsed back on the stick and watched the
accelerometer. Up she went, and down into my seat I went. Centrifugal
force, like some huge invisible monster, pushed my head down into my
shoulders and squashed me into that seat so that my backbone bent and I
groaned with the force of it. It drained the blood from my head and
started to blind me. I watched the accelerometer through a deepening
haze. I dimly saw it reach five and a half. I eased up on the stick, and
the last thing I saw was the needle starting back to one. I was blind as
a bat. I was dizzy as a coot. I looked out at my wings on both sides. I
couldn’t see them. I couldn’t see anything. I watched where the ground
ought to be. Pretty soon it began to show up like something looming out
of a morning mist. My sight was returning, due to the eased pressure
from letting up on the stick. Soon I could see clearly again. I was
level, and probably had been for some time. But my head was hot with a
queer sort of burning sensation, and my heart was pounding like a water

“How am I going to do a nine-_g_ pull-out if I am passing out on five
and a half?” I thought. I decided that I had held it too long and that I
would get the next reading quicker and release it sooner, so I wouldn’t
be under the pressure so long.

I noticed that my head was completely cleared from the night before. I
didn’t know whether it was the altitude or the pull-out. One or the
other, or both, I decided, was good for hang-overs.

I climbed back to fifteen thousand feet and stuck her down to three
hundred and twenty miles an hour. I horsed back quick on the stick this
time. I overshot six and a half and hit seven before I released it. I
could feel my guts being sucked down as I fought for sight and
consciousness, but the quicker pull and the earlier release worked, and
I was able to read the instruments at the higher _g_.

I brought the ship down for inspection. Everything was all right. I went
back up again and did the next two. They sure did flatten me out, but
the ship took it fine. I brought it down for a thorough inspection that

I felt like I had been beaten. My eyes felt like somebody had taken them
out and played with them and put them back in again. I was droopy tired
and had sharp shooting pains in my chest. My back ached, and that night
I blew my nose and it bled. I was a little worried about that nine-_g_

The next morning was one of those crisp, golden autumn days. The sky was
as blue as indigo and as clear as a mountain stream. One of those good
days to be alive.

To my surprise, I felt fine. “Those pull-outs must be a tonic,” I

I went out to do the terminal-velocity dive with the nine-_g_ pull-out.
I found that the last dive I had done the day before had flattened out
the fairing on the belly of the ship. The sudden change of attitude of
the ship in the eight-and-a-half _g_ pull-out had pushed the belly up
against that pretty solid three-hundred-and-sixty-mile-an-hour blast of
air and crushed the metal bracings that held the belly fairing in shape
as neatly as if you had gone over it with a steam roller. It was not a
structural part of the ship, however, as far as strength went, and could
be repaired that day. They decided to beef up the bracings when they
repaired it.

While I was waiting on the repair I talked with a navy commander who had
just flown up from Washington. I told him my worry about the nine _g_.
He said to yell as I horsed back and it would help. I thought he was
kidding me. It seemed so silly. But he was serious. He said it would
tense the muscles of the abdomen and the neck and preserve sight and
consciousness longer.

Somebody during that wait told me about an army pilot who, several years
before, in some tests at Wright Field, had accidentally got too much
_g_, due to a faulty accelerometer. He got some enormously high reading
like twelve or fourteen. He ruptured his intestines and broke blood
vessels in his brain. He was in the hospital about a year and finally
got out. He would never be right again, they told me. He was a little
bit goofy. I thought to myself that anybody doing this kind of work was
a little bit goofy to begin with. I decided not to get any more than
nine _g_ if I could help it.

That afternoon I went up to eighteen thousand feet again and rolled her
over and stuck her down. Again the dead, still drop and the mounting
roar. Again the flickering needles on the instruments and the job of
reading them. You never see the ground in one of those dives. You are
too busy watching things in the cockpit. Again the tensing fear for
thirty whining, screaming seconds while your life is a held breath and
the fear of your death is a crouching shadow in a dark corner. Again the
mounting racking of the ship until it seems no humanly built thing can
stand the stress of that speed much longer.

At eight thousand feet on the altimeter I shifted my gaze to the
accelerometer and horsed. I used both hands. I wanted to get the reading
as quickly as possible. That unseen violence, punishing this time,
fairly crunched me into my seat, so that I only darkly saw the needle
passing nine. I realized somehow that I was overshooting and let up on
the stick. As my head unwound and my eyes cleared up I noticed that I
was level already and that the recording needle on the accelerometer
read nine and a half. I checked my altimeter. It read six and a half
thousand feet.

When I got back on the ground the commander, who had seen a lot of those
dives, said, “Boy, I thought you were never going to pull that out. You
had me shouting out loud, ‘Pull it out! Pull it out!’ And when you did
pull it out, did you wrap it!”

I felt I had. I felt all torn down inside. I had forgotten to yell. My
back ached like somebody had kicked me. I was really woozy. I was glad I
didn’t have to do those every day.

I wasn’t through yet. During the rest of the afternoon, under a variety
of load conditions, I looped, snap-rolled, slow-rolled, spun, did true
Immelmanns, and flew upside down.

I still wasn’t through. I flew the ship to Washington the next day. The
work at the factory had been only the preliminary demonstration!

At Washington I had to do three take-offs and landings, all the
maneuvers over again under the different load conditions, and two more
terminal-velocity, nine-_g_ pull-out dives by way of final

Just as I was getting ready to go out and do the three take-offs and
landings, the navy squadron that was going to use these ships if the
navy bought any of them showed up in a flock of fighters. About
twenty-seven of them. They landed, lined up in a neat row beside my
ship, got out and clustered around to watch me. I got stage fright. Here
was a group of the hottest experts in the country. I had paid little
attention to my landings at the factory, being too intent on the other
work. What if I bungled those landings right there in front of that

Three simple little take-offs and landings really had me buffaloed, but
I worked hard on them, and they turned out all right. Doing the
maneuvers under the different load conditions during the rest of the day
was practically fun after that.

The next day I came out to do the final two dives. I had to go to
Dahlgren to do them. So many airplanes had fallen apart over Anacostia
and gone through houses and started fires and raised hell in general
that the District of Columbia had prohibited diving in that vicinity.
Dahlgren was only about thirty miles south and just nicely took up the
climbing time.

The first dive went fine, and I had one more to go. I hated that one
more. Everything had been so all right so far, and I hated to think that
something might happen in that last dive.

I thought of the wife and kids as I climbed for altitude. It was a swell
day. I checked everything carefully. I rolled over into the dive and
started down. I caught a glimpse of the blue earth far beneath, so
remote. Then to the instruments while I crouched and hated the mounting
stress of the terrific speed. About mid-dive I saw something in front of
my face. It took me a second to recognize it. It was the Very pistol,
used for shooting flare signals at sea. It had come out of its holster
at the right side of the cockpit and was floating around in space
between my face and my knees. I grabbed it with my throttle hand and
started to throw it over my left shoulder to get rid of it, but quickly
decided that that wouldn’t be such a smart thing to do. A three or four
hundred mile an hour slip stream was lurking just outside there. It
would have grabbed that pistol and dashed it into the tail surfaces, and
it would have been good-bye airplane. I fumbled it from one hand to the
other and finally kept it in my throttle hand. I noticed that I had
allowed the ship to nose up out of the dive ever so slightly during that
wrestling match, and I spent the rest of the dive nosing it ever so
slightly back in. That nose-back-in showed up as negative acceleration
on the vee-gee recorder. And in addition to that, although I pulled out
to nine and a half _g_ on the accelerometer, something had gone wrong
with it, because the pull-out turned out to be only seven and a half _g_
on the vee-gee recorder.

The navy threw that dive out, so I still had one more to do. Still one
more, and by then one more was a mental hazard difficult to overcome. I
have a morbid imagination anyway. I knew that the motor and prop had
taken a severe beating so far. Maybe one more would be just too much.
Maybe something—something that had eluded inspection, perhaps—was just
about ready to let go, and I was so damned near the finish. Besides,
although I am not superstitious, the rejected dive made that last one
the thirteenth.

They gave me a check for fifteen hundred dollars the next day and
canceled my insurance. My old car wouldn’t have got as far as Oklahoma,
and wasn’t big enough anyway, so I had to break a new one in on the way
down. I was back with the family in good shape, but they still had to
eat, and fifteen hundred dollars wouldn’t last forever, so I was looking
for another job. I thought I had one coming up ... a diving job!


I took off from Newark with about a seven-thousand-foot ceiling after
dark. The ceiling came down as I went farther and farther into the
mountains toward Bellefonte, but it didn’t come down too much. I got to
Sunbury, about fifty miles from Bellefonte, and started into the worst
part of the mountains. Then I hit snow.

I went over the first big ridge on the blinkers, closely spaced red
lights between beacons in bad spots. It was thick in the valley beyond,
but I could just make out the beacon on the next ridge.

I flew up to it, couldn’t see the next beacon, went on past from that
beacon as far as I dared, but couldn’t find the next beacon without
losing that one. So I went back to it.

I made several excursions out toward the next beacon before I could find
it without losing the one I had. Then I couldn’t find the next one.

I circled and circled about fifty feet over that beacon on the mountain
top in the driving snow. I couldn’t go backward toward the last one. I
couldn’t go forward toward the next. I was quite sure the next was the
field beacon at Bellefonte, but I didn’t dare go out far enough to find

I knew I couldn’t sit there and circle all night. The snow was not
abating. I had to do something. Finally I pulled off the beacon in a
climbing spiral, headed off blind in what I thought was the direction of
the next beacon—what I hoped it was!—and hoped to see it under me
through the snow if I flew over it, and if not, to keep on going, blind,
until I flew out of the mountains, the snow, or both.

I was lucky, flew right over it, saw dimly down beneath me through the
driving snow the Bellefonte Airport boundary lights, spiraled down and

Not five minutes later an air-mail ship came in from the same direction
and landed. I asked the pilot how close he had come to the beacon I had
been circling. He said he had flown right over it. Can you imagine what
would have happened if I had still been sitting there circling that
beacon when he came barging along through the snow right over it? He
said he was flying on his instruments for the most part. He undoubtedly
wouldn’t have seen me. I wouldn’t have seen him. Our meeting probably
wouldn’t have been so pleasant!


Eddie Stinson, that colorful and beloved figure of American aviation,
has gone West. But the many stories that cluster around his almost
legendary name, live on.

Dick Blythe, the man who handled Lindbergh’s publicity just after
Lindbergh’s return from Paris, tells me this one about Eddie. Eddie told
it to him.

Eddie was working with a crowd that was representing the German Junkers
plane in America. One of the things they were trying to do was sell it
to the Post Office Department for use on the air-mail lines.

To attract attention to the superior performance of the ship Eddie
decided to make a non-stop flight from Chicago to New York. He decided
to fly straight over the Alleghanies.

Flying the Alleghanies is common nowadays, what with modern equipment,
lighted airways, blind flying instruments and radio. But in those days
it was a feat.

Eddie was delayed in taking off and didn’t get over the mountains until
after dark. Then his imagination began to work overtime.

That happens to a great many of us many times. A motor can be running
along perfectly until you get over a spot where you can’t afford to have
it quit. Then you begin worrying about it and can invariably find
something wrong. If all the motors quit under the conditions that all
pilots fear, there would be as many wrecked ships scattered over the
country as there are signboards.

Anyway, Eddie got to thinking his motor was rough. But he was prepared
for the situation. He reached down under his seat and pulled out a
bottle of gin. He took a long swig and listened to his motor again. It
had smoothed right out.

Every once in a while the motor would get rough again, and Eddie would
reach down and take another swig. He said it took him the whole quart of
gin to smooth that motor out and get the ship over the mountains and
onto Curtiss Field.


One of the customs in the army, if you were out on a cross-country
flight, was not to look at the weather map to see if the weather was all
right to go home, and not to look at your ship to see if it was in good
enough shape to make the trip, but to look in your pocket and see if you
had enough money to stay any longer.

I didn’t have, so I piled into my old wing-radiatored PW-8 and took off
from Washington for Selfridge Field. I knew I was going to have trouble
with the radiators.

I climbed slowly on reduced throttle, reaching for the cold air of
altitude. I watched the water temperature indicator, but before it
registered boiling I was surprised to see steam coming from the
radiators. I remembered then. Water boils at a lower and lower
temperature the higher you go. I still thought the lower temperatures of
altitude would offset that, so I throttled my motor to the minimum
necessary for level flight until the radiator stopped steaming, then
opened it a little and tried to sneak a little more altitude before it
steamed again.

I worked myself up to six thousand feet like that. I was watching for
steam for the umpteenth time, hoping to make Pittsburgh before I ran out
of water, when I saw white smoke coming out of the exhausts. I was out
of water and was burning the oil off the cylinder walls.

I cut the switches. The speed of my glide kept the prop turning over
like a windmill. I picked a field in the country and started talking to
myself: “Take it easy—Slow her down—Come around—Don’t undershoot
whatever you do—Hold it now, you’re overshooting—Slip it—Not too
much—You’re undershooting again—Kick those switches on—Gun it—All right,
kick him off—Watch those trees—The fence now—You’re slow—Let ’er drop,
the field’s small—Wham!—Watch your roll—Ground loop at the end if you
have—You don’t—You made it.” I always talk to myself like that in a
forced landing.

I don’t remember how much water I put in the thing. I do remember that
there was only a pint in it when I had landed. And I had kept from
burning up the motor!

I took off again and made Pittsburgh, Akron, Cleveland, and Toledo,
steaming, but without running clear dry. I probably had a few more gray
hairs when I finally landed at Selfridge, but everything else was all


A friend of mine got an aërial mapping job last summer. He had to fly at
twenty thousand feet to take the pictures. Some pilots can stand more
altitude than others, but my friend didn’t know how much he could stand
because he had never flown that high. He decided he had better take
oxygen with him, just in case.

His mechanic got a cylinder of oxygen for him, and he took off. He felt
pretty groggy at eighteen thousand feet, reached down, got the hose, put
it in his mouth, turned on the valve, and took a whiff of oxygen. He
couldn’t hear the hissing of the stuff escaping because the motor noise
drowned it out.

He perked up immediately. The sky brightened, everything became clearer
to him, and he went on up to twenty thousand feet. Every once in a while
he would feel low and reach down and get himself another whiff of oxygen
and feel all right again for a while.

He didn’t say anything to his mechanic, but his mechanic decided for
himself a few days later that the oxygen was probably getting low in
that tank and that he would need another soon. He decided to put a new
one in ahead of time to forestall the possibility of running completely
out in the air.

He brought a new tank out and decided to test it before he put it in the
ship. He opened the valve and nothing happened. The tank was empty.

He took it back to the hangar and discovered that the previous tank my
friend had been flying on had come out of the same bin and had been
empty all along.

He got a good one and put it in the ship and didn’t say anything about
the incident. My friend said that the next time he took a whiff of
oxygen it almost knocked him out of his seat.


I had been spin testing a Mercury Chic for several weeks, doing
everything at a safe and sane altitude, being very scientific. I finally
spun it in from an altitude of about three feet. And I mean spun it in
too. The ship was a complete washout.

There was a strong wind that day, and a very gusty one. When I taxied
out for the take-off the wind was on my tail. There were no brakes on
the ship. It was very light, and in addition, a high wing job—always a
top-heavy thing in a wind.

The wind kept swinging me around into it, and I wanted to go the other
way. I should have called a couple of mechanics from the line to come
and hold my wings and help me taxi. But I was proud or stubborn or dumb
or something that day.

I adopted a little strategy. I’d get the ship all lined up down wind and
when the wind would start swinging me around the other way I’d just let
it swing until the nose was headed almost into the wind. Then I would
gun it, kick rudder with the swing, thus aggravating it instead of
checking it, hoping to get my way by going with it instead of fighting
it, and then, when it was headed down wind again, try to hold it there
until the next gust started swinging me around again.

It worked fine, and I was making a certain amount of headway down the
field until, on one of the swings, a particularly heavy gust of wind
picked up my outside wing as I was swinging. The ship tipped up very
slowly, and I thought I was going to tip a wing. Then a larger and
heavier gust hit it. It picked that ship off the ground, turned it over
on its back and literally threw it down on the ground.

It was the worst crack-up I had ever been in. All four longerons were
broken, the wings crumpled, the motor mount was twisted, the prop bent,
the tail crushed, and the ship looked like it had spun in from at least
ten thousand feet.

I crawled out from under it unhurt except for my feelings. I never felt
so foolish in my life. I had cracked up a ship without even flying it.


Clyde Pangborne, of Pangborne and Herndon fame, the two flyers who were
first to fly non-stop from Japan to America over the Pacific Ocean, and
also of Pangborne and Turner fame, the flying team that won third place
in the London-Australia Air Derby in 1934, was operations manager for
the famous Gate’s Flying Circus for many years. He flew into Lewiston,
Mont., in October, 1923, with his aërial circus. He had a contract with
the fair association of that town, giving him exclusive rights to all
the passenger carrying and flying to be done at the local fair then in

He landed an hour before he was supposed to put on his first performance
of stunting, wing-walking and parachute jumping, the preliminary
crowd-attracting procedure before the money-making of passenger
carrying, which was one of the attractions the fair had advertised. He
found another pilot and plane, with chute jumper, there ahead of him,
all set to do business in his place.

Pangborne told the other pilot to get out. The other pilot said, “So
what?” Pangborne said: “I got a contract, and I’m going to town to see
about it.”

He went to town and told the fair association about it. He said he would
sue the city if they didn’t get that other guy and his chute jumper off
the field by the time he was ready to put on his exhibition.

The fair association went out to the field. They got hold of the other
pilot and his chute jumper. They reminded the pilot that he had flown
out of that field the previous year, and, in departing, had overlooked
the small matter of paying a certain amount of rent he had agreed to pay
for the field. They told him to get out or go to jail by four o’clock
that afternoon.

It was a conclusive argument. The pilot cranked his ship, got in his
cockpit, called to his chute jumper, a long, slim, gangling kid who was
obviously disappointed at the turn affairs had taken, because he had
been all set to have some fun jumping that day, and took off.

The chute jumper was Charles Augustus Lindbergh, who had not yet learned
to fly.


On my first solo in a Martin bomber, I started to take off and started
swinging to the left. I put on right rudder but kept on swinging to the
left. I ran out of right rudder and was still swinging to the left into
a line of mesquite trees. I eased the right motor off a little, but it
didn’t help much. I couldn’t cut the gun and stop before I hit the
trees. I could only hope to get into the air before I got up to them.

Suddenly my left wing started to lift, and it dawned on me like a flash
of shame what was wrong. I had had the wheel rolled to the right and my
left aileron down. The resistance of that down aileron had swung me to
the left at slow speeds, and I had fought it with right rudder, but now
at high speeds it was banking me to the right, and I still had on right
rudder. I was taking off in a right-hand bank with the controls set
fully for it. The left-hand motor was pulling stronger than the right.

I never kicked and pulled so many things so fast before as I did right
then. By some miracle I found myself fifty feet in the air instead of in
a heap. But I was flying exactly at right angles to the direction I had
originally planned.

Everything seemed to be all right, so I went around and landed. I gave
it the gun immediately on touching the ground and went around and landed

This time I saw a lot of cars coming out toward me. Maybe that take-off
had looked pretty good. Maybe they thought I knew what I had been doing.
The two landings had been good. Maybe they were coming out to
congratulate me.

My instructor got there first. He ran over and started inspecting the
right wing tip. He was looking underneath it. “Hey, you,” he shouted at
me when he looked up, “don’t you ever get out and take a look after you
crack up a ship?”

I had dragged the right wing for several hundred feet. The under side of
the wing was badly torn up, and the aileron was just barely hanging on.


An upside-down landing is one of the showiest maneuvers a stunting pilot
can perform. He doesn’t really land upside down. He comes all the way in
in his glide upside down until he is about ten or twenty feet off the
ground. Then he rolls over and lands right side up.

Jack, who had got pretty hot at this maneuver, hit a telephone pole
coming in like that one day and woke up in the hospital.

Some time before that I had almost done practically the same thing. I
had dived low over the field down wind at the end of a show I had been
putting on at a little air meet and had pulled up until I was on my back
at about eight hundred feet. I decided I would not only glide in upside
down but would make it really fancy and slip both ways in the glide. I
started to slip but forgot and did it the same as I would have had I
been right side up and produced a bank instead. No, no, I told myself,
coördinate, don’t cross controls. There. I tried one to the other side.
That’s fine, I told myself. I got so absorbed in this little maneuver
that I completely forgot the ground until I was almost too low and too
slow to turn right side up again. I actually missed the ground by inches
as I rolled over, and only some kind fate presiding over absent-minded
stunt pilots enabled me to do it then.

I saw Jack in the hospital, when he was well enough.

“Hey, Jack,” I started kidding him, “I hear that you practiced
upside-down landings for months, and that finally you made one. Is there
any truth to that?”

He clamped his jaws but grinned back at me. “That’s all right,” he said,
“but if I remember correctly I saw a pilot by the name of Jimmy Collins
just miss landing upside down once.”

“Yeah, Jack,” I said, “but—” I hesitated: this was too good not to
emphasize—“but I missed,” I said.

Jack just glared at me. There wasn’t any answer.


It’s funny how things turn out sometimes. Fate gives you a capricious
little tweak, and there you are. I often think of the case of Zep

Zep and I were fraternity brothers at college. I was crazy about
aviation, and Zep was crazy about football. I had been too poor to fly
up till then, and Zep had been too little to play football. He weighed
only about ninety-five pounds when he came to college. They had even
used him as a sort of a mascot on the high-school teams.

Near the end of my freshman year I discovered quite accidentally,
through reading an aviation magazine which I had repeatedly promised
myself not to read because it took my mind off my work, that the army
would teach me to fly for nothing. They would even pay me for it! And
Zep suddenly started to grow.

I passed my entrance examinations for the Army Primary Flying School at
Brooks Field, San Antonio, Tex., that fall, and prepared to quit school
after the mid-term exams—which would mark the end of my freshman year,
because I had started college in January instead of March—to go to
flying school the following March. Zep had made the freshman football
team in the meantime.

There wasn’t much flying outside of the army in those days, and nobody
knew much about it except that it was dangerous. None of the fellows
could understand why I was doing such a fool thing. They tried to talk
me out of it, discovered they couldn’t, decided I was nuts, and started
kidding me. Zep was the best of the bunch.

Every night at dinner he used to propose a toast to me. “Here’s to Jimmy
Collins,” he used to say. “The average life of the aviator is forty
hours.” He had picked those figures up some place reading about war

That was eleven years ago, and I’m still flying. Poor Zep made the
regular team the next year and got killed playing football.


One flight test I gave, when I was an inspector for the Department of
Commerce, was almost my last.

I went up with a guy, saw in three minutes he couldn’t fly, took the
controls away from him, landed, and told him to come back some other
day. He pleaded with me that I hadn’t given him a chance, that if I
would only let him go further through the test without taking the
controls away he would show me he could fly.

So I took him up again. I let him slop along without interference until
we came to spins. I told him to do a spin, and he started a steep
spiral. I took the controls away from him, regained some altitude, told
him to do a spin again, and he started a steep spiral again—a lousy
spiral, too!

I thought maybe he was afraid to do a spin, so I said the mental
equivalent of “Skip it” to myself and told him to do a three-sixty. He
should have gone to fifteen hundred feet, cut the gun, turned around
once in his glide and landed on a spot under where he had cut the gun.
He went to two thousand feet instead, put the ship in a steep, skidding
spiral verging on a spin—he was death on steep spirals—and held it
there. Round and round we went. I let him go. I wanted to convince him
this time.

I had been watching for it, but at two hundred feet the ship beat me to
it even so and flipped right over on its back. I made one swift
movement, knocking the throttle open with my left hand in passing, and
grabbed the stick with both hands. The guy was frantically freezing
backward on it, but my sudden, violent attack on it gave me the lead on
him and I managed to get the stick just far enough forward to stop the
spin we had begun. I was sure we were going to hit the ground swooping
out of the resultant dive, but by some miracle we missed it.

I landed immediately and was so mad I started to walk off without saying
anything. But the guy followed me, bleating, “Please, Mr. Collins.
Please, Mr. Collins,” until I relented and turned to speak.

Before I could say anything he broke in on me with: “Please, Mr.
Collins, please don’t grab the controls from me like that just because I
make one too many turns. I could bring the ship down all right.”

My mouth opened and closed speechlessly. Bring it down! Bring us both
down in a heap! But how could I say it and make myself understood? The
guy didn’t even know we had been in a spin. He didn’t know we had almost
broken our necks in one. He thought I was impatient!


Lieutenant Hungry Gates’ ship caught fire in the air. He pulled his
throttle and worked carefully but fast. He undid his belt and started to
raise himself out of the cockpit. He started to leap but remembered
something. That swell bottle of pre-war liquor that a friend had given
him just before he took off was in the map case. He’d need that if he
got down alive. He made a quick grab back into the cockpit for it and
leaped head foremost, clear of the burning wreck.

He missed the tail surfaces and waited a moment, thankful for that much.
He didn’t want the ship to fall on him. He didn’t want any of the
burning débris to fall on his chute when he opened it.

When he had waited long enough, he started to pull his rip cord to open
his chute, but discovered both hands already engaged. He let go of the
bottle of liquor with his right hand and hugged the bottle tightly with
his left arm. He grabbed his rip-cord ring with his freed right hand,
yanked hard, grabbed his bottle to him with both hands again, and
waited. The sudden checking of his speed when his chute opened jolted
him up short in his harness, but he didn’t drop the bottle.

He thought of the flaming wreck above him. He looked up but saw only his
white chute spread safely above him, etched cold against the clear blue
sky. He looked around the sky. He saw a long trailing column of black
smoke and followed it with his eyes downward until he saw the hurtling
ship at the end of it. It was beneath him now and no longer a threat to
his chute. He watched it nose violently into a wooded patch off to his
left just before he settled down into a pasture. He hit hard, fell down,
but held on to his bottle. His chute toppled over into a limp heap in
the still air.

He sat up and decided he needed a drink before he even got out of his
harness to gather up his chute. He hauled his bottle out from under his
arm and gazed at it in consternation, licking his lips.

It wasn’t a bottle at all. It was the fire extinguisher!


Back-seat driving is taboo in the ethics of the flying game. But
occasionally you get a case of it when you get two pilots together in
the same cockpit.

Two pilots were flying a pretty heavily loaded bomber on a cross-country
trip, one time. They were both fast friends and both equally good
pilots. Maybe that’s why the thing happened as it did.

They landed at Love Field, Tex., gassed up, and taxied out to take off
again. Part of the field was torn up. They didn’t have any more field
than just enough from where they began their take-off.

Their heavily loaded ship with its two Liberty motors, its acres of
wings, and its forest of struts started lumbering down the field. The
pilot who was flying the ship used most of the space in front of his
obstacles before he got the ship off the ground. He did a nice job after
he got it off the ground by not climbing it more than just enough to
clear the wires which were in front of him. He figured he was just going
to clear them nicely when apparently the other pilot, sitting alongside
him in the other cockpit, figured he wasn’t although why the other pilot
did what he did at that second I could never figure out, except that it
was one of those dumb things that we are all apt to do under duress if
we don’t watch ourselves.

Anyway, both motors suddenly quit cold, and the ship smacked into the
wires and piled up in a heap on the far side of the road across the

Both pilots came out of the wreck running. The one who had been flying
the ship had the wheel, which evidently had broken off in the crash,
raised above his head in his right hand. He was brandishing it wildly,
running after the other pilot and shouting at the top of his voice, “Cut
my switches, will you! Cut my switches just when I was going to make it!
If I ever catch you I’ll cut your throat!”


At Anacostia Naval Air Station, the river flows on one side of the
hangars, and the airport stretches on the other. They fly boats out of
the river side and land planes out of the airport side.

One pilot down there had been flying land planes exclusively for several
months. Then one day he flew a boat. One of the enlisted pilots went
along with him as co-pilot.

After flying around for a while he started in for a landing. But instead
of coming in for a landing on the river he started to land on the

The enlisted pilot with him let him go as long as he thought he dared.
Then he nudged him in the ribs, pointed out that he was about to land a
boat on land, and suggested that maybe it would be a better idea to go
over and land in the river.

The pilot agreed that it certainly would. He gave it the gun and went
around again and came in for a landing on the river. He made a good
landing and let the ship slow down. When they were idling along he
turned around to the enlisted pilot and started to apologize for almost
landing him on land. He undid his belt as he talked.

“That was a dumb thing for me to do,” he said. “I’ve been flying land
planes for so long that I guess I just started coming in there from
habit without thinking. It sure was dumb.” He was obviously humiliated
and confused.

“Well,” he said finally, “it sure was dumb,” and got up and climbed out
of the cockpit onto the wing.

“So long,” he said, and stepped down off the wing into the water.


Gloomy Gus got his name at Brooks Field, the army primary flying school.
He was always going to get washed out of the school the next day. When
he graduated from Brooks he wasn’t going to last three weeks at Kelly,
the advanced school, because he had got through Brooks by luck anyway.
When he graduated from Kelly, the hottest pilot in his class, he would
never get a job in commercial flying, so he might just as well have been
washed out at Kelly.

I saw him several months later in Chicago. He was flying one of the best
runs on the western division of the mail. He was sure it wouldn’t be
very long before he cracked up, night flying, and disabled himself for
life, so what good was his mail job?

I saw him several years after he had been transferred to the eastern run
over the Allegheny Mountains. He didn’t know what good the additional
money he was making was going to do him when he was dead. Didn’t all the
hot pilots get it in those mountains?

He took a vacation from the passenger lines and went on active duty with
the army. I saw him at Mitchell Field. He said he was taking his
vacation flying because he wanted to fly some army ships for a change
and have some fun. “But you know, I shouldn’t have done it,” he said.
“I’ve been flying straight and level too long. I almost hit a guy in
formation this morning. I probably won’t live long enough to get back to
the lines.”

I saw him a few days after he had gone back to the lines.

“How they going, Gloomy?” I greeted him.

“Oh,” he said, “that bit of army flying made me careless. I almost hit a
radio tower this morning. Carelessness is what kills all old-timers, you

“Gus,” I said. “You’d be miserable if you didn’t have something to worry
about. You will probably live to have a long white beard and worry
yourself sick all day long that you are going to trip on it and break
your neck.”

Only a faint flicker of humor lit up his gloomy eyes.


Archer Winsten writes that “different” column in the _Post_, In the Wake
of the News. I met Archer for the first time in San Antonio in 1927. He
was down there for his health, and I was instructing at Brooks Field for
my living. We both had ideas of writing even at that time. We became
fast friends before Archer went home to Connecticut and I went to March
Field, Riverside, Cal.

I resigned from the army the next year and went with the Department of
Commerce. I was assigned to fly Bill McCracken, head of the department,
on about a seven-thousand-mile tour of the country. I kept asking Bill
if his itinerary was going to take us to Westport, Conn., or anywhere
near it, because if it was I wanted to go see my friend Archer Winsten,
who lived there. He said he didn’t know where the place was, and I began
looking for it on the map. I couldn’t find it and told Bill that. I
remarked how strange it was several times later that I couldn’t find
Westport on the map. A couple of times Bill asked me if I had found it
yet, and I said no.

I was strange to the East at that time, and when we got to Hartford I
was sure we were going to go right past Westport without my ever finding
out where it was. I complained to Bill about it and we both looked over
a map and couldn’t find the place.

The next day we started down to New York from Hartford and ran into
lousy weather. It got so low finally that, although I was following
railroads and valleys, I decided that I couldn’t go any farther. I
milled around, dodging trees and hills for about ten minutes before I
found a place to sit down.

I landed in a small field surrounded with stone fences. A man came
wading through the wet grass toward us after we had stopped rolling.
Bill asked me where we were, and I said I had only a vague idea after
all that milling around but would ask the man. The man said Westport.

Bill howled with delight. Part of his delight undoubtedly was relief at
getting down out of that soup without breaking his neck, but I was never
able to convince him that I didn’t know I was landing at Westport.


A man came up to me for flight test once when I was an inspector for the
Department of Commerce. He flew terribly, so I sent him away and told
him to come back in a couple of weeks, after he had practiced a little
more. He came back a couple of weeks later, and I turned him down again.

The third time he came in he said, “I think we’ll get along all right
this time. Can I take the test today?”

“I’m too busy today,” I told him. But he pleaded so hard that I finally
said, “All right, I’ll squeeze you in this afternoon. Come at three

“Thank you, thank you,” he said, and held out his hand.

I reached out my hand to grip his and felt something in my palm. I
pulled my hand away and found a piece of paper in it. I unfolded it and
discovered a ten-dollar bill.

I stood there and looked at it, puzzled and amazed for a few seconds.
Then the full import of it dawned on me. He thought I had been holding
out for something. He thought he would fix me up. He didn’t know he
could never fix me up if I put my stamp of approval on him when he was
unfit and he should then go out and kill some passenger because of my

It started at the top of my head, that raging anger. It burned like
flaming coals and raced through my veins like fire. I began to tremble
violently, and when I looked up the man was a red flame in a red room.

I hurled the paper bill at him as though it were a javelin and shouted,
“Get out! Get out and don’t ever come back!”

Have you ever thrown a piece of paper at anybody?

The bill fluttered ineffectually down to the floor halfway between us. I
rushed at it and kicked at it until it was out of the door. I kicked him
out too.

I wondered, sitting at my desk afterward, why I had got so mad. It
wasn’t honesty. I hadn’t had time to think of honesty. I wondered if it
was because he had implied that I was worth ten dollars. I wondered what
I would have done if he had offered me ten thousand dollars. I began to
understand graft.


“That student is dangerous. You’re crazy if you fly with him again,” I
harangued my friend, Brooks Wilson.

“Don’t be that way,” Brooks answered. “He’s not dangerous. He’s goofy.”

“That’s why he’s dangerous,” I countered. “You tell me that he froze the
controls in a panic today and you lost a thousand feet of altitude
before you were able to get the ship away from him. The next time you
may not have a thousand feet.”

“I won’t need a thousand feet the next time,” Brooks argued. “I wrestled
the controls away from him today, but the next time he grabs them like
that, I’ll just beat him over the head with the fire extinguisher and
knock him out.”

“If you are high enough to do that, you won’t be in any danger,” I
pointed out. “And if you are low enough to be in danger when he freezes,
you won’t have time to knock him out.”

Brooks and I were both very young army instructors, and Brooks was
stubborn with the confidence of youth. He only growled, “Don’t be a
sissy all your life. I can handle this guy.”

The next day a solo student spun in, in a field of corn beside the
airport. Brooks had just landed with his goofy student and was crawling
out of his cockpit when he saw the ship hit. He jumped back into his
cockpit, gave his still idling motor the gun and took off, his goofy
student still in the rear seat.

He flew over the wreck, circled it, dove on it, pulled up, wing-it, dove
on it, pulled up, wing-overed, and dove on it again. He was a beautiful
pilot. He was pointing out to the ambulance where the wreck was in the
tall corn. He pulled up and started another wing-over, flipped suddenly
over on his back, and spun in right beside the wreck.

When they pulled Brooks out of his wreck he was unconscious but was
muttering over and over again in his Southern vernacular, “Turn ’em
loose. Turn ’em loose. Turn ’em loose before we crash.”

The goofy student was hardly even scratched. Brooks died that night.


Monk Hunter was a dashing aviator, the only really dashing aviator I
have ever known. There was dash to the cut and fit of his uniforms, dash
to the shine and the fit of his boots, dash to the twirl and flip of the
cane he carried. There was dash to the set of his magnificently erect
and darkly handsome head, dash in the flare of his nostrils and the
gleam of his flashing black eyes, dash in his violently dynamic gestures
and in his torrential, staccatoed, highly inflected speech which he
aimed at you as he had aimed machine guns at enemy flyers during the war
when he had shot down nine of them.

There was especial dash to Monk’s mustache. Only Monk could have worn
that mustache. I saw him once without it, and something seemed to have
gone out of him as it went out of Samson when they clipped his hair. He
looked naked and helpless.

It was a big mustache, the kind you see in tintypes of swains of long
ago. It bristled, and Monk had a way about him in twirling it that you
should have seen.

Poor Monk took off at Selfridge one day in an army pursuit ship. He even
did that with dash. He held it low after the take-off and then started a
clean, left, sweeping climb into the blue sky.

We all saw the white smoke start trailing out behind his ship. Then with
bated breath we watched the ship slump slowly over from its gestured
climbing and nose straight down inexorably toward the ice of Lake St.
Clair. Monk’s chute blossomed out behind the diving ship just before it
disappeared behind the trees.

We all jumped into cars and rushed madly over to where we thought it had
hit. We found Monk, unhurt, except for the jar from landing on the ice,
waving his arms, wildly shouting that the ship had caught fire and to
look what the damned thing had done. We looked at the ship, but Monk was
still gesticulating excitedly, so we looked at him. He meant to look
what it had done to him.

We all started laughing like hell. We were really laughing with Monk,
not at him. He appreciated it, too.

His mustache had been burnt clear off on one side.


I was testing an airplane one day. Its wings came off, and I jumped out
in my chute. I am convinced that the people on the ground watching me
got a bigger thrill out of it than I did. I was too busy.

For one thing, Admiral Moffett, who was later killed in the _Akron_,
rushed home to his office in an emotional fit and wrote me a very nice
letter about what a hero I was. I wasn’t any hero. I had just been
saving my neck.

And for another, my mechanic came up to see me in the hospital right
afterward. I wasn’t in the hospital because I was hurt, but because the
military doctor on the post made me go there. After I had got into the
hospital I discovered that my heart was beating so violently that I
couldn’t sleep, so when Eddie, my mechanic, came up they let him in.

He didn’t say anything at all for a while. He just sat on the bed
opposite mine and twirled his cap, looking down at the floor. Finally he
said, “When your chute opened, I fell down.”

I pictured him running madly across the field, watching me falling
before I had opened my chute, and then stumbling just as my chute
opened. “Why didn’t you watch where you were going?” I said banteringly.

He kept looking at the floor, twirling his cap, his face expressionless.
“I wasn’t going any place,” he said.

The conversation wasn’t making much sense to me. “Didn’t you say that
when my chute opened, you fell down?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, as if he were talking to the floor. He was in a sort of

“Well,” I said, puzzled, “then you must have been running across the
field watching me. You must have stumbled and fallen.”

“No,” he said, like a man in a dream, “I didn’t stumble on anything. I
was just standing there looking up, watching you.”

I was getting frantic. “Well, how in the hell did you fall down, then?”
I asked.

“My knees collapsed,” he said.


Soon now, he would be flying out over the ocean. Soon he would be famous
and rich. Lindbergh had made it. Why shouldn’t he?

His ship was almost ready. Its belly bulged with new tanks. Its wings
stretched with new width to take the added gas load. Its motor emitted a
perfect sound that his trained ears could find no fault with.

Only the final adjusting of his instruments remained. Lindbergh had
taken great pains with his instruments. He would too. When the ground
crew had finished with them, he flew his ship on a short cross-country
trip to check the instruments in flight. They worked fine.

He brought his ship down to put it in the hangar until he got his break
in weather. He lingered in the cockpit for a few moments, contemplating
his instruments in anticipation of the weary hours he would have to
watch them during the long flight.

A thought occurred to him. Lindbergh had been lucky. He would be too.
His girl (sweet kid—maybe when he came back ... but he would do the job
first) had already wished him luck. She had given him a token of her
wish. It was only a cheap thing she had picked up in some novelty shop,
but he treasured it. He took it out of his pocket. He tied it to the
instrument board and fashioned its bright red ribbon into a neat bow
knot that reminded him of the way she fastened her apron when she made
coffee for him in her kitchen late at night. There. Yes, he too would
have luck now.

Several days later his break in the weather hadn’t come yet. He got
worried about his instruments. There were no landmarks in the ocean.
Maybe he had better check his compass again.

He went out to the field and flew his ship. The compass was off! It was
way off! When the ground crew checked it again it was off twenty degrees
on the first reading.

They soon found the trouble. As everybody knows, metal near a compass
will throw it off. They found a metal imitation of a rabbit’s foot
suspended on a red ribbon tied to the bottom of the compass case.


I was flying as a passenger on one of the airlines once, going out to
Wichita to take delivery of a ship I had sold. Will Rogers was a
passenger on the same ship.

When we stopped at Columbus, I managed to engage Rogers in conversation.
I had always been curious about whether he talked in private life as he
does on the stage and radio, and if the poor grammar in his writing was
deliberate or natural. He talked to me exactly as he does on the stage
and radio, and his grammar was just as bad as it is in his writing. So I
decided that, if it was an act, he was carrying it pretty far.

I noticed that he made certain movements with difficulty. He seemed to
be crippled up a little. I asked him what was the matter. He said he had
fallen off his horse before he left California and had broken a couple
of ribs. I thought that was kind of funny, because I had always supposed
he was a good horseman. I told him that, and he said it was a new horse
and he wasn’t used to it. I still thought it was kind of funny, but I
let it pass.

I managed to bring out a little later in the conversation that I was a
professional pilot myself and that being a passenger was a rare
experience for me. He said he could tell me the truth then. He said he
really had had an airplane accident the day before. An airliner he had
been riding in had made a forced landing, had nosed over pretty hard,
and had banged him up a little. That’s how he had broken his ribs.

He said it hadn’t been the pilot’s fault that they had cracked up, that
the motor had quit, and that the pilot had done a good job considering
the country he had to sit down in. He said that only a good pilot could
have kept from killing everybody in the ship, and that he was the only
one who had been hurt.

He said he had told me that story about the horse in the first place
because he thought I was a regular passenger. He said not to tell any of
the rest of the passengers, because it might scare them and spoil their


Pilots often play jokes on each other when they fly together.

Two pilots I knew at Kelly Field had been up to Dallas on a week-end
cross-country trip. They started back on a very rough day and were
bouncing all around the sky.

About fifty miles out of San Antonio, the pilot who was flying the ship
turned around to ask the other one in the rear seat for some matches. He
couldn’t see him, so he figured he was slumped down in the cockpit,
napping. He looked back under his arm inside the fuselage. The rear
cockpit was empty!

He was only flying at about five hundred feet, hadn’t been flying any
higher than that on the whole trip, and at times had been flying even

Scared to death that his passenger had loosened his belt to stretch out
and sleep and had been thrown out of the cockpit in a bump, perhaps even
failing to recognize his predicament in time to open his chute, the
pilot swung back on his course and started searching the route he had
covered for signs of a body. He searched back over as much of it as he
dared and still have enough gas left to turn around again and go on into
Kelly Field.

He found nothing and was worried sick all the way back to Kelly. But
when he landed, there was the other pilot, grinning a greeting at him.

The pilot who had been in the rear seat explained that he had undone his
belt to stretch out and sleep and that the next thing he knew he felt a
bump and woke up with a start to discover the cockpit about four feet
beneath him and off to one side. He said he reached, but only grabbed
thin air. The tail surfaces passed by under him, and he saw the airplane
flying off without him.

He was too astounded at first, but quickly realized he ought to do
something, sitting out there in space with no airplane or anything, so
he pulled his rip cord. His chute opened just in time.

He walked over to the main road he had been flying over so recently and
thumbed himself a ride to Kelly Field. He said he had seen the ship turn
around and start back looking for him.

The pilot who had been flying the ship never knew if the other one had
really fallen out of the ship, or if he had jumped out as a joke.


Bonny had a dream. His inventor’s eyes gleamed with the light of it. His
days lived with the hope of it. His nights moved with its vision.

Because of his dream we called him Bonny Gull. He dreamed of building an
airplane with metal, wood and fabric to emulate the sinewed, feathered
grace of a soaring gull.

He studied gulls. He studied them dead and alive. He studied their
wonderful soaring flight alive. He killed them and studied their
lifeless wings. He wanted their secret. He wanted to recreate it for

He might have asked God. He might have asked God and heard a still small
voice answer: “Render unto Cæsar what is Cæsar’s and unto God what is
God’s. Render unto man his own flight and leave to the gulls their own.
Man’s flight is different because his destiny is different. He doesn’t
need the gulls’ flight.”

But Bonny envied the gulls. He killed hundreds of them, yes, thousands,
and buried them in the field. He built an airplane from what he thought
he had learned from their dead bodies.

He built an airplane and took it out to fly. Engineers, who had never
studied gulls but who had studied man’s flight, told him he shouldn’t do
it. They pointed out to him how the center of pressure would shift on
his wings. But Bonny glared his glittering faith at them, snuggled his
dream in close, and flew.

He took off all right. He roared across the field, and if he didn’t
sound quite like a gull, he looked the part. He rose into the air for
all the world like a giant gull. He pulled off in a steep climb, and the
wise men wondered if again they were proved wrong by an ignorant

Their wonder didn’t last long. When Bonny tried to level out, he nosed
over and dove straight into the ground, like a gull diving into the
ocean for a fish. We rushed out to the wreck. Bonny was quite dead.
There was scattered around him not only the remains of his own gull
wings, but thousands of the feathered remains of other gull wings. He
had dived straight into the shallow grave of all the gulls he had


Silly little things are apt to crack you up sometimes.

I did an outside loop at Akron once. I came up over the top of the loop
and started right down into another. I didn’t want to do another, so I
pulled back on the stick to stop it. It wouldn’t come all the way back.
It was jammed some way.

The ship was nosing steeper and steeper into the dive. I rolled the
stabilizer, and that enabled me to pull the nose up. I couldn’t keep it
up if I cut the gun more than halfway. I knew I would have a tough time
landing like that. Besides, although I had a chute, I knew that when I
got down low to make a landing the stick might jam even farther forward
and nose me in before I had a chance to jump. Or the engine might quit
down low and do the same thing. It wasn’t my ship, however, and I didn’t
want to jump and throw it away if I didn’t absolutely have to.

I tried the stick a few more times. Each time I yanked it back hard it
came up against the same obstacle at the same point. I decided to take a
chance that it would stay jammed where it was.

I came in low ’way back of the field with almost all of the back travel
of the stick taken up, holding the nose up with the gun. I had to land
with the tail up high, going fast. I bounced wildly, used all the field,
but made it all right.

I made an immediate inspection to find out what had jammed the stick. I
couldn’t imagine what it was because I had taken all the loose gadgets
out of the ship before I had gone up.

I found a corncob pipe that the ship’s owner had been looking for for
weeks. He had left it in the baggage compartment and had never been able
to find it. It had slipped through a small opening at the top of the
rear wall of the compartment and had evidently been floating around in
the tail of the fuselage all that time.

When I did the outside loop it had been flung upward by centrifugal
force and wedged into the wedge ending of the upper longerons at the end
of the fuselage. The flipper horn was hitting it every time I pulled the
stick back, preventing me from getting the full backward movement.

Only the bowl of the pipe was left. It was lodged sidewise. Had it
lodged endwise it would have jammed the stick even farther forward, and
I would have had to jump or dive in with the ship. I would have had to
jump quickly, too, because I didn’t have much altitude when I started
that second involuntary outside loop.


A friend of mine was once chased and rammed in midair by a drunken
pilot. If you have ever been approached on the road by a drunken driver
you have some idea of the predicament he found himself in when this
drunk started chasing him. Of course, he didn’t know this guy was drunk,
but he knew he was either drunk or crazy.

My friend was an army pilot. He was flying an army pursuit ship from
Selfridge Field, Mich., to Chicago and was circling the field at Chicago
preparatory to landing when he was set upon by the drunk, who, evidently
still living in the memory of his war days, was trying to egg my friend
on to a sham battle, trying to get him to dogfight.

He saw the DH, which was a mail ship of those days, approach him first
from above and head on. He had to kick out of the way at the last
moment, or he would have been hit on that first pass the guy took at
him. The guy pulled up and took another pass at him. He kicked out of
the way again and started wondering since when had they turned lunatics
loose in the sky. He didn’t have much time for wondering, because the
guy kept taking passes at him. Finally, the guy took to diving down
under him and pulling up in front of him. He seemed to think that was
more fun than just diving on my friend, and he kept it up.

My friend saw him disappear under the tail of his ship this time, and he
didn’t know what to do about it. He didn’t know which way to turn,
because he didn’t know which way the goof was going to pull up.

Suddenly he saw the nose of the other ship. It came up directly in front
of his own nose. He knew the guy had overdone it this time and come too
close. He pulled back on his stick, but felt the jar of the collision
just as he did. It threw him up into a stall, and when he came out his
motor was so rough he had to cut his switches. He had raked the tail of
the other ship with his propeller, and it was bent all out of shape. He
had also cut the tail off the drunk’s ship.

The drunk was evidently too drunk to get out of the cockpit because he
cracked up with his ship. My friend managed to get his ship down without
jumping. It was only a wonder, plus some neat flying on my friend’s
part, that he wasn’t killed too.


A pilot should never be too stubborn with an airplane. I learned that
early, fortunately, without coming to grief in the process.

Another pilot criticized my flying once. He criticized the way I was
making my take-offs. Kidlike and cocky, just out of flying school, I
took a foolish way of proving he was wrong. But he had me so riled by
his caustic and nasty remarks about how I was going to kill myself if I
kept that up that I flung out a challenge to him and felt I had to keep
my attitude even when I saw I was overdoing the thing and thought I was
going to crack up.

“If you think my take-offs are so dangerous,” I told him, “I’ll just go
out there and cut my gun in the most dangerous spot of this dangerous
take-off and land safely back in the airport.” And I stalked out,
fuming, and got in the ship.

I took off toward the high trees at the end of the field, didn’t let the
ship climb very steeply approaching the trees, and banked just before I
got to them—exactly like I had been doing on the take-offs he had been
criticizing. But I also pulled up sharply, just to make it worse. I
didn’t want him to have any comeback. I cut the gun and started dropping
back in over the trees into the airport. I should have put the nose down
a little to cushion the drop, but I was mad. I’d show him the worse way.
I wanted to gun it because I was dropping hard, but I wouldn’t give him
the satisfaction.

I hit like a ton of bricks. The ship groaned and bounced as high as a
hangar. Luckily, it was a square hit and a square bounce. That’s the
only reason I didn’t spread the ship all over the field. It hit and
bounced again and rolled to a very short stop for a down-wind landing.

“All right,” I told the guy when I crawled out of the ship, “you go out
now and cut your gun just over the trees on one of your safe, straight
take-offs. You won’t have a turn started and already pretty well
developed, and you won’t have room enough to start one. You’ll pile into
the trees in a heap, and if that’s safer than landing on the airport in
one piece, then I’ll admit that your take-offs are safer than mine.”

He didn’t dare and he knew it. So he just glared at me, knowing damned
well, as I knew myself, that I should by all rights have cracked up on
that landing. But I had him, and he shut up and didn’t make any more
cracks about me.


Somebody asked me one day what kind of an airplane I flew. I told him
any kind anybody was willing to pay me for flying.

“But don’t you own an airplane?” the man asked.

“No,” I answered. “And furthermore,” I added, “I have never owned an
airplane, although I have been a professional pilot for eleven years.”


Well, I can best explain that as I explained it to a little boy once out
in California.

I was at the Lockheed factory. I had been there several months,
supervising the construction of an airplane I had sold to a rich
sportsman pilot in the East. It was a Lockheed Sirius plane and at that
time a ship which was taking everybody’s eyes as the latest and sleekest
thing yet developed by the engineers. Lindbergh had just popularized it
by flying himself and his wife across the country in it and establishing
a new transcontinental record.

They rolled my ship out on the line one bright, sunny day and I must say
that in its shiny new red-and-white paint job and its clean, sweeping
lines it certainly was a beautiful sight sitting there glistening in
that California sunshine.

A little boy who had crawled over the factory fence despite the “No
Trespassing” sign evidently thought so too, for he was standing there
gazing raptly at it with eyes as big as silver dollars when I stalked
out toward the ship to make a first test hop in it. He intercepted me
neatly as I rounded the wing tip and approached the cockpit.

“Ooh, mister,” he said, “do you own that ship?”

“No, sonny,” I answered. “I merely fly it. I find that that is less
expensive and more fun.”


I take off from March Field, Calif., head north and climb steeply. At
ten thousand feet on the altimeter I see the green fir trees skimming
only a couple of hundred feet beneath me. I see the deep snow between
their trunks, brilliant in the sun. I am clearing the San Bernardino

I come out at ten thousand feet over the Mohave Desert, my altimeter
still reading ten thousand feet. The floor of the Mohave is high.

I look ahead to the railroad, thirty miles away. I look behind. The
green-sloped, snow-capped Bernardinoes form a backdrop for the desert

On beyond the railroad, beyond Barstow, into the Granite Mountains, low,
rolling, black, barren, lava-formed.

Into the Painted Hills. They are not named that on the map. They are not
named at all, and at first I can’t believe them. But there they are
beneath me. No atmospheric trick. No effect of distance. No subtle color
either. They are really painted. There is one over there. It sweeps out
of the desert upward into green and ends in a peak of white. There is
another, sweeping through purple to red. Others through red to yellow.
It is as if God had been playing with colored chalks, picking up purple,
perhaps, powdering it through his fingers to drop in a purple heap,
picking up another color then to drop on top of that in powdered
brilliance, powdering then on top of that another color still to form a
brilliant, pointed tip. Fantastic, unreal, true!

For a long time now I have seen no life. The brilliant land is barren. I
look back. I can still make out where the railroad runs. Far, far
behind, the white Bernardinoes rise, low on the horizon now in the
distance. It is not a long flight back to the railroad, or even a very
long one back to the mountains and over them into the green San
Bernardino Valley and March Field. But it is a long walk. It is a long
walk back even to the railroad. What if my motor quits? I had intended
to go on to Death Valley, just to see it, circle, and return.

I bank reluctantly around and assume a reverse compass course for home.
I have seen enough for an afternoon’s jaunt, anyway.


I taxi out and turn my ship into the wind at the end of the snow-plowed
runway at Hagerstown Airport, Maryland. The white hangar looms too
close. Deep snow on the rest of the field prohibits its use. Can I get
over the hangar? I give it the gun and try. Just miss the hangar. Too

Head off on a compass course for New York. Strong drift to the right
from northwest wind. Head a little more to left.

Blue Ridge Mountains pass under me. On into the friendly undulating
valley country beyond, snow covered.

Gettysburg under my left wing. They were fighting down there once. Hard
to believe, looking down on the peaceful fields now. Wonder what they
would have done if they could have looked up and seen me and my

Low hills before the Susquehanna River. Their brown contours reach like
dusky fingers out into the snow-filled valleys.

Over the river, and Lancaster off to my left. Reform school there.
That’s where they were always going to send me when I was a bad little

More valley country. Ridge-like hills. The Schuylkill River and
Norristown. Philadelphia, blue laws, and no movies on Sundays far off to
my right.

More valley. The Delaware River. Washington crossed the Delaware. I
cross it in half a minute.

The Sourland Mountains and Lindbergh’s sad white house. I see Flemington
and know the trial is going on down there. I remember walking with
Lindbergh, ten years ago, from San Antonio, Tex., to Kelly Field, where
we were both advanced flying students. “What are you going to do when
you graduate?” he asked. “What are you going to do?” I asked him. Yes,
what were we going to do? And now he was down there in that courtroom,
and the world stretching out around him as far as I could see and much,
much farther was a cocked ear listening again to his tragedy. And I was
circling above in the clean blue sky, remembering many things and

I shuddered a last long unbelieving look at Lindbergh’s empty, lonely
house, perched up on its hill, circled and flew on. Half an hour later,
on Long Island, I kissed the chubby cheek of my own first-born son in
greeting and pitied Lindbergh somewhat for his fame.


I hadn’t seen Darr Alkire since I had resigned from the army several
years before, so when I dropped into March Field, Calif., to say hello
and he told me that he and a couple of the other officers were flying
three ships down to Mexacali on the Mexican border that afternoon to
return the next and asked me to go along, I said yes.

I flew down in the rear seat of Darr’s ship, and when we landed and
crossed the border everybody proceeded to get drunk. Everybody but Yours
Truly. I had been on a party the night before I had dropped in to see
Darr and didn’t feel up to it.

The next morning we met a Mexican captain, and everybody had to drink a
lot of drinks to each other. I still threw mine over my shoulder.

That afternoon the Mexican captain had to escort us to the airport, just
to say good-bye to us. The leader of our formation then, no sooner had
we taken off, had to lead us in some diving passes at the Mexican
captain, just to say good-bye to him.

They were having a lot of fun dusting their wings on the airport,
saluting the captain, but I wasn’t! Darr was sticking his wing in too
close to the leader’s for comfort. I had a set of dual controls in the
rear cockpit and couldn’t resist just a little pressure on them to ease
his wing away from the leader’s in some of the passes or to pull him up
just a little sooner in some of the dives. It was a heluva breach of
flying ethics, but after all I was sober!

We got back to March, and Darr, sobered by then, began telling me what a
swell guy I had been to sit back there and take it. He said he would
have taken the controls away from me, had I been flying drunk, and he
sitting back there sober. I thought he was razzing me for a moment, but
saw that he really meant it. My pressure on the controls had been so
subtle that he hadn’t noticed it.

I didn’t bother to tell him the truth. I liked the idea that he thought
I had had enough sand to sit there and not interfere with him. I didn’t
have enough nerve to set him straight on the matter.


The hazards of a pilot’s life are sometimes different than some people

For instance, I flew some people to a ranch in Mexico once. I fought bad
weather most of the way from New York to Eagle Pass on the Border,
skimming mountains and swamps, and then flew eighty miles of barren
mountain and desert country to the ranch house.

They insisted the next day that I go out hunting with them. That meant
that I had to ride a horse. I had ridden a horse once before in my life
and remembered it as the most uncomfortable means of transportation ever
invented by man.

But I went with them. I even began to like it after we had been out a
while. I discovered that you could wheel the horse around in a running
turn and that it was almost like banking an airplane around. I was
having pretty good fun experimenting until I noticed that a certain
portion of my anatomy was getting very warm, and then, soon, that it was
getting very tender. Pretty soon I began to think that we would never
get back to the ranch house. When we finally did, my pants and my
anatomy were brilliantly discolored. And when I went to take the pants
off, I noticed that quite a bond had developed between me and them,
quite an attachment indeed! They were stuck fast and could be persuaded
away from me only with their pound of flesh.

I decided that I would stick to my airplane after that. But the next
day, I discovered that my airplane was uncomfortable too—and I had to
make a five-hour flight to Mexico City.

When I got to Mexico City everything was uncomfortable, and I had to eat
my dinner off the mantelpiece that night. There was an additional
humiliation. The doctor had to undress me. He had to use plenty of hot
oil and go very easy.


Bunny had trusted me on the outward trip, so now, returning to March
Field, Calif., I comforted myself in the rear cockpit of our army DH
with the thought that Bunny could fly as well as I.

San Francisco lay behind us. The Diablo Mountains were beneath. Snug
around us, familiar and friendly, was our ship.

But beyond, strange and ominous by now to Bunny and me because we had
hardly ever flown in it before, and never for so long, stretched like a
white, opaque, and directionless night the fog.

The ship felt as if it were flying straight, but when I peeked over
Bunny’s shoulder I saw the needle on his bank and turn indicator leaning
halfway over to the right. I watched it start back then—Bunny was all
right—to the center. But slowly then, inexorably—Bunny! Bunny!—the
needle leaned over to the left. The ball was centered, so the turns were
good. But that was not enough. Where were we going? Were we weaving?
Circling? Which way were we turning mostly? The ocean was not far off to
our right.

Then something else—ice! Its white hands gripped the front of wings, the
leading edge of struts and wires. The prop got rough. The motor beat and
strained. Once the ship shivered. I saw one aileron go down. Bunny was
trying to hold a wing up. I saw the needle straighten. He had held it.
But I saw something else too! I saw the altimeter losing. No hope for
blue sky now. No hope to ride on top until we found a hole, as our
weather report had indicated that we would. How far were the mountain
tops beneath us? Would the ice melt off before we sank too far?

I saw the throttle moving backward, heard the motor taper off its
friendly roar, heard Bunny’s voice sound out like thunder in white doom.

“Let’s jump,” he shouted, turning his head halfway.

Were there mountains to land on and walk on in the depths of that white
down there? Or had we circled out over the ocean?

“Let’s not. Let’s wait. Let’s try once more,” I shouted back.

Then I shouted again, scraped my fingers on the windshield, reaching,
grabbed Bunny’s shoulder, but too late. Even as I shouted, reached, and
grabbed, the ship banked on its ear, wheeled over, and dove safely
through a brown passage tunnel to the earth. Bunny had seen it too—a
hole in the fog, and through it, ground.

The warmer lower air flowed over us. The ice dripped from our wings in
glistening drops. We came out in the San Joaquin Valley with plenty of
ceiling, and it was plain sailing from there on.


It is a bright, golden day in Texas. A little Mexican boy is working in
a field of sugar cane just back of Kelly Field. The airplanes from the
field are droning in the sleepy air above his head. Occasionally he
pauses in his work to glance half curiously at one of them. He is not
much interested in them. They are like the automobiles swishing
endlessly past on the highway near by. He is accustomed to them. And
besides, they are not of his world.

Sometimes the long motor roar of a ship coming out of a dive attracts
his half-hearted attention. Occasionally an intricate formation maneuver
over his head warrants his momentary gaze. Often he stares, half
abstractedly, skyward while he works. Like a shoe cobbler in a window
watching the crowds passing in the street.

This time, however, a curious interruption in the steady beating drone
of a three-ship formation of DHs passing over him makes him
involuntarily raise his head from his work. It is a strange sound,
somehow ominous to him. He is accustomed to hearing the motors run. Even
their tapering off for a landing is a different noise than this one. His
unknowingly trained ears and maybe some strange premonition tell him

He sees two of the three ships locked together in collision. He sees
them, startlingly silent and arrested in their flight, falling in their
own débris. He sees two black objects leave the wrecks. He sees a white
streamer trail out behind each of them and then blossom open into two
swinging, slowly floating parachutes. He stands with his head thrown
back, his Indian eyes rapt in his Asiatic face.

Suddenly he is alarmed, then full of fear. The two milling wrecks, black
harbingers of doom by now, are going to fall on him. He begins to run.
Any way, any direction at all. He runs as fast as his little brown legs
will carry him. He covers a considerable distance from where he was
standing by the time the wrecks hit.

The spot he runs from, unruffled, undisturbed, lies warming, sleeping in
the sun. The wrecks don’t hit that spot. They hit him, running.

The world that was not his has folded darkened crumpled wings of death
around him.


One of the briefest and most amusing family fights I have ever listened
in on occurred in an airplane. I was flying its owner and his wife to
the coast.

We came in over the Mohave Desert, crossed the mountains at the desert’s
western edge, and started out over the valley, where I knew Los Angeles
lay thirteen thousand feet beneath us. The valley and the ocean beyond
were covered with fog, and I could see nothing but the white, billowed
stretch of it and the tawny mountains rising out of it behind us.

I spiraled down and went through a hole in the fog near the foot of the
mountains. It was lower and thicker underneath than I had hoped. I
picked up a railroad and started weaving my way along it into the

The owner of the ship, sitting on my right, was helping me with my map,
holding it for me. His wife, sitting behind me, was squirming anxiously
in her seat and peering tensely out of the windows through the low

Soon she tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Aren’t we flying awfully

I half turned my head and shouted, “Yes, the ceiling is awfully low.” I
wanted to add, “You fool,” but didn’t dare.

“Isn’t it dangerous?” she whined.

“We’re all right,” I shouted. “I’ve flown stuff like this before. I can
handle it.”

Pretty soon she tapped me on the shoulder again. “Where are we?” she

“I can’t tell you the exact spot,” I shouted, “but we are still on the
right railroad and will be coming into the airport in a few minutes.”

We passed over a town section just then, and the railroad branched three
ways under us. I made a quick jump at my map to check which of the three
I should follow. The wife saw me jump and must have seen that I looked
worried. She tapped me on the shoulder again.

“Oh, are you sure we are going the right way?” she whimpered.

I started to turn around to explain to her what I was doing and why,
realized my flying required all my attention right then, cast an
appealing glance at her husband, clamped my jaws tight, and started
studying landmarks. We were in close to the airport, and I didn’t want
to miss it.

I heard the husband shout one of the funniest mixtures of supplication
and command I have ever heard.

“Now listen, honey,” he shouted at her. “You keep your damn mouth shut,


It is the year before Lindbergh becomes famous. I have graduated in the
same class with him from the army flying school the year before and have
seen him only twice since. I am on an army cross-country trip, bound for
St. Louis, when I land at Chicago and run into him. He is just taking
off with the mail, bound for St. Louis too, and we decide to fly down
together in formation.

It is getting dark when we sight the river at St. Louis in the distance.
Lindbergh shakes his wings. He is calling my attention. I pull my ship
in close to his. I see him pointing from his cockpit. I look ahead and
see a speck. It grows rapidly larger. I make it out as another DH
approaching us head on from the deepening dusk. It comes up, swings
around into formation with us, and sticks its wing right up into mine.
Its pilot peers at me, and I peer at him. We recognize each other. It is
Red Love. Red, Lindbergh, and myself were three of the four cadets in
our pursuit class at flying school. Looks like a class reunion in the

But no. Lindbergh is shaking his wings. He is banking. He is pointing
down. He spirals down, circles a field, flies low over it several times,
dragging it, looking it over carefully, and lands. Red and I follow.

Lindbergh and I crawl out of our ships with parachutes strapped to us.
Red crawls out of his without one. Lindbergh takes his off as the three
of us converge for greetings.

“You will need this getting the mail on into Chicago the rest of the way
in the dark tonight,” he says to Red, holding the chute out to him.

“It’s the only one in the company,” he says, turning, explaining to me,
“and I won’t need it for the few miles on into St. Louis from here.”

We say hasty greetings and good-byes, crawl back into our still idling
ships, and take off. Lindbergh, chuteless now, heads off south for St.
Louis, and I follow. Red swings off in the opposite direction for

I look back. I see Red disappearing into the darkening north. I know he
feels better now, sitting on that chute.


I had to go to Cleveland to bring back a ship that a student of mine had
left there in bad weather. I got on an airliner, with a parachute. The
chute was for use on the way back.

The airline porter wanted to put my chute in the baggage compartment. My
argument was: “What good would it do me there?” The porter looked
offended, but I kept my attitude and took my chute to my seat with me.

We took off from Newark after dark. The weather was bad, and we went
blind three minutes after we took off.

I tried to console myself with the thought that the pilots were
specially trained in blind flying, that they had instruments, had two
motors, had radio, that everything was just ducky. But I couldn’t even
see the wing tips.

I tried to read my magazine. I found myself peering out of the windows
through the darkness to see if we had come out on top yet.

I tried to nap. I found myself hearing the motors getting slightly
louder, knowing we were nosing down; feeling myself getting slightly
heavier in my seat, knowing the pilot was correcting; hearing the motors
begin to labor slightly, knowing we were nosing up; feeling myself
getting ever so slightly lighter in my seat, knowing the pilot was
correcting again; telling myself repeatedly that he knew his stuff and
that there wasn’t anything I could do about it anyway, but sitting there
going through every motion with him just the same.

Two hours later we were still blind, and my nose was pressing up against
the windowpane almost constantly. The other passengers probably thought
I had never been in a ship before.

Half an hour later we were still blind and only half an hour out of
Cleveland. We broke out of the stuff finally just outside of Cleveland.
We were flying low, and the lights were still going dim under us as we
skimmed along not very far above them. There wasn’t much ceiling when we
landed, and it closed in shortly after that.

Most of the passengers roused themselves from sleep when we landed. I
was plenty wide awake. I knew that ship hadn’t had much gas range. If we
had got stuck, we would have had to come down someway before very long.
If those passengers could have read my mind, or I think even the
pilot’s, there probably would have been a battle in the cabin over my


I took off at Buffalo one time to do a test job. I had been called up
there as an expert and was supposed to be pretty hot stuff.

I took the ship off and started rocking it violently from side to side.
I kept this up through a variety of speed ranges, watching the ailerons
closely all the time. I wanted to find out first of all if the ailerons
had any tendency to flutter under a high angle of attack condition. Then
I began horsing on the stick to see if anything unusual happened to the
ailerons when I introduced the high angle of attack condition that way.

I interrupted my observations of the ship’s behavior after a while to
look around for the airport. I couldn’t find it! I had forgotten that I
was in a high-speed ship and could get far away from the field in a very
short time. Furthermore, the country was unfamiliar to me, and I had no
map. Gee, if I had only thought to stick a map in the ship before I took

I knew the airport was somewhere on the west side of town. I thought it
was somewhat north. But how far north I didn’t know. I couldn’t remember
even if it was close in to town or far out. I had a vague idea it was
far out, but how far out I didn’t know. If I had only thought to bring a
map! Or if I had only kept the airport in sight. Good old hindsight!

I was panic-stricken. There I was, a supposedly high-powered test pilot,
lost over the airport. What a dumb position for me to be in!

Before I found the airport by just cruising around looking haphazardly
for it, I might be forced down by the weather, which was none too good
and getting worse, or I might run out of gas. What if I was finally
forced to pick a strange field, a pasture or something, and cracked up
getting into it? How would I explain that?

I decided to cruise north and south, up and down, in ten- or
fifteen-mile laps, starting far enough out of town to be sure to fly
over the airport on one of the laps as I moved closer in on each one.
That would be at least an orderly procedure.

I found the field on my fourth lap. But was I in a sweat! And did I keep
my eye on that field after that!


Dick Blythe, who handled Lindbergh’s publicity not only after Lindbergh
came back from Paris but also, as Dick stated to me, just before
Lindbergh went to Paris, is a bit of aviation folklore in himself.

I just ran into Dick over at the Roosevelt Field restaurant, and he told
me this one about Dean Smith. Dean is one of the oldest air-mail pilots.
He started flying the mail ’way back in the postoffice days, just after
the war. He is a lean six-foot-two, easy-going guy who would never talk
much about his flying.

Dick caught him just after he had returned from one of his crackups in
the Alleghanies in the old days when Roosevelt Field was called Curtiss
Field and the mail went out of there instead of out of Newark as it does
now. Dean was just pouring his long self into the cockpit of another DH
to take the night mail out again.

“Where in the hell have you been?” Dick greeted him.

“Oh,” Dean said, “I had a hell of a time the other night. Just got

“What happened?” Dick asked him.

“Aw, I got tangled up with a load of ice after dark. She started losing
altitude, and I eased a little more gun to her. She kept on losing, so I
eased a little more gun to her. She still kept on losing, so I eased all
the gun she had. She was squashing right down into the trees. I had done
everything I knew and couldn’t hold her up. So I said, ‘Here, God, you
fly it awhile,’ and turned her loose and threw my arms up in front of my

“I guess it must have been tough, because He cracked her up. He piled
into that last ridge just outside of Bellefonte.”


The late Lya de Putti, German screen actress, paid me the nicest
compliment of all.

She was up front in the two-place passenger compartment of a Lockheed
Sirius. The owner of that plane was in the pilot’s open cockpit just
back of her. And I was behind him in the rear cockpit.

He had insisted, against my better judgment, upon getting into that
pilot’s cockpit in the first place. But, after all, he owned the ship, I
was only his pilot, and there was a set of dual controls in the rear

The motor quit cold over Whitehall, N. Y., because we ran out of gas in
one of the six tanks in the ship. I shouted back and forth with the
ship’s owner, halfway to the ground, trying to tell him how to turn on
one of the other five tanks. There was a complicated system of gas
valves in the ship, and I couldn’t make him understand what to do, and I
couldn’t reach the valves myself.

Finally I shouted, “You play with them. I’ll land,” and stuck my head
out and looked around. We were already low. I picked a small plowed
field, the only likely-looking one in the mountainous country, and
started into it.

I was coming around my last turn into the field when I discovered
high-tension wires stretching right across the edge of it. I was too low
to pick another field. The field was too small to go over the wires. I
had to go through a gap in the trees to get under them.

I kicked the ship around sidewise. The trees flashed past me on either
side, and I hit the ground. The wires flashed past over my head. I used
my brakes and stopped the fast ship very quickly in the soft ground. If
we had rolled fifty feet farther we would have hit an embankment that
rose sharply at the far end of the field.

I crawled out of my cockpit and started to help Lya out of her cabin.
She was already emerging, fanning herself with a handkerchief. She spoke
with a German accent.

“Oh, Jeemy,” she said, “all the way down I pray to God. But I thank you,
Jeemy. I thank you.”


Johnny Wagner came up to me for his transport pilot’s license test. I
was the inspector for the Department of Commerce. Johnny knew I was
“tough.” As a matter of fact, he figured I was much tougher than I was.

I knew Johnny and liked him. He was crazy about flying and had worked
hard to get his flying training. He had pushed ships in and out of
hangars, washed them, acted as night watchman and office boy, done
anything and everything to pay for his flying time. But I didn’t have
the slightest idea how he flew. And after all, you may be a swell guy
but not be able to fly worth a cent, and a transport test is supposed to
determine whether you are safe to carry passengers.

I found out three minutes after Johnny got in the ship how he flew.
Nevertheless, I made him go all through the test. When he came to steep
banks I made him pull them in tight. He was reluctant to do it, so I
took the ship to do it myself to show him. I could see right away why he
was reluctant. It was the way the ship was rigged. It had a tendency to
roll under in a tightly pulled in steep bank. But I wanted to see what
he would do with it, so I made him do it. He did, and rolled right under
into a power spin. He had gone into an inadvertent spin, the
unforgivable sin in a flight test.

I started to reach for the controls but let him go. When he had pulled
out of the spin I told him to land.

He got out of the ship with his face as long as a poker. He couldn’t
even talk, the test had meant so much to him. I didn’t say anything for
a moment, then with a stern face I said roughly, “Well,” and waited a
moment. The poor kid was getting all set for the worst. I could tell by
his face.

“Well,” I went on, “you passed,” and I smiled broadly at him.

His mouth fell open. “But—but—” he stuttered—“but I spun out of that
steep bank!”

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “But you also recovered. It was the way you
recovered. You stopped that spin like that and recovered from the
resultant dive neatly and smoothly, with a minimum loss of altitude and
still without squashin’ the ship. It was a beautiful piece of work and
told me more about your flying than anything else you did, although I
could tell in the first three minutes that you could fly.” I never saw a
kid beam so much.

Johnny is now flying a regular run over the Andes in South America for
Pan American Grace.


I delivered a plane at a ranch in Mexico a few years ago for Joe and
Alicia Brooks. I was to take back the ship they had been using. The
ranch was about eighty miles over the border from Eagle Pass. The
Brookses planned to leave with me and fly formation to New York. Both
planes had approximately the same cruising speed. Alicia and I flew in
one ship. Sutter, the mechanic, flew with Joe in the other.

The day we started didn’t look too good. Thick gray clouds were rolling
in from the northeast. There was no way we could check our weather till
we got to Eagle Pass. We had to take a chance on the eighty miles.

Joe led the way, and everything went fine at the start, but the nearer
we got to Eagle Pass the worse the weather got. We were flying on top of
a jerkwater railway, just missing the tops of the trees, when we bumped
into a solid wall of fog. Joe disappeared into it. I stuck my nose in
the stuff and pulled out: there was no percentage in two planes milling
around blind. Too much chance of collision. I picked out a spot in
between the cactus and landed. There was nothing to do but wait. If Joe
came out he would come out on the railway and we would see him. Ten
uncomfortable minutes passed. We heard a motor. Joe reappeared. He
circled and landed alongside of us.

By this time the planes were surrounded by a herd of angry shrieking
Mexicans. There must have been over a hundred of them. They didn’t seem
to like us, but we couldn’t find out why. None of us spoke Spanish.
Finally an official-looking fellow appeared with a lot of brass medals
on his coat. He made us understand through the sign language that he
wanted to see our passports. We couldn’t find them. The atmosphere was
most unpleasant. We had visions of spending the next few days in a
flea-bitten Mexican jail.

Then it occurred to me that I did know one Spanish word. Might as well
use it, I thought, and see what happens. “Cerveza” I commanded. The
Mexicans looked startled. “Cerveza” I commanded again. The Mexicans
started to laugh.

The next thing we knew, we were sitting at a Mexican bar drinking beer
with a lot of newfound friends. Cerveza is the Spanish for beer.


Our jenny hit the ground wheels first and bounced dangerously. My
instructor in the cockpit in front of me grabbed his controls, gave the
ship a sharp burst of the gun, and set her down right. We were in a
little practice field near Brooks Field in Texas.

My instructor turned around to me: “Damn it, Collins,” he said, “don’t
run into the ground wheels first like that. Level off about six feet in
the air and wait until the ship begins to settle. Then ease the stick
back. When you feel the ship begin to fall out from under you, pull the
stick all the way back into your guts and the ship will set itself down.
Go around and try it again.”

“Yes, sir.”

I came in the next time, hit the ground wheels first, and bounced. My
instructor righted the ship.

“No, Collins. No,” he fumed. “Six feet. Look, I’ll show you what six
feet looks like.”

He took the ship off and flew over the open fields, then came around and

“Now do you know what six feet looks like?” he shouted back to me.

“Yes, sir,” I lied. I was afraid to tell him that I could not see the
ground right. He might send me to the hospital to have my eyes examined.
They might find some slight defect in my eyes that they had overlooked
in the original examination and wash me out of the school.

“Well, then, go around and make a decent landing for me,” my instructor

“Yes, sir.”

I leveled off too high the next time. My instructor grabbed his controls
and prevented us from cracking up.

“Damn it, Collins,” he shouted when the ship had stopped rolling, “don’t
run into the ground wheels first. And don’t level off as high as the
telegraph wires. Level off at about six feet. Then set her down. Now go
round and try it again.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Damn it, Collins, don’t sit back there and say ‘Yes, sir’ and then do
the same damned thing again.”

“No, sir.”


Pat paints. She also flies.

Pat and I landed at Jacksonville, Fla., late one night in Pat’s Stearman
biplane. Pat was taking cross-country instruction from me. We gassed
hurriedly and took off again. We left the glare of the floodlights
behind us as we headed our ship along the line of flashing beacons
stretching southward toward Miami. The stars were brilliant in the
cloudless sky, but the night was very dark. There was no moon.

Soon we were flying down the coast. White breakers rolled in under us
from the Atlantic Ocean on our left and dimly marked the coast line.
Swamps stretched away to the inland on our right but were invisible in
the black night. Beacons flashed brilliantly out of the darkness in a
long line far behind us and far ahead. Blotches of lights slipped slowly
past under us when we flew over towns.

We saw clouds ahead. We nosed down under them. We had to fly
uncomfortably low to stay under the clouds. We nosed up to get above

We flew into them. The lights beneath us dimmed and disappeared. We
climbed in opaque blackness, flying by instruments.

We emerged into an open space where the clouds were broken. The lights
reappeared. The stars became visible.

The clouds spread out under us to the horizon in all directions. They
were lit a dim silver by the stars. They softly undulated like a mystic,
limitless sea beneath us.

Now and then we saw a break in the clouds and caught the flash of a
beacon through it or saw the lights of a town. We caught glimpses of dim
breakers rolling in on the beach far down under the clouds.

Something I couldn’t explain was happening. The sky in the east was
getting lighter. It was only about midnight. I looked at the western sky
and then looked back at the eastern sky. Yes, the sky was definitely
getting lighter in the east. Half an hour later the eastern sky was much
lighter than the western sky.

I watched toward the east.

I saw a thin, blood-red tip of something rise up from the eastern
horizon. The top of the object was rounded. The bottom of it was
irregular in shape. The object got larger rapidly.

“The moon!” I shouted out loud to myself.

It rose rapidly. Invisible clouds far out at sea, silhouetted against
the moon, gave the bottom of it its irregular shape.

The moon got up above the clouds in an incredibly short time. It was a
full moon, golden and glorious. It made the clouds between me and it
seem darker. It made the sea beneath the clouds silver. Through the
large breaks in the clouds I saw a beam of moonlight like a golden path
from the moon across the sea to the beach beneath us. The beam traveled
with us. It raced across the sea under the clouds at the same speed that
we flew through the air above the clouds.

I eased the throttle back and slowed the ship down.

“Paint that some day,” I shouted to Pat.

Pat was gazing out across the ocean toward the moon. She didn’t say
anything. I knew she had heard me.


I was stationed at Selfridge Field after I graduated from the Advanced
Flying School at Kelly. The Army Air Corps’ First Pursuit Group was at
Selfridge. The officers used to gather every morning at eight-fifteen in
the post operator’s office. We would be assigned to our various
functions in the formation. Then we would fly formation for an hour or
so, practicing different tactical maneuvers. After flying we would
gather at the operations office again for a general critique, which was
supposed to conclude the official day’s flying. We would separate from
there and go about our various ground duties. I discovered I could
quickly finish my ground duties and have a lot of time left over for
extra flying. I used to bother the operations officer to death asking
him for ships. He usually gave me one, and I would go up alone and
practice all sorts of things just for fun. It was no part of my work. It
was pure exuberance.

One day I was flying around idly in a Hawk. I decided I would take the
Hawk as high as I could, just for the hell of it.

I opened the throttle and nosed up. I gained the first few thousand feet
rapidly. The higher I went the slower I climbed. At 20,000 feet climbing
was difficult. The air was much thinner. The power of my engine was
greatly diminished. I began to notice the effect of altitude. Breathing
was an effort. I didn’t get enough air when I did breathe. I sighed
often. My heart beat faster. I wasn’t sleepy. I was dopey. I was very
cold, although it was summer.

I looked up into the sky. It was intensely blue, deep blue; bluer than I
had ever seen a sky. I was above all haze. I looked down at the earth.
Selfridge Field was very small under me. The little town of Mount
Clemens seemed to be very close to the field. Lake St. Clair was just a
little pond. Detroit seemed to be almost under me, although I knew it
was about twenty miles from Selfridge Field. I could see a lot of little
Michigan towns clothing the earth to the north and northwest of
Selfridge. Everything beneath me seemed to have shoved together. The
earth seemed to be without movement. I felt suspended in enormous space.
I was 23,000 feet high by my altimeter.

I was dopey. My perception and reaction were ga-ga. I was cold, too. To
hell with it. It said 24,500 feet. I eased the throttle full and nosed

I lost altitude very rapidly and with very little effort at first. After
that it got more and more normal. I didn’t come down too fast. It was
too loud on my ears. I came down fairly slowly, so as to accommodate
myself to the change in air pressure as I descended.

It was warm and stuffy on the ground.

I saw the Flight Surgeon at dinner that evening.

“I worked a Hawk up to 24,500 feet today,” I told him proudly. “Gee, it
sure felt funny up there without oxygen.”

“Without oxygen?” he asked.

I nodded my head.

“You’re crazy,” he said. “You can’t go that high without oxygen. The
average pilot’s limit is around 15,000 to 18,000 feet. You’re young and
in good shape. Maybe you got to twenty. But you just imagined you went
higher than that.”

“No, I didn’t imagine it,” I said. “I really went up that high.”

“You went ga-ga and imagined it,” he said.

He added: “Don’t fool around with that sort of business. You’re likely
to pass out cold at any moment when you’re flying too high without
oxygen. You’re likely to pass out cold and fall a long way before
regaining consciousness. You might break your neck.”


I was flying in a student pursuit formation of SE-5s. Another student
pursuit formation of MB3As was flying several thousand feet above us.
The formation above us was supposed to be enemy pursuit on the
offensive. My formation was supposed to be on the defensive. We were
staging a mimic combat. Kelly Field, the army Advanced Flying School,
lay beneath us.

I had to watch my flight leader, the other ships in my formation, and
the enemy formation.

I saw the enemy formation behind us and above us in position to attack.
I saw it nose down toward us.

I looked at my flight leader’s plane. He was signaling a sharp turn to
the left. He banked sharply to the left. Everybody in our formation
banked sharply to the left with him. The attacking formation passed over
our tails and pulled up to our right.

I saw the attacking formation above us to our right, banking to the
left, nosing down to attack us broadside.

I looked at my flight leader. He was signaling a turn to the right. He
turned sharply to the right. Our whole formation turned with him. We
were heading directly into the oncoming attack of the other formation.

Just as I straightened out of my turn my ship lurched violently and I
got a fleeting impression of something passing over my head. I couldn’t
figure out what had happened. My leader was signaling for another turn.
I followed him through several quick turns in rapid succession. We were
dodging the enemy formation. I kept trying to figure out what had
happened when my ship had lurched.

Then it occurred to me: Somebody in the attacking formation, when the
formation had been diving head on into ours, had pulled up just in time
to keep from hitting me head on. I had passed under him and immediately
behind him as he pulled up, and the turbulent slip stream just back of
his ship was what had caused my ship to lurch.

I felt weak all over. God, how close he must have come, I thought!

Later, on the ground, we stood around our instructors, listening to
criticism of our flying. I wasn’t listening very much. I was looking
around at the faces of the other students. I saw another student looking
around too. It was Lindbergh. He had been flying in the attacking
formation. After the criticism was over I walked up to Lindbergh.

“Say,” I said, “did you come close to anybody in that head-on attack?”

He grinned all over.

“Yes,” he said. “Was that you?”


“Did you see me?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “I _felt_ you.”

“It is a good thing you didn’t see me,” Lindbergh said, “because if you
had seen me you would have pulled up, too, and we would have hit head


Tom was flying in front of me to my left. We both had PW-8s. We were
heading toward Uniontown, Pa. They were opening a field there. We were
going to stunt for them. We were flying 7,000 feet high in a milky
autumn haze. The rolling Ohio country beneath us was visible only
straight down and out to an angle of about 45 degrees. Beyond that the
earth mingled with the haze and was invisible.

I saw a town over the leading edge of my lower right wing. I recognized
it as Akron, O. I pushed my stick forward and opened my throttle. I had
always wanted to jazz the fraternity house in a high-powered fast ship.

Down I came. Roaring louder and louder. I couldn’t see a soul in the
yard of the fraternity house.

I missed the house by inches as I pulled sharply out of my dive and
zoomed almost vertically up for altitude. I looked back as I shot up
into the sky. The yard was full of fellows.

I kicked over and nosed down at the house again. I came as close to it
as I could without hitting it as I pulled back and thundered up into the

I nosed over into a third dive at the house. As I pulled up this time I
kicked the ship into a double snap roll as I climbed. I didn’t look
back. I just kept on climbing, heading for Uniontown. I overtook Tom a
little while later.

On my return trip from Uniontown I was forced down at Akron owing to bad
weather. Tom had gone back a day earlier than I. I was alone.

Friends of mine at the airport came up to me as I climbed out of my
ship. They asked me if I had flown over Akron in a PW-8 a few days
before. I said, “No. Why?” They showed me a clipping from a local
newspaper. It said:


   At noon today a small fast biplane appeared over Akron and
   proceeded to throw the populace into a panic by performing a
   series of zooms and dives and perilous nose spins low over the
   business section of town. Onlookers said that the plane narrowly
   missed hitting the tops of the buildings and that it several
   times almost dove into the crowds in the streets.

   Hospital authorities complained to city officials that the plane
   roared low over the hospital, frightening many of their patients
   and endangering the lives of others. Other complaints have
   rolled in from all over the city.

   City officials told reporters that the name of the pilot is
   known. He was a former resident of Akron and was a student at
   Akron University. At present he is on duty with the Army
   Aviation Service. Officials said they had reported the
   outrageous act to the military authorities at the pilot’s home

“I wonder who that damned fool could have been,” I said as I handed the
clipping back to my friends. I grinned.

I was staying with my uncle. I didn’t have much appetite for dinner that
night. I didn’t sleep very well.

“What is the matter, Jim?” my uncle asked me at breakfast the next
morning. “Why don’t you eat more?”

“I don’t feel very well,” I said.

I got back to Selfridge that afternoon. Nobody there had heard of my

I ate a big dinner that evening.


“Go around and try it again,” I shouted.

“Yes, sir,” the cadet in the rear cockpit behind me shouted back.

I felt the throttle under my left hand go all the way forward with a
jerk. I pulled it back.

“Open that throttle slower and smoother,” I shouted back. I didn’t look
round. I just turned my head to the left and put my open right hand up
to the right side of my mouth. That threw my voice back.

“Yes, sir,” came the cadet’s voice from the rear cockpit.

I felt the throttle under my left hand move forward slowly, smoothly.
The engine noise rose louder. The ship rocked and bumped slowly forward
over the rough ground. The tail of the ship came up, and the nose went
down. The nose of the ship veered to the left. I wanted to kick right
rudder to bring the nose back. I just sat there. The nose swung back
straight and then veered badly to the right. I wanted to kick left
rudder and bring the nose back. I didn’t move. The nose stopped veering.
We were going pretty fast. We bumped the ground once more and bounced
into the air. We stayed there. I took my nose between my left thumb and
forefinger and turned my head to the left so the cadet behind me could
see my profile.

The ship banked to the left. I felt a blast of air strong on the right
side of my face and felt myself being pushed to the right side of my
cockpit. We were skidding. I wanted to ease a little right rudder on and
stop the skid. Instead, I patted the right side of my face several times
with my right hand so the cadet could see it. I felt the rudder pedal
under my right foot jerk forward. We stopped skidding. The ship
straightened out of the bank and flew straight and level for a little
way. It made another left-hand bank, leveled out again, and flew
straight again for a little way. It did it again. I felt the throttle
under my left hand come all the way back. The engine noise quieted down,
and the engine exhaust popped a few times. The ship nosed down into a
glide. It made another left turn in the glide and then straightened out.
We were gliding toward the little field we had just taken off from. It
was a little field near Brooks that the Army Primary Flying School used
as a practice field.

“That was lousy,” I shouted back. “You jerked your throttle open. You
veered across the field on your take-off like a drunken man. Are you too
weak to kick rudder? You skidded on your turns. You landed cross-wind.
Go around and try it again. See if you can do something right this
time.” It was about the twentieth speech like that I had shouted back to
the cadet that morning.

I felt the throttle under my left hand jerk forward. I pulled it back.

“Damn it, open that throttle slower and——”

A voice from the rear cockpit broke in on me:

“I hope you never get anyone else as dumb as I am, Lieutenant.”

The voice was choked. The kid was crying.

“Hey, listen here,” I said, “I give you a lot of hell because I’m as
anxious for you to get this stuff as you are to get it. I wouldn’t even
give you hell if I thought you were hopeless. Sit back and relax and
forget it a while now. You’ll do better tomorrow.”

The cadet started to open his mouth. I turned hastily around and sat
down in my cockpit and opened the throttle wide open. The engine roared.
I didn’t hear what the cadet said.

I took off in a sharp climbing turn. I dove low at the ground, flew
under some high-tension wires. I pulled up and dove low at a cow in a
pasture. The cow jumped very amusingly. I pulled up and did a loop. I
came out of the loop very close to the ground. It was all against army
orders. It was all fun. I pulled back up to a respectable altitude and
flew sedately over Brooks Field. I cut the gun to land. I looked back at
the cadet. He was laughing. There were little channels in the dust on
his face where the tears had run down.


It was 1:45 a. m. The lights of United Airport at Burbank, Calif., where
I had left the ground fifteen minutes before, had disappeared. I knew
the low mountains were beneath me, but I couldn’t see them. I knew the
high mountains several miles east of me were higher than I was, but I
couldn’t see them. I could see the glow of the luminous-painted dials in
my instrument board in front of me. I could see the sea of lights of Los
Angeles and vicinity south of me, stretching southeastward. I could see
the stars in the cloudless, moonless sky above. I was circling for
altitude to go over the high mountains.

At 13,000 feet I leveled out and assumed a compass course for Wichita,
Kan. I passed over the high mountains without ever seeing them. I saw
only an occasional light in the blackness beneath me where I knew the
mountains were. I knew from my map that there were low mountains and
desert valleys beyond.

Greener country. Fertile valleys. Mountains looming. The Sangre de
Cristo range loomed high in front of me. Twelve thousand feet. I passed
over it into the undulating low country beyond it. Soon I was flying
over the flat fertile plains of western Kansas.

Gas trucks were waiting for me at Wichita Airport. Reporters asked me
questions. They took pictures. They told me I was behind Lindbergh’s
time. A woman out of the crowd jumped up on the side of my ship and
kissed me. I was off the ground, headed for New York, fifteen minutes
after I had landed.

It was very rough. It was hot. I was miserable in my fur flying suit. I
ached like hell from sitting on the hard parachute pack and wished I
could stand up for a while. I hadn’t had a chance to step out of the
ship at Wichita.

Clouds gone. Towns closer together. Towns larger. Farms smaller. More
railroads and paved roads. Industrial towns. On into the rolling country
of eastern Ohio.

Pittsburgh was covered with smoke. The Allegheny Mountains were dim in a
haze. It was getting dark.

Mountains beneath me in the dusk like dreams floating past. Stars
appearing in the clear sky. Lights coming on in the houses and towns.

It was dark now. The flashing beacons along the Cleveland-New York mail
run were visible off to my left.

New York. An ocean of shimmering light in the darkness, spreading
immensely under me. Beyond stretched Long Island. I could see where the
field ought to be. Did I see the Roosevelt Field beacon? Was that it?
What was that beacon over there? I saw hundreds of beacons. Beacons
everywhere. Every color of flashing beacon. Then I remembered it was
Fourth of July night. I would have a hell of a time locating the field.
Finally I distinguished Roosevelt Field lights from the fireworks, and
dove low over the field. The flood lights came on. My red-and-white
low-wing Lockheed Sirius glided out of the darkness, low over the edge
of the field, brilliantly into the floodlight glare, landed and rolled
to a stop.

There was a crowd at the field. Roosevelt was giving a night
demonstration. People ran out of the crowd toward me. George jumped up
on the wing and leaned over the edge of my cockpit. I was taxiing toward
the hangar.

“That did it,” Pick shouted over the noise of my engine.

“Did what?” I shouted back.

“Broke the record, boy!”

“You’re crazy as hell,” I answered. It took me sixteen and a half hours.
Lindbergh made it in fourteen forty-five.


I was hanging around Roosevelt Field one afternoon with nothing much on
my mind when a couple of friends came up and said they were just taking
off for the South. They wanted to catch the Pan-American plane from
Miami the next day. They were amateur pilots. The weather was lousy
toward the South and they hadn’t had much experience in blind or night
flying. I said I would fly with them as far as Washington and maybe by
that time the weather would clear. When we got to Washington the weather
had pretty well closed down. I didn’t like to see them start off in a
fog bank with the sun already setting, so I volunteered to go to
Greensborough. The stuff grew thicker. We were flying at two hundred
feet and getting lower all the time. So when we landed at Greensborough
there was nothing to do but stick with the ship. We took off for
Jacksonville after a scanty supper. It was one o’clock in the morning.
By that time I could barely make out the beacon lights. I turned to the
girl sitting next to me and told her that if we lost the beacon behind
us before we saw the one ahead of us we would have to turn back. At that
moment both beacons disappeared. I started to bank the ship towards
home. And then suddenly the whole sky lightened up. It looked as though
a huge broom had gone to work to tidy up the clouds.

We landed at Jacksonville at five in the morning without further mishap.
I said good-bye to plane and passengers and then started wondering how I
was going to get back to New York. I decided to hitch-hike and save the
train fare. It took me three days. When I appeared at the house with a
straw behind each ear and a suit full of holes my wife thought I had
gone crazy.


Earle R. Southee was so good-hearted he killed a guy. I don’t mean that
he actually killed him, but you can see for yourself from the following
story that, nevertheless, he killed him.

Southee was a civilian flying instructor to the army before the war,
when the Signal Corps was the flying branch of the army. He was also an
instructor during the war, after the Air Service had been created.

It was while he was instructing at Wilbur Wright Field during the war
that he met up with this guy. The guy had come down there to learn to
fly and then go to France and shoot Germans—or get shot by them. For
some reason or other he couldn’t pick the stuff up. Some people are like
that. They simply can’t get going when they first start to learn to fly.
Most of them actually have no flying ability and ought to quit trying.
It’s not in their blood. But occasionally you run across one who later
gets going and is all right.

This guy came up to Southee for washout flight. He was so obviously
broken up over the idea that he was going to get kicked out of the Air
Service into some other branch of service, he loved flying so much, that
Southee took pity on him, held him over a while, gave him special
instruction, and finally got the guy through. The guy even became an
instructor himself, and a very good one.

Later, most of the gang was transferred to Ellington Field, Houston,
Tex. At Ellington, this guy had such a tough time at first, got so hot,
that he was made a check pilot and put in charge of a stage or section.

One day one of the students came up to him for washout check. The kid
was just as broken up about it as he was. He gave the kid a chance, like
Southee had given him. Three days later the student froze on him, spun
him in, and lulled him.


I sat in the cockpit of an army DH, high over southern Texas. I was
heading toward Kelly Field, the Army Advanced Flying School. I was
returning from a student trip to Corpus Christi.

I was looking behind me. Beyond the tail of the ship I could see the
Gulf of Mexico. Far out over the Gulf was a low string of white clouds.
The sky was very blue. The water flashed in the sun.

Occasionally I turned to scan my instrument board, but mostly I looked
behind me. Purple distance slowly swallowed up the Gulf.

I turned around and faced forward and lit a cigarette. I looked at my
instrument board. I looked at my map. The course line on my map lay
between two railroads. I looked down at the earth. I was directly over a
railroad, flying parallel to it. To my right a little distance ran
another railroad, parallel to the one I was flying over. Another
railroad lay off to my left. I could not decide which two of the three
railroads I should be flying between.

I saw a little town on the railroad under me. I throttled back and nosed
down. I circled low over the town and located the railroad station. I
dove low past one end of the station and tried to read the name of the
town on the station as I flashed past it. I didn’t make it out. I opened
the throttle to pull up. The engine started to pick up, then sputtered,
then picked up all right. I paid no attention to its sputtering. It had
done that when I took off from Kelly Field that morning. It had done it
when I had circled the field at Corpus Christi on the Gulf. There was a
dead spot in the carburetor. The engine was all right. It was airtight
above or below that one spot on the throttle. I continued to pull up. I
went around and dove low at the station again. Again I failed to read
the sign. I opened the throttle to pull up. The engine started to pick
up, then sputtered, then picked up beautifully. I went around and dove
at the station again. I got it that time. It was Floresville, Tex. I
knew where that was. I opened the throttle to pull up. The engine
started to pick up, then sputtered, then died. The prop stood still.

I swung my ship to the left. I held it up as much as I dared. I headed
toward the open space. I was almost stalling. I barely cleared the last
house. I was dropping rapidly. I eased forward on the stick. No
response. I eased back. The nose dropped. I was stalled. I was about ten
feet above the ground. There was a fence almost under me. Maybe I would
clear it.

I heard a loud rending of wood and tearing of fabric. I felt a sensation
of being pummeled and beaten. Something hit me in the face. Then I was
aware of an immense quietness.

I just sat there in the cockpit. The dust settled slowly in the still
air. The hot Texas sun filtered through it. I still held the stick with
my right hand. My left hand was on the throttle. My feet were braced on
the rudder bar.

I was on a level with those fences. I stepped over the side of the
cockpit onto the ground. I looked at the wreck. The wings and landing
gear were a complete Washout. The fuselage wasn’t damaged.

I looked into the gasoline tanks. The main tank was empty. The reserve
tank was full. I looked into the cockpit at the gas valves. The main
tank was turned on. The reserve tank was turned off. I turned the main
tank off and turned the reserve tank on.

I phoned Kelly Field from a house near by.

An instructor flew down to get me. He landed his ship and then walked
over and looked at my ship. He looked at the gas tanks. He looked in the
cockpit at the gas valves. He turned to me. His eyes twinkled.

“What was the matter, wouldn’t your reserve tank take?” he asked.

“No, sir, it wouldn’t take,” I lied.

“That’s the first tough luck you’ve had during the course, isn’t it?” he

“Yes,” I said. “I have never cracked up before.”

He flew me back to Kelly Field.


“What is the weather to New York?” I asked the weather man at the
air-mail field at Bellefonte, Pa.

“Clear and unlimited all the way,” he told me.

I took off in my low-wing Lockheed Sirius at dark and flew along the
lighted beacons through the mountains. Half an hour later I ran into
broken clouds at 4,000 feet. I flew under them. Soon they became solid
and I couldn’t see the stars overhead. I saw lightning ahead of me
flashing in the darkness.

Water began to collect on my windshield. The air got very rough. A
beacon light that had been flashing up ahead of me disappeared. I
noticed the lights of a town beneath me getting dim. For a second I lost
sight of them entirely. I nosed down to get out of the clouds.

A brilliant flash of lightning lit the darkness around me. I saw the
rain driving in white sheets and caught the flash of a beacon through
it. I nosed down toward the beacon and started circling it. I knew by my
altimeter that I was down lower than some of the mountain ridges around
me. I looked for the next beacon but couldn’t see it through the raging
thunderstorm. I didn’t dare strike out in the general direction of the
next beacon in the hope of finding it. I might hit a mountain top.

Another blinding flash of lightning surrounded me with glaring light. I
saw the dark bottoms of the clouds and the black top of the next ridge I
had to pass over. Then blackness and the slashing rain with only the
friendly beacon under me.

I fought my way from beacon to beacon for an hour. The lightning flashes
receded farther and farther behind me. I began to see from beacon to
beacon. Stars appeared overhead. They were very dim. I was flying in a

I passed over Hadley Field, New Jersey, and saw its boundary lights
burning cheerfully. I continued on toward Roosevelt Field. I was almost
home now.

I noticed the lights of the towns beneath me getting dimmer. I looked
up. The stars were gone. I looked down again. The lights had
disappeared! I was flying blind in a thick fog. I began to fly by
instruments. I pulled up. At 3,000 feet I saw the stars. I was on top of
the fog.

I swung around to go back to Hadley Field. Its lights were covered. I
saw the lights of what I figured was New Brunswick. I started circling
them. I knew Hadley Field was only a few miles from there. The lights of
New Brunswick began to blot out. Hey, what the hell! I said out loud to

I saw a segment of the rotating beam of a beacon break through a hole in
the fog and make about a quarter of a turn in the darkness before it
disappeared. That’s the beam from Hadley beacon! I was saying all my
thoughts out loud now. I flew over to where I figured the center of the
beam was and started circling. The top of the fog looked pretty bright
there. I decided that Hadley had heard me and had turned on its

I eased back on my throttle, settled into a spiraling glide, and sank
down into the fog, flying by instruments. The opaque white fog got more
and more luminous. Individual bright spots, greatly blurred, began to
appear. I figured they were the boundary lights of the field. My
altimeter read very low. I broke through the bottom of the fog at about
two hundred feet. I was over Hadley. I flew low into the blackness back
of the field and came around and landed.

“What the hell are you flying in this stuff for?” the Hadley weather man
asked me.

“Because I was damned fool enough to take Bellefonte’s weather report
seriously,” I said.


When I was in Cleveland at the air races a couple of years ago four
so-called flyers asked me to fly with them in their Bellanca to the Sky
Harbor airport near Chicago. I agreed. We took off after the last race
with just enough gas to make the field nicely. We hit a head wind, but I
still figured we were okay. I didn’t know where the field was, but one
of the girls in the plane had been taking instruction at Sky Harbor and
the other three claimed that they had lived in Chicago all their lives
and knew Sky Harbor as well as their own mother.

When we got to Chicago it was already dark. I followed instructions. We
flew north. Someone yelled I should turn east. I turned east. Someone
else shouted that was all wrong, we were already too far east. I turned
west. The next fifteen minutes were bedlam. "_East, north, west, and
south,"_ they yelled. I lost my temper. "_Do you or do you not know
where this field is?"_ I exploded. "_There it is!"_ they chorused. I
heaved a sigh of relief and got ready to land. It wasn’t the field. I
looked at my gas, and my gas was too low. I took matters into my own
hands and flew back to the municipal airport and gassed up. We started
out again. The situation started to strike me as funny as soon as the
tanks were full. I let them have their fun, and eventually they did find
the field. I called back to the girl who had been taking instruction and
asked if there were any obstructions around the field. “Absolutely not!”
she vowed. I looked the field over as carefully as I could. There were
no floodlights (they had also told me the field was well lighted). I cut
the gun and glided in for a landing. A high-tension post whizzed by my
left ear. We had missed the wires by just two inches. And there were no
obstructions around the field!


Nearly every time that a big money race comes along a lot of new planes
put in an appearance. Some of them haven’t been properly tested (you can
get a special license for racing), and none of them are the type you
would want to give your grandmother a ride in. But they are all fast,
and when you are flying in a race for money you want speed, a lot of it.

I pulled up in front of the hangar late one summer afternoon and saw a
brand-new, speedy type cantilever monoplane standing on the line. The
wing had large L-shaped gashes in it. The plane belonged to Red
Devereaux, who was going to fly it in the National Air Race Derby. As I
sat there Red came over. He told me that on the way in from the factory
in Wichita a terrific wing flutter set in every time he passed through
rough air. The oscillations were so bad that the stick would tear itself
from Red’s hands. He asked me to try it out and see if it were possible
to race the plane.

I put on my parachute and climbed in. As I warmed the motor up I decided
to have the door taken off the ship. Easier to get out that way. I put
the ship in a shallow climb and held it to six thousand feet. Feeling it
out, I dived, banked, rolled, looped, and spun it. It seemed to be fine.
I landed and told Red that everything was okay.

The next day diving over the Boston airport, in the lead, the wing broke
off. The plane plunged into the marsh, killing Red and his bride of a
few months.


A friend of mine knew a doctor who had an old skeleton. The skeleton
wasn’t of any use to the doctor. It had been hanging in a closet for
almost a year. I decided to have some fun with it. I wired the head and
jaws with fine wire. I attached two strings to the wire in such a way
that by pulling one I could make the skeleton’s head turn left or right.
When I pulled the other the jaws clacked up and down. I tied the
skeleton in one of the dual-control seats of a cabin Travelair. I flew
the ship from the other seat. By bending way down nobody from the
outside could see me. It looked as though the skeleton were doing the
flying. Jim Drummond, flying mechanic, lay on the floor of the plane and
took charge of the skeleton’s behavior.

I knew that Eric Wood and Pete Brooks were flying formation over Floyd
Bennett Field that day. They had just joined the army reserve corps and
were all steamed up trying to make a success out of it. I decided they
would be my first victims of the day. We had no trouble finding the
formation. There was Pete just behind the leader, looking very
conscientious and pleased with himself. He was doing everything just
right. I eased up beside him. He didn’t notice me for a second. When he
glanced around I gave Jim the signal. The skeleton looked right in his
face and jabbered. Horror and amazement flooded Pete’s face. He turned
back to the formation—he had to unless he wanted to bump into the other
planes. But he couldn’t stand it for long. He had to look again. Jabber,
jabber, went the skeleton. This went on a third and a fourth time, till
I finally felt sorry for Pete. He was getting walleyed, one eye on the
formation, the other on the skeleton. I gave him one final superb
jabber, dipped my wings, and went in search of other game.


Jimmie Doolittle has demonstrated American airplanes all over the world.
He landed on one of his tours at Bandoeng, Java, headquarters of the
Dutch East Indian Air Corps. They had some American, Conqueror-powered,
Curtiss Hawks there. They asked Jimmie to take one of them up and put on
a show for them.

After turning the ship inside out for the better part of an hour, Jimmie
really got into the spirit of the thing. He decided to dive straight
down from about 6,000 feet and conclude the show by showing them how
close he could come to the ground, pulling out of the dive.

He turned over and started down. Straight down, closer and closer to the
ground, wide open, he roared. He yanked back on the stick to just clear
the ground and discovered there were several little considerations he
had overlooked. One was that he had just stepped out f a Cyclone-powered
Hawk, much lighter than the Conqueror-powered one he was desperately
trying to clear the airport in at that moment. The other was that he was
accustomed to flying the lighter ship out of a sea-level airport, much
heavier-aired than the 2,500-foot-high airport that he was at that
moment trying to avoid. The heavier ship squashed in the thinner air and
hit the ground in the pull-out. Just kissed it and skimmed into the air

Jimmie wondered if his landing gear had been swiped off, came around,
landed, and discovered that it hadn’t.

The Dutch officers rushed out to him when he crawled out of his cockpit.
“My God, Jimmie,” they chorused, slapping him on the back, “that was the
most delicate piece of flying we have ever seen!”

“Huh,” Jimmie grunted, still thinking how lucky he had been to get away
with it, “delicate piece of flying, hell! That was the dumbest piece of
flying I ever did in my life!”

They knew it too, of course, despite the polite way they had put it. So
from then on Jimmie was ace-high with them, because he had admitted the
boner instead of trying to lie out of it.


George Weiss, one of the boys that kick the _Daily News_ photographic
ship around into position for the aërial photographs that appear in New
York’s picture paper, told me this funny one he experienced with the
late Commander Rogers of the navy:

Commander Rogers had flown way back in the early days of Wright pushers.
He saw George in Washington several years ago and asked him if he could
fly him up to his home at Havre de Grace, Md. He assured George that
there was a field there right beside his house that they could land in.
He said that he had landed in it himself.

George took him up in his Travelair cabin ship. He arrived over the
Commander’s house and the Commander pointed out the field. “It’s full of
cows,” George objected. “That’s all right,” the Commander told him,
“just buzz the field a couple of times and somebody will come out and
chase the cows away.”

George did, and sure enough somebody came out and chased the cows off
the field.

“I still can’t land there,” George remonstrated. “The field is too

“Sure you can,” the Commander assured him; “I’ve done it.”

George circled the field again. He said it looked like a good-sized
pocket handkerchief to him and was surrounded by tall trees.

“Are you sure you’ve landed there?” George insisted.

“Sure, I have,” the Commander reassured him. “Go ahead, you can get in

George thought to himself that if the Commander had got in there, by
golly, he could too. He said he finally squashed down over the trees,
falling more than gliding, and dropped into the field with a smack that
should have cracked the ship up but didn’t. He stopped fifty feet from
the row of trees by standing on his brakes and cutting the switches. He
said he didn’t know how the hell he was going to get out of the place
without dismantling the ship.

That night, in the Commander’s house, over a drink, George asked him,
“Come, now, Commander, tell me the truth. Did you really land in that

“Certainly I did,” the Commander said. “It was back in 1912, and I was
flying a Wright pusher.” George sneezed into his drink. The Wright
pushers land so slow they can be flown off a dining-room table.

“And do you remember those trees around the field?” the Commander asked.
George remembered. “Well, they were only bushes in 1912.”


I was trying to teach my wife to fly. I thought every flyer’s wife
should know something about flying. It would be so convenient on
cross-country trips if Dee could spell me off on the controls. I was
having very little success. In the first place, Dee’s eyes weren’t good,
which is a decided disadvantage, and in the second place she just
couldn’t seem to catch on. She had no coördination. I sweated and
struggled and cursed. “Don’t skid on the turns,” I moaned. “The rudder
and the stick must be used together. If you put the stick to the right,
push the right rudder. If you put the stick to the left, use the left
rudder.” And the ship would grind around on another skid.

Dee didn’t take her flying as seriously as I did. She didn’t
particularly want to learn to fly except to please me. I thought if I
could instill in her a sense of shame at her lack of coördination maybe
she would improve. I picked a day when she was more than usually bad.
The plane had been in every conceivable position but the right one. She
had skidded and slipped and wobbled all over the sky. My temper was
getting the best of me.

“Dee,” I said, “haven’t you any pride about learning how to fly? Other
women learn how. Look at all the girls who fly, and fly damn well. Look
at Anne Lindbergh, for instance. She has been doing a wonderful job on
that Bird plane. She solos all over the place, and she only took it up a
little while ago.”

Dee looked at me a minute and said, “Well, look who taught her.”

I gave up teaching my wife how to fly.


Eddie Burgin, one of the oldest pilots on Roosevelt Field, tells me this
one about how they used the last remaining outdoor “outbuilding” on
Roosevelt Field as a homing device to lead a troubled pilot down into
the airport.

Russ Simpson, American flying instructor in the Gosport School in
England during the war and at present an airplane broker on Roosevelt
Field, took off in one of the old Jennies to fly the first electric sign
ever flown over New York City at night. While he was gone a ground fog
rolled in over the airport.

Pretty soon the fellows on the ground heard him coming back. They could
hear his motor, but they couldn’t see his ship. They knew he couldn’t
see the airport. He was stuck on top of the fog.

They decided to help him. They got cans of gasoline and poured them on
the old outbuilding which stood a little way out from the hangars and
set fire to the rickety structure. They tore up all the spare motor
crates they could find and piled them on top of the blaze. They got the
fire so big they were afraid for a while that the hangars were going to
catch. They were trying to make a red glow in the fog so Russ could tell
where the field was.

Finally they heard Russ’s motor cut. They heard the ship glide in and
heard it hit. They could tell from the noise it made when it hit that it
had cracked up.

They jumped into a car and went rushing all over the airport in the
darkness and the fog looking for the wreck. It took them half an hour to
find it, so Eddie says.

When they did, they found Russ sitting on top of it, smoking a
cigarette. Their almost burning the hangars down had all been in vain.
Russ hadn’t seen any red glow at all. He had simply mushed down through
the stuff and hit the airport by luck.


After I was graduated from Brooks and Kelly, the army transferred me to
Selfridge Field in Detroit. There was nothing much doing around
Selfridge, and I was getting a little bored. I heard they were giving an
air show at Akron, right near my home town. I thought it would be fun to
go out there to see my old friends and give a stunt exhibition. I got
the necessary permission from the higher-ups and started out in a Tommy
Morse. The Morse planes were pretty near obsolete by that time, and the
service was trying to replace them as fast as possible with newer
models. There were only a few of them left.

When I got to Akron there was a lot of excitement going on over the air
show. I told myself I was going to give them the works—show them what a
local boy could do. The first part of my program went off fine. I
looped, barrel-rolled, dove, etc. I had figured out a trick landing as
the grand finale that would pull the customers right out of their seats.
The landing didn’t turn out so well. I misjudged my distance and ended
up on one wing. It was pretty humiliating. There was nothing to do but
wire Selfridge Field to ship me another wing. They wired back to the
effect that there were no more wings available at the moment and that I
should crate the ship home. That stumped me. I had no idea how to
dismantle a plane. I studied the old Morse from every angle, but I
couldn’t find the solution. I had to get the plane in a crate, and I had
to do it quickly. I used a saw. I sawed off the good wing, the damaged
wing, and the tail surfaces. I crammed them into a crate and sent them
on their way. The plane of course had to be junked.

I had helped the army to get rid of one more Tommy Morse.


I was sitting alone in a movie not long ago. The newsreel came on.
Jimmie Doolittle’s capable but impish face flashed upon the screen.
Behind him was the fast, low-wing, all-metal Vultee plane in which he
had just failed to better by more than a few minutes the Los Angeles—New
York record for transport planes.

“I’m sorry I didn’t make faster time,” his picture spoke. “I didn’t do
justice to the ship I flew. I wandered off my course during the night
and hit the coast 200 miles south of where I should have hit it. It was
just another piece of bum piloting.”

I saw Jimmie in Buffalo not long after that.

“What was the matter, Jimmie?” I asked him, referring to the flight he
had spoken about in the newsreel. “Were you on top of the stuff for a
long time?” I continued, generously implying that of course he had had
enough bad weather to force him to fly on top of the clouds and out of
sight of land for so much of the trip that naturally he got off his

“No,” he explained, “I wasn’t on top. I was in it for ten and a half
hours. I couldn’t get on top because I picked up ice above sixteen
thousand feet. I couldn’t go under for several reasons. I had high
mountains to clear. I would have made even slower time and run out of
gas before I got to New York if I had flown low, because my supercharged
engine required 15,000 feet to develop its full power and its most
efficient gas consumption. So I had to fly in it. Also I got mixed up on
some radio beams. Some of them are stronger than others. I figured the
strongest ones the closest, which wasn’t always true. I learned a lot on
that trip. I think I could hit it on the nose the next time.”

He was talking shop to a fellow professional. I could immediately see
that 200 miles off under the conditions he had had to contend with had
not been bad at all. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he had explained to
the public a little more than he did. But when he said to them, without
the shadow of an alibi, “It was just another piece of bum piloting,” I
thought it was pretty swell.


_This is the testament of Jimmy Collins, the test pilot._

_It is, as he himself phrased it, “The word of my life and my death. The
dream word that breathed into my nostrils the breath of life and
destroyed me too.”_

_The body of Jimmy Collins was found on Friday in Pinelawn Cemetery,
near Farmingdale, L. I., beneath the wreckage of the Grumman ship he had
tested for the navy. That body was broken, mangled, twisted, in a
10,000-foot crash._

_His testament, the utterance of a poet who flew, first in search of
beauty, then in search of bread, is bravely, lyrically alive, straight
and whole, as was the spirit of the man who wrote it._

_He wrote it—laughingly, he said; grimly, we believe—nine months ago.
This is how it happened:_

_In October Collins went to Buffalo to test a new Curtiss bomber-fighter
for the navy. Before he left he took dinner with his old friend Archer
Winsten, who conducts the In the Wake of the News column for the_ Post.
_Winsten wrote a column about Collins and his spectacular job, begged
the flyer to do a guest column for him on his return, telling of the
Buffalo feat._

_What happened after that is best told in Collins’s own words._

_He wrote to his sister, out West: “I got to thinking it over and
thought maybe I wouldn’t come back because it was a dangerous job, and
then poor Archer would be out of a column.... So I playfully wrote one
for him in case I did get bumped off. Thoughtful of me, don’t you
think?... I never got bumped off. Too bad, too, because it would have
been a scoop for Arch....”_

_Last Friday’s job was to have been Jimmy’s last as a test pilot. He
took it because he needed the money, for his wife and children. Soon he
was to have started on a writer’s career._

_Jimmy’s writing career ends today with his testament. He prefaced it
with the following:_

_“The next words you read will be those of James H. Collins, and not ‘as
told to,’ although you might say ghost-written.”_


How can I say that?

Do you remember an old, old story? I shall tell you just the beginning
of it: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was God....” That’s
enough for you to see what I mean.

It is by the word that I can say that.

Not by the spoken word. I cannot say to you by the spoken word, “I am

But there is not only the spoken word. There is also the written word.
It has different dimensions in space and time.

It is by the written word that I can say to you, “I am dead.”

But there is not only the spoken and the written word. There is also the
formless, unbreathed word of mood and dream and passion. This is the
word that must have been the spirit of God that brooded over the face of
the deep in the beginning. It is the word of life and death.

It was the word of my life and my death. The dream word that breathed
into my nostrils the breath of life and destroyed me too.

Dreams. And life. And death.

I had a dream. Always I had a dream. I cannot tell you what that dream
was. I can only tell you that flying was one of its symbols. Even when I
was very young that was true. Even as long as I can remember.

When I became older, it became even more true.

So deep a dream, so great a passion, could not be denied.

Finally I did fly.

“Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, when the evil days
drew not nigh....” Part of the same old story.

I remembered the dream of the days of the youth of my flying, that burst
of glory, and how the world and my shining youth itself shone with the
radiance of it.

It was my creator. It created life for me, for man shall not live by
bread alone. Man cannot. Only his dreams and his vision sustain him.

But the evil days drew nigh. The glow died down, and the colors of the
earth showed up. Ambition, money. Love and cares and worry. Curious how
strong the strength of weakness is, in women and their children, when
you can see your own deep dreams, unworded, shining in their eyes. I
grew older too, and troublous times beset the world.

Finally there came a time when I would rather eat than fly, and money
was a precious thing.

Yes, money was a precious thing, and they offered me money, and there
was still a small glow of the deep, strong dream.

The ship was beautiful. Its silver wings glistened in the sun. Its motor
was a strong song that lifted it to high heights.

And then...


Down out of the blue heights we hurtled. Straight down. Faster. Faster
and faster. Testing our strength by diving.


Yes, I had grown older. But grim fear now. The fear of daring and
courage. But tempered too with some of the strong power of the old dream
now too.



A roar of flashing steel and a streak of glinting ... oh yes, oh yes,
now ... breaking wings. Too frail ... the wings ... the dream ... the
evil days.

The cold but vibrant fuselage was the last thing to feel my warm and
living flesh. The long loud diving roar of the motor, rising to the
awful crashing crescendo of its impact with the earth, was my death

I am dead now.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Test Pilot" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.