Author Archives: fasfric


December 10, 2017

This post is made in memory of two women pilots who had a profound effect on this writer’s life.

Your webmaster is such only because a woman aviator shamed him into continuing his interest in becoming a pilot, when his first aerobatic (spin) maneuver scared him witless.

Because his female flight instructor, Dora Dougherty (below left in WASP uniform),  was sitting behind him in the rear seat of a J-3 Piper Cub back in early 1945, she didn’t see his frightened expression when she asked him how he liked the violent maneuver he’d just completed under her instruction.  Well, what could he say to an attractive young female other than “That was fun!”

(Ms. Dougherty was flight instructing part time while attending Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, not far from the airport at which this writer worked.  She had just been discharged from the WASP a few months earlier.)

Of course he was not being at all truthful with that retort, but how could a young man say he was scared to a woman, who clearly did enjoy the abrupt contortions through which the small airplane had just passed.  Feigning calmness, your hapless webmaster continued that flight instruction session, never once reporting how frightened he’d actually been.  Had the instructor behind him been a man, however, it would have been this author’s last and final attempt at learning how to fly, simply because he’d have quickly replied to that same question with a curt, “Let’s go back to the airfield and land.”  In other words, he’d have quit his attempt to become a pilot.

Set of wings awarded each successful pilot graduate of WASP training during WWII.

 Dora Dougherty, PhD, Test Pilot and Engineer at Bell Aeronautics Corporation, in cockpit of Bell Helicopter in 1961.

Needless to say, had he quit, he’d not have continued his training, would not have become a pilot, and would not have joined the USAF, either.  His life would certainly have taken an entirely different turn.  As most of us know, what may seem like a small, if not insignificant experience in our lives, can completely alter our entire future – – – and the personal history is writes for us.

In any event, that flight instructor, along with over a thousand other brave women, had recently been furloughed by the U.S. Military establishment, because WWII was nearing its end, allowing many combat male pilots to return home from Europe.  It was planned that these returning combat veterans would take over the ferrying and test-piloting work the volunteer women had been so capably accomplishing.

Dora (L) at Cottey College, MO, in 1940

Exactly 73 years ago this month, in December of 1944, the Women Air Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) organization was suddenly and unexpectedly terminated, putting these women aviators out of the work they loved, a job for which a number of them (38) had already given the ultimate sacrifice.  There were only 1,074 young women selected as WASP pilots out of over 25,000 applicants.


Dora Dougherty (Center) at Cottey Women’s College, Nevada, MO, as an actress in one of their student  plays in 1940.

Dora, 2nd from L, with Colonel Paul Tibbets, when she was a B-29 Demonstration Pilot.  The two ladies helped convince the wary male Air Force pilots that the airplane was safe to fly!   The same “macho” psychological phenomenon that worked to keep  this webmaster flying.   Tibbets was pilot of the B-29 which dropped the world’s 1st Atomic Bomb over Japan.



Not until 1977, 33 years after their dismantling, were the WASP finally awarded full recognition by Congress for their efforts during WWII, when they were given full military veteran status.

The Memorial Card  created by the Commemorative Air Force for Dora in 2013. Click on this card to see it full size







This successful campaign to have them awarded regular military veteran status was led by Arizona’s Senator Barry Goldwater, himself an Air Transport Pilot during the war, and a man who also just happened to have been taught to fly by a woman aviator, and old friend of your webmasters, Ruth Reinhold (see below photo)

Ruthie was too old to apply for duty with the WASP, but all during the war, she did do her part towards helping the aviation war effort.  Ms. Reinhold used her piloting skills by instructing Air Force pilots in how to fly by instruments (a necessity during inclement weather, when they couldn’t see the ground below them) when piloting its B-24 “Liberator” heavy bombers.

Ruthie Reinhold Her portrait as displayed at the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame at Pima Air Museum in Tucson, AZ.

This book by Ruthie Reinhold can be purchased at by merely clicking on the above book’s cover.

(Ruth’s portrait is at the left) Ruth later became Barry’s personal corporate pilot, a job she held for over 20 years.  In fact, when Mr. Goldwater was the Republican Party’s candidate for President in 1964, Barry went out of his way to be sure Ruthie had the chance to pilot the campaign’s chartered Boeing 727 on its final flight to San Fransisco.


It was the thrill of her lifetime, since she’d never before flown a jet, let alone a popular airliner of the day.  It was one of the largest planes Ms. Reinhold had ever flown.

Although Ruthie had not been a member of the WASP, she nevertheless continued her career in aviation throughout WWII. Much earlier on, well before the war, she had been one of the original 99 female aviators who founded, in 1929, the “99’s,” the International Organization of Women Aviators, whose first President was Amelia Earhart.



Photo of Ruthie in her later years, one on display at the Arizona Historical Society’s Collection bearing her name.


In any event, as a way of helping the campaign to fund the new film, COMING HOME, we are posting this story as our way of both recognizing these brave women aviators, and of helping to preserve their contribution to the history of how we won WWII. 

Here below is the short (2:36) video story behind this new film and here is where you can find their promotional pages.

And, here below, follow a number of other fascinating historical video clips of this group of extraordinarily talented and courageous women – – – one of whom kept this writer’s eyes on the sky.

Dora is featured in this: The above was by PBS – Film is 49:23 long and is the WASP’s full story.

Above, “WASP 1943 – “Unusual Occupation Series” Color film about WASP in WWII – (3:11 long)

The above short clip (2:23) is the movie trailer for, “Keep ’em Flying” the WASP story

Above, “We Were WASP” Part I – Length: 6:11 (Audio and Film Quality Poor – Very old Film)

Above, “We Were WASP” Part II – Length 6:10  (Audio and Film Quality Poor – Very old Film)

Above, “We Were WASP” Part III – 9:04   (Audio and Film Quality Poor – Very old Film)




Lockheed’s “Skunk Works” to Produce a Blackbird Successor!

Thanks to our FASF Aviation News Scout, Jerry Dixon (former USMC Aviator), we have learned that the rumors are true:  Lockheed’s famed “Skunk Works” research facility has been working for years on a radical new successor to the renown 1st Aero Squadron’s SR-71 Blackbird, which older ship still securely holds all titles as the world’s fastest jet aircraft – – – of any kind.  But it was so expensive to operate that the USAF finally decided to permanently put it out to pasture back in January 1997.  According the the USAF: The SR-71 Blackbird “is a long-range, advanced, strategic reconnaissance aircraft.  Its first flight took place on December 22, 1964.  The Air Force retired its entire SR-71 fleet on January 26, 1990, but once again returned them to renewed service from 1995 until January 1997.”

It’s worthy to mention that one of our FASF Advisors is General Patrick Halloran, who was not only a Commanding Officer of the First Aero Squadron at Beale AFB, CA. (in 1969), but was also one of the prestigious  and small handful of select USAF pilots to have been a fully qualified SR-71 pilot.

Here’s the latest video news (4:59) from Lockheed about the upcoming Blackbird replacement:



The above video commentary was provided by    “All In One A-1 Web Service.”  The fact based statements of All in One, which is situated in Great Britain, have been verified as correct.  The video itself was produced by Lockheed Martin Corporation.


FASF Daedalian Members Welcome El Paso’s New Mayor

At their annual Christmas holiday luncheon in the El Paso Club, the Daedalians were privileged to have as their honored guest, El Paso’s new Mayor, Dee MargoMr. Margo comes into office with some excellent credentials.  Mr. Margo pointed out that the per capita income level in El Paso in the early 1950’s was much greater than that of Phoenix, Arizona, but that has all changed, and not for the better, in the intervening years.  The new Mayor’s objective is to help El Paso attract enough new industries that his city will once again return to the country’s top ranks in respect to its standard of living.  The Daedalians were clearly impressed with Mr. Margo’s ability to speak at such length without notes and yet have such a quick ability to cite a wide range of vital statistics and appropriate ratios for his city.  Mr. Margo also displayed a solid command of the city’s colorful history.

Here is what the Daedalians and their guests learned about the new Mayor’s outstanding business background:

He moved to El Paso in 1977 from Nashville, where he attended Vanderbilt University on a football scholarship, to join his father-in-law at John D. Williams Company (JDW). In February of 1981, 6 days after Dee’s 29th birthday, his father-in-law suffered a fatal heart attack. Dee purchased JDW from the estate, and expanded the company from 6 employees to 70, in the span of 30 years.

During these years, Dee served as Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army, participated in the founding of the Regional Economic Development Corporation (REDCO), became the Chairman of the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce, and gave his time to several non-profits, including Operation Noel. Dee was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 2010, in 2013 he was appointed President of the EPISD Board of Managers, and most recently he was appointed by the Governor to serve on the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) Oversight Committee.

El Paso has been Dee’s home for 40 years, and he is committed to the roots he has established in this community. Dee and his wife, Adair, have raised their sons in El Paso, so their granddaughters are fifth-generation El Pasoans.

Remember: All the below photos may be seen in full scale high resolution quality by simply clicking on them!

L to R above: Mayor Margo chatting with Bill Provance (Director of the Dona Ana County International Jetport) and Charlie Overstreet, long time member of the FASF.

Mayor Margo describing his background along with his hopes and plans for El Paso’s future.

Above: Daedalians taking in the new Mayor’s words

The Mayor left the podium to walk around the table taking questions from the Daedalians

L to R above:  Focusing on the Mayor’s presentation are: Gerry Wingsett and his friend Jerianne (a far left); Charlie Overstreet,  his wife, Mayre Sue, Bill Provance, Bronson Callihan and his mentor, Flight Captain Roger Nichols.

Colonel Bob Pitt presents the Mayor with the Daedalian’s token of appreciation for having taken the time to join their luncheon.

L to R above: Roger Nichols, Mayor Margo and Colonel Bob Pitt.

L to R: Mayor Margo, Flight Captain Roger Nichols, and Colonel Bob Pitt. This formal Portrait taken by long time FASF member, former Naval Aviator, Roger Springstead.



Legendary Northrup Flying Wing is Restored to Fly Again!

The famous Northrup Flying wing has been restored and flies once again.  Thanks to old time FASF member, Doc Edwards, of Deming, NM, who brought this to our attention!  The video is short, actually less than two minutes in length, so watch this original model as it once again takes to the sky on its single – – – and only – – – wing.  This project was completed by the expert aircraft restoration folks at California’s famous “PLANES OF FAME MUSEUM” in Chino, California.  The restoration took the ship’s caretakers over 13 years to bring it back to life.

Down below you can see this ship in other videos of longer duration.  Notice the lack of the conventional fuselage, not to mention absence of any tail surfaces.  This was the original Northrup Aviation concept design, which led to the actual design and later flight of several jet powered Flying Wings.  This below video is 1:43 long.

And, here’s another video, 3:05 long.  Did you notice the tricycle landing gear was actually retractable on this initial prototypes?   And how about the 4th wheel at the rear?  That was put on the plane in order to protect the propellers from striking the runway surface on take off when the nose was raised for more lift.

And, here below, is one of the early jet powered flying wings showing its stuff back in 1947.  This video is 6:57 in length.  If you look closely, you’ll see it has eight jet engines, a flight engineer, and some vertical tail surfaces, unlike the early prop driven prototypes.  This old black and white film was a Newsreel clip of the plane in action.

And, lastly, for those of you who love detail and have the time to gather it all in, here is an hour ten minute long special color video about the History of the Flying Wings. The presentation is given to the Golden Gate Wing dinner in San Francisco by War Bird aficionado, Larry Rinek.




Thanks again to our aviation history and news scout, Virg Hemphill, we can share this fascinating step back into airline history, into the pre-WWII era of the 1930’s.  The age in which we said farewell to Art Nouveau, the Roaring Twenties and romantic novelists like F. Scott Fitzgerald – all for a new, yet still romantic age of rapidly accelerating technology, especially in aviation, which saw many beautifully designed modern airplanes begin to ply the skies in every corner of the globe.  America’s own Pan American Airways was one of the most aggressive and pioneering of those who helped so astoundingly shrink the size of the world as we had once known it.

Thanks to Juan Trippe’s (CEO of PAA) pioneering entrepreneurship, what had taken passengers to the Far East from California over a month aboard ship, now took less than three days in one of his now classical beauties, the famed PAA Clipper Ship airliners.

Hopefully those frequent-fliers among you might genuinely appreciate this nostalgic look back in time at the fabled Pan Am Clipper!

Without further ado, let’s look at those great flying machines of yesteryear . . .

Pan Am Clipper passengers enjoying their meal in the ample dining room aboard the ship.

Clipper passengers took their meals at real tables, not their seats.

For most travelers in the 21st century, flying is a dreary experience, full of inconvenience, indignity, and discomfort.

That wasn’t the case in the late 1930s, when those with the money to afford trans-oceanic flight got to take the one of the Martin Model 130’s or one of its newer and larger Boeing Model 314s, both models of which were known as “Clippers.”

Boeing model 314 takes off for transoceanic flight.

Even Franklin Roosevelt used the plane, celebrating his 61st birthday on board.

Between 1938 and 1941, Boeing built 12 of the 314  (see above) jumbo planes for Pan American World Airways.  PAA purchased only three of the predecessor Martin 130s.

The Clippers had a range of 3,200 miles for the smaller Martin and 3,500 miles for the larger Boeing models — enough to cross either the Atlantic or Pacific, with the 314 having enough room for 74 passengers on board, or almost twice as many as the smaller Martin. Of course, modern aviation offers an amazing first class experience (and it’s certainly much safer), but little in the air today matches the romanticism and Pullman styled luxury of crossing the oceans in the famed Clippers.

The nickname “Clipper” came from an especially fast type of sailing ship used in the 19th century.

The ship analogy was appropriate, as the Clipper landed on the water, not runways.

Cutaway drawing showing the many compartments aboard on of the Boeing Clippers

One of a Clipper’s private staterooms.

On the Pan Am flights, passengers had access to dressing rooms and a dining salon (below) that could be converted into a lounge or bridal suite.

Clipper Dining Room with passengers eating in restaurant style comfort.

The galley served up meals catered from four-star hotels.

If you want to sit at a table to eat with other people these days, you’ll have to fly aboard a private jet.

There was room for a crew of 10 to serve as many as 74 passengers on the larger Boeing Clipper, with but 36 day passengers aboard the Martin and only 18, if configured for sleeper use.

Bunk bed or typical berthing arrangement aboard the Clipper Ships.

(Above) On overnight flights, the Boeing’s 74 seats could be turned into 40 bunks or berths for comfortable sleeping. The bunk beds came with curtains for privacy, just as on the Pullman rail cars of the era.

(Above) On the more than 24-hour flights across the Atlantic or Pacific, crew members could grab some shut eye on these less than luxurious cots.

(Above) Unlike some modern jets that come with small joysticks mounted to the pilots’ side, the Clipper had flight controls that most closely resembled automotive steering wheels, which control column style predominated even into the jet age.

In the 1930’s, navigating across the oceans required more manpower, such as specialized radio officers and highly trained navigators, as seen above.

Today’s jet airliners need neither of these extra crew members because the pilots do both the navigating and radio communicating with modern high tech equipment such as GPS, and they communicate with satellite-based long range radio.

The wings on the Boeing Clipper were so thick, that a crew member catwalk was provided to enable in-flight inspections (See photo to the right).

(Above) A standard restroom aboard the Clipper, but note the separate urinal, which is missing in today’s airliners.

While the lavatories weren’t too fancy, they did have separate urinals — something you never see in today’s commercial jets, where space is at a premium.

(Above) The ladies lounge had stools where female passengers could sit and take care of their makeup.

The Boeing 314 Model made its maiden trans-Atlantic flight on June 28, 1939. But once the US entered World War II, all of the Clippers were pressed into service to transport materials and personnel.  While only three (3) of the earlier Martins had been delivered to PAA, and one, the Hawaiian Clipper, had disappeared over the Pacific, the other two were conscripted by the U.S. Navy.  However, both of those two remaining Martin 130 Clippers tragically crashed with tragic consequences (loss of life).

Here below is an independently collected set of photographs and drawings we’ve been able to locate, taken of both the earlier Martin 130 and the later Boeing 314 Model PAA Clipper ships:

Size comparison between the Martin 130 and much larger Boeing 314 Clippers

Interior cutaway drawing of the Boeing model 314 Clipper.

China (Martin Model) Clipper at the PAA Dinner Key Seaplane Base, Coconut Grove (Miami), Florida.  Your webmaster was once thrilled to pilot  a Grumman Albatross Seaplane into this once famous seaplane terminal, but was never privileged to have even seen one of the renown Clippers.

Boeing 314 Clipper breaking water on take off. Note the triple tail compared to the single Martin tail design.

Interior photo of the passenger lounge in the Martin China Clipper.

Here, above, you see the mysterious “Hawaiian Clipper”.  This is the very ship that vanished over the South Pacific, giving birth to a number of theories about her actual fate. See the postscript that follows these photos and also the Aviation History Magazine story about this tragic 1938 aviation mystery.

Large or high resolution photo from LIFE magazine of the PAA Martin 130 “China Clipper” Ship.

Martin 130 China Clipper at anchor mooring.

Martin 130 China Clipper cutaway drawing showing its interior.

Martin 130 China Clipper undergoing maintenance.

Another LIFE Magazine photo of PAA’s Martin 130 “China Clipper” – High Resolution.  The flight officer’s size provides a good perspective of ship’s actual size. Remember, any of these high resolution photos can be seen in full size by simply clicking on them.

The China Clipper moored off shore near the Philippines?  If you have evidence this craft is moored somewhere other than the Philippines, we’d love to know where it is, but we think it’s near Manila.

Another view of the famous Martin 130 Model PAA “China Clipper.”

The PAA “China Clipper” taxiing to its mooring in San Pedro Harbor, Los Angeles, California, circa 1939.

In the above story discovered (which we have edited for improved accuracy) by Virg Hemphill, note the following postscript which accompanied it immediately below.  It is depicted in italics:

(However, in the interest of historical accuracy, our research found this postscript’s assertion to be an as yet unproven theory, so we have provided more comprehensive coverage on this somewhat controversial theory, just in case you’re interested in the topic. – The following piece is taken from HistoryNet and written by John J. Geoghegan of the • AVIATION HISTORY MAGAZINE) – and dated June 6, 2017)

Postscript: Prior to WWII, the Japanese Military became very interested in the new and powerful Pratt & Whitney radial engines that powered the Martin Clippers.

On a flight from San Francisco to China, a Clipper landed on Truk Lagoon to be refueled by Japanese authorities. Later, the Clipper was assumed lost over the Pacific.

Years later, it was revealed that the crew and passengers were arrested and executed, the engines were retrieved and sent to Japan and the Clipper was sunk in deep water off Truk Lagoon.

Here, below, follows Mr. Geoghegan’s extensively researched story, printed in blue type-face:

[The below article has not been edited by the FASF]

In the 75 years since the Hawaii Clipper disappeared, no one has figured out what happened to the flying boat and its crew.

A few minutes before 6 a.m. on July 29, 1938, Pan American Airways Captain Leonard Terletzky taxied the Clipper out of Apra Harbor, Hawaii Guam. Terletzky was more than halfway through the six-day, 9,000-mile flight from Alameda, California, to Hong Kong. He’d already made stops in Honolulu, Midway, Wake Island and now Guam. Manila, Macao and Hong Kong were still to come.

The longest part of the trip (Alameda to Hawaii) was behind him. Half the passengers had disembarked in Honolulu, leaving only six to be ferried by Terletzky’s eight-man crew on the island-hopping voyage across the Pacific. Other than leaving Guam 29 minutes late, everything on Pan Am trip No. 229 was running smoothly.

As Terletzky throttled up the big Martin M-130’s engines, the flying boat surged forward and began to skip across the wave tops. Fully loaded, the 52,000-pound aircraft needed 45 seconds to get airborne. Since the M-130 was just shy of 50,000 pounds leaving Guam, it took almost that long for it to clear the waves.

The Hawaii Clipper was a thing of beauty. An all-metal, high-wing flying boat with a riveted hull, it was 91 feet long and 25 feet high, with a 130-foot wingspan. One notable feature was its sponsons, or sea wings, near the waterline. These improved stability on the water, replacing the wing-mounted pontoons found on many other flying boats. In addition to providing aerodynamic lift, they kept ocean spray off the tail surfaces during takeoffs and landings.

When Juan Trippe, Pan Am’s CEO, set out to establish the world’s first transoceanic air service, he needed a flying boat with greater range, speed and payload than the Sikorsky S-42 the company was then flying. After a design competition between Sikorsky and Glenn Martin, Trippe settled on ordering three Martin M-130s at a cost of $417,000 apiece. Pan Am’s transpacific service was the first of its kind when it kicked off in November 1935. Though it was initially limited to airmail and freight, passengers followed within a year.

The M-130’s four Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp radial engines were important to its success. Any two of the 950-hp engines could keep the flying boat aloft. And with a 3,200- mile range, a cruising speed of 130 mph and a 17,000-foot service ceiling, the M-130 had the chops to cross the Pacific.

The Hawaii Clipper had already enjoyed a notable career. Built in Martin’s Baltimore factory, it was the third of Trippe’s M-130s (the first was the China Clipper, the second the Philippine Clipper). Delivered to Pan Am in March 1936, the Hawaii Clipper flew to Honolulu in May, where a 14-year-old girl fittingly christened it with coconut water. In October of that same year, the Hawaii Clipper completed the first scheduled passenger flight across the Pacific. Pan Am’s chief pilot, Captain Edwin C. Musick, was at the controls along with navigator Fred Noonan. That flight put Musick on the cover of Time magazine, helping to establish him as one of the world’s most famous pilots. Noonan gained notoriety the next year, when he served as Amelia Earhart’s navigator. Obviously, it was a mixed blessing.

In April 1937, the Hawaii Clipper completed Pan Am’s 100th Pacific crossing without a single passenger fatality, a remarkable accomplishment given the risks inherent in transoceanic flight’s early days. Terletzky’s job in July 1938 was to uphold the airline’s reputation for safety and reliability.

The 1,600-mile leg between Guam and Manila normally took 12½ hours. Since the Hawaii Clipper had enough fuel for nearly 18 hours in the air, there was a comfortable safety margin.

Leo Terletzky was flying one of the era’s most advanced airplanes. The M-130 not only had dual flight controls and a double hull, but also a Sperry automatic pilot. The flying boat boasted six watertight compartments (any two of which could keep it afloat) and every conceivable safety device. These included three radios (a primary, auxiliary and emergency set), a saltwater still, hundreds of small balloons that could be released as search markers, inflatable life rafts, signal flares, a shotgun, fishing tackle and enough food to keep 15 people alive for a month. Four “international orange” stripes were painted on the wing tops, to help search and rescue personnel spot the plane if it was forced down at sea.

Once the Hawaii Clipper was airborne, Terletzky settled back into his red leather pilot’s seat. As a senior captain, he had more than 9,000 flying hours, 1,600 of which had been spent over the Pacific in an M-130. He was also Pan Am’s “best sailor,” which meant he knew how to handle a Clipper on the water. One of the first pilots hired by Andre Priester, Pan Am’s famous head of operations, Terletzky had spent almost 10 years flying the company’s South American routes before he was transferred to the Pacific Division in 1936.

Pan Am’s pioneering use of multiple flight crews meant there was ample experience in the cockpit on July 29, 1938. First Officer Mark “Tex” Walker had more than 1,900 hours’ flying time, the majority in transpacific operations. Second Officer George M. Davis topped 1,000 hours of transpacific flight logged. Even the cabin steward, 40- year-old Ivan Parker Jr., was making his 26th Pacific crossing.

Before departing Guam, Terletzky had learned of a slight tropical depression near the Philippines. Scattered thunderstorms were typical summer weather in the Pacific, but he played it safe and plotted a course south of the depression.

Pan Am’s Pacific Clippers were paradigms of luxury, with service modeled after that aboard Pull- man railroad cars. A round trip to Hong Kong (including meals and overnight hotels) cost a whopping $1,937 (roughly $32,000 today). But for luxury, convenience and speed, the Clippers couldn’t be beat. As noon approached that day, the cabin steward was busy preparing lunch: consommé, creamed tuna on toast and fruit cocktail.

The aircraft’s main cabin was divided into several compartments. Sleeping berths were near the plane’s rear, with separate bathrooms for men and women. There was also a comfortable lounge amidships where passengers could stretch their legs, read or write letters. Smoking wasn’t permitted, but there was plenty of opportunity to play cards, backgammon or checkers, and conversation generally flowed freely in the 60 hours of flight time between California and Hong Kong.

Given the ticket price, it’s no surprise the Hawaii Clipper’s passengers were a distinguished lot. Dr. Earl B. McKinley, a noted bacteriologist and the dean of George Washington University’s Medical School, was carrying two new serums to test at the Culion Leprosy Colony in the Philippines. Fred C. Meier was the principal plant pathologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. He too was on his way to the Philippines, where he planned to study disease transmission in the upper atmosphere. Kenneth A. Kennedy, Pan Am’s Pacific Division traffic manager, was making the flight to check out the company’s overseas operations, which had recently been disrupted by the Japanese invasion of China. Major Howard C. French, commander of the 321st Observation Squadron, was on his way to monitor the Japanese bombing of Canton.

French wasn’t the only passenger with pro-China sympathies. Also aboard was 45-yearold Edward E. Wyman, vice president of export sales for the Curtiss-Wright Corporation. Wyman’s company wanted to sell fighter aircraft to the Kuomintang, something the Japanese would not have been pleased about.

Perhaps the most unusual passenger was 38-year-old Wah-Sun Choy. An American of Chinese descent who called himself “Watson,” Choy was the wealthy owner of a small New Jersey–based restaurant company. He was so enamored with Pan Am’s flying boats that he’d named two of his cafes after the China Clipper. Choy was on his way to Hong Kong to visit his mother and sister, and also hoped to see his brother Frank, an air force pilot with the Nationalists. He was carrying $3 million in gold certificates (approximately $50 million today), which, as head of the Chinese War Relief Committee, he intended to donate to Chiang Kai-shek.

Terletzky began encountering rough weather shortly before lunch. Soon the headwinds and plowing through Hawaii Clipper was bucking heavy clouds fat with rain. The flight’s 33- year-old radio officer, William McCarty, was sending routine position reports every halfhour at that point. At 12:11 p.m. local time, he sent the following message: “Flying in rough air at 9100 feet. Temperature 13 degrees centigrade. Wind 19 knots per hour…. Position Latitude 12 degree 27’ North, Longitude 130 degree 40’ East dead reckoning… Rain…sky above covered by stratocumulus clouds, base 9200 feet…[flying last half-hour] on instruments.”

Eduardo Fernandez, the radio operator on Panay Island, near the Philippine coast, acknowledged receipt of the message. But when he indicated that he wanted to transmit the latest weather report, McCarty responded: “Stand by for one minute before sending as I am having trouble with rain static.” Fernandez did as he was told. But when he tried raising the Hawaii Clipper 60 seconds later, there was no response.

It wasn’t unusual for a plane to temporarily lose contact. The Hawaii Clipper wasn’t due in Manila for another three hours, so Fernandez decided to wait before raising any alarm. But as time passed and he still couldn’t contact Terletzky’s plane, he grew worried. Clearly something was wrong. At 12:49 p.m. Fernandez alerted all stations to stand by on emergency frequencies. The Hawaii Clipper was missing.

Since McCarty’s last reported position was only 300 miles off the Philippine coast, Pan Am expressed confidence that the Hawaii Clipper had landed safely in the water and would soon be found. When time passed and the flight failed to arrive in Manila, however, those hopes dimmed.

The U.S. Navy immediately organized one of the largest sea searches in its history. By midnight that same day, at least 14 ships from Manila’s 16th Naval District, including six submarines and three destroyers, left port. Additionally, the U.S. Army dispatched six long-range Martin B-10 bombers to survey the flying boat’s last known position, while four amphibious planes scoured the Philippine coast.

The Army transport Meigs, which had been only 103 miles away from where the Clipper presumably went down, immediately changed course. When the vessel arrived at the specified location at 10 that evening, it was raining and overcast. Still, Meigs’ crew started to search right away. By the time the destroyers arrived, the weather had cleared and the seas were exceptionally calm, with winds only 6 to 8 mph. In other words, conditions were ideal for finding debris from a plane crash.

The next day Meigs reported finding a large oil slick about 28 miles south-southeast of the Clipper’s last known position. Samples were taken and sent for analysis. On August 2, Pan Am’s China Clipper retraced the route of its missing sister ship. Nothing turned up. Finally the U.S. State Department asked the Japanese government for help. Tokyo redirected the liner Canberra Maru to Douglas Reef, but its crew found no sign of the missing aircraft there.

By August 5, when the search was suspended, more than 160,000 square miles had been covered. The samples from Meigs’ oil slick showed it was actually bilge water from a ship. The Hawaii Clipper had simply vanished.

Pan Am offered a reward for information, but none of the resulting leads panned out. One man claimed to have seen an airplane burst into flames and crash into the Samar Sea. Another man on Lahuy Island reported seeing a large airplane flying above the clouds on the afternoon of July 29. An aerial search of both areas came up empty-handed.

It had been a rough year for Pan Am. The Pacific Division lost half a million dollars in 1937. Add to that the loss in January 1938 of the Samoan Clipper—a Sikorsky S-42B flying boat that exploded in midair, killing everybody onboard, including chief pilot Ed Musick—and it seemed like Pan Am’s luck had run out. Though the Samoan Clipper wasn’t carrying passengers at the time, Musick’s death came as a shock. And now the Hawaii Clipper had gone missing.

Martin’s M-130s had compiled an extraordinary safety record up to July 1938. A total of 228 flights had preceded the Hawaii Clipper’s across the Pacific, logging nearly 15 million passenger miles without serious incident. The missing aircraft had been thoroughly inspected prior to leaving Alameda and at Honolulu, Midway and Wake Island. Additionally, a Guam ground crew had hauled the flying boat out of the harbor for a detailed inspection, and everything appeared to be in fine working order.

The day before the crew departed Alameda, it had even participated in an emergency landing test, including an “abandon ship” drill that involved deploying a life raft. Captain Terletzky and his crew had reportedly been in “the best of spirits” during their stopover on Wake Island. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

Seventy-five years later, the question still remains: What happened? If the flying boat suffered  a structural failure, wreckage  would have been spread across the Pacific, and searchers should theoretically have spotted it. But the Clipper had simply vanished. Not a trace was ever found: no debris, no oil slick, nothing.

Since then, there’s been no shortage of theories about what happened to the Hawaii Clipper. Some have speculated Japanese fighters shot it down. Others say it must have been sabotaged. After all, at least three of the six passengers aboard could have been construed as having anti-Japanese sympathies. Still, there’s no evidence to support either theory.

Amelia Earhart’s disappearance in the Pacific the year before only added to the Clipper mystery. Retired U.S. Air Force pilot Joe Gervais was researching her disappearance when, in November 1964, he was shown the wreckage of a flying boat on the Pacific atoll of Truk. Believing it might be the Hawaii Clipper, Gervais forwarded photographs to Pan Am for examination. He was especially interested in stories that native guides told him about 15 Americans who had been executed by the Japanese before the war and buried under a concrete slab on a nearby island. But when Pan Am reviewed Gervais’ photos, the wreckage proved to be that of a Short Sunderland flying boat.

The story didn’t die there, however. In his 2000 book Fix on the Rising Sun: The Clipper Hi-jacking of 1938, Charles N. Hill wrote that he believed the Hawaii Clipper had been commandeered by two Japanese naval officers who had stowed away in the baggage compartment while the aircraft was at Guam. Then, armed with a revolver, they committed the world’s first skyjacking. Hill speculated that the officers had diverted the flying boat to a Japanese-occupied island and eventually to Truk, where the passengers and crew were executed.

Motivation for such a hijacking has varied depending on the source. Some believe the Japanese wanted to copy the M-130’s design for their own flying boat, while others think they actually wanted to get their hands on its engines. Hill’s theory is that the Japanese were determined to prevent Watson Choy from delivering $3 million in gold certificates to Chiang Kai-shek.

Guy Noffsinger, a former Navy intelligence officer who now heads up his own video production company in Washington, D.C., has spent the last 12 years trying to solve the Hawaii Clipper mystery. Noffsinger raised nearly $4,000 to fund a February 2012 trip to Micronesia, his second such journey to the region. Using ground-penetrating radar, he searched under several concrete slabs for the bodies of the Hawaii Clipper’s missing passengers and crew. Though he has yet to find evidence of their remains, Noffsinger is still “110 percent convinced” that they must have been murdered by the Japanese and buried near Truk.

We do know that Martin had been concerned about the safety of the M-130’s sponson struts, and recommended replacing them. John Leslie, Pan Am’s Pacific Division engineer, had tested the replacement struts two months before the Hawaii Clipper disappeared and concluded neither the old nor the new struts were safe. The negative publicity surrounding that issue was probably responsible for Trippe’s never doing business with Martin again.

After World War II there were rumors that American military officers had found the Hawaii Clipper painted in Japanese colors at Yokosuka naval base in Japan. A slightly different version of the story, often repeated by Trippe, was that magnetos bearing the same serial number as those from the Hawaii Clipper had been found on Japanese engines. There is no firm evidence for these claims.

It’s possible Captain Terletzky may have been a factor in the plane’s disappearance. A 1938 company newsletter commemorating Terletzky called him “one of Pan Am’s most distinguished flight commanders,” but his peers considered him an average pilot at best. Some had even refused to fly with him.

Horace Brock, who eventually became a Clipper pilot, had flown several times as Terletzky’s first officer. He claimed the Pan Am pilot had “confided his fear of flying” to him. Others maintained that Terletzky performed erratically in the cockpit and had infected his flight crews with his own anxiety. Ed Musick reportedly had serious misgivings about Terletzky’s competence, and once even tried to ground him.

The Air Safety Board of the Civil Aeronautics Authority convened an investigation into the Hawaii Clipper’s disappearance. The final report concluded:“A number of theories have been advanced as to the reason for the disappearance. The board considered each of them…however, [we]…cannot properly include a discussion of conjectures unsupported by facts. The Board, therefore respectfully submits…that additional evidence may yet be discovered and the investigation completed at that time.”

Despite the many elaborate theories surrounding the Hawaii Clipper’s disappearance, the most likely explanation is that the flying boat was a victim of mechanical or structural failure, poor weather, pilot error—or some combination of these factors. Though no wreckage was ever found, the Pacific is a big place. It can easily swallow a plane without any trace.

Pan Am’s Pacific operations continued to face financial difficulties, something the Clipper’s disappearance did nothing to help. Even though the U.S. government would eventually grant a higher airmail subsidy to offset the company’s losses, there was not enough demand to make the route profitable. Trippe was deposed as CEO in 1939, and Pan Am’s M-130s were soon supplanted by Boeing’s larger B-314 flying boats. But World War II finally put an end to the Clippers’ short, glamorous career.

In 1979 Horace Brock noted in his book Flying the Oceans, “There is no question but that [Terletzky ran] into a very bad storm.” Perhaps the turbulent weather caused a catastrophic structural failure related to the sponson struts. It seems unlikely we’ll ever know for sure. But until someone comes up with conclusive evidence, it’s easier to assume the Hawaii Clipper succumbed to what Brock calls “a predictable tragedy” than to believe it was hijacked by renegade Japanese officers. Either way, the Hawaii Clipper mystery lives on.

John Geoghegan writes frequently about unusual aviation and science topics. His most recent contribution to Aviation History was “Atomic Airships” (January 2013). He is the author of the 2013 book Operation Storm, about Japan’s I-400 submarines and their Seiran aircraft. For more on the Hawaii Clipper mystery, see lost

Originally published in the November 2013 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.


FASF Daedalians Attend HAFB Fighter Squadron Graduation

This month some of your old time FASF members, also members of the Society of Daedalians, attended the graduation banquet at Holloman Air Force Base (HAFB), Alamogordo, NM, to present the top leadership award to the graduating class, 17-ABH, of the 311th Fighter Squadron.

This was FASF Treasurer, Alma Villezcas‘ first visit to HAFB, and Flight Instructor Captain Cayce Wilkins arranged for her to have a personal trip to the operations Flight Line.  Her guide was a student, Lieutenant Nolan Kirkwood.  The aircraft in which the 311th graduates became qualified is the most maneuverable Jet Fighter presently in the Air Force inventory.  The F-16 Fighting Falcon, which its pilots prefer to affectionately call “The Viper,”  has been in action with the USAF for almost forty years, yet the Air Force expects its life to run another thirty some years.  If this goal is reached, the Viper will set an endurance record for any U.S. jet fighter ever in service.

While on the Flight Line, Lt. Kirkwood provided Alma with a set of ear plugs, to help mitigate the extreme noise of the Fighters engaged in operations.  Even with the ear plugs, the noise was almost painful.  The following photos were taken by the FASF, unless otherwise credited.  Click on any photo to view it in full high resolution.

L to R: 1/Lt. Nolan Kirkwood, himself a student F-16 pilot, explaining operations to Alma in front of a F-16’s left wing.

Alma wincing from the extremely loud noise of a passing F-16 jet. The Viper next to which she’s standing, is the F-16D, or two seat version used for preliminary training of its new pilots.  The regular fighter is a single-seat, or F-16C ship.

Alma (at left) listening to Lt. Kirkwood’s explanation of the F-16’s features, including its use of “Stabilators” instead of the more conventional horizontal stabilizer with its separate elevators.  The brightly colored Squadron insignia is on the afterburner’s ground cover, used to keep debris and birds out of the engine while the fighter is parked on the ramp.

Lt. Kirkwood and Alma watch a formation of two F-16’s entering the landing pattern.

Lt. Kirkwood finishes saluting the passing pilot, who is saluting him, as he returns to his hangar from the “Spouse Familiarization Ride.” This is the first time each of the spouses had been able to actually experience what it’s like to sit in an operating Viper as it taxied about the Air Base.  The spouses do not actually go aloft during their “rides,” because this would require they take concentrated ground training in emergency procedures before even being an airborn passenger.

Lt. Kirkwood describes the Viper-like shape of the fuselage’s flat like lifting surface design, which his left hand appears to be touching.

Alma and Ric Lambart pose by the Viper for Lt. Kirkwood, who shot the photo.  They are standing behind the nose cone of one of the Fighter’s auxiliary external fuel tanks.

Nolan and Alma share a hearty laugh . . . notice Lt. Kirkwood’s yellow earplug.  Their use is required when on the Flight Line.

An F-16 Viper takes off with full afterburner boost.

The Air Force Exhibition Team, the THUNDERBIRDS, on final fly-by pass in their Vipers.  The smoke is only for Air Shows.

The Thunderbirds seen in formation action. The above three photos are courtesy of the USAF.

Lt. Kirkwood shows Alma and Ric the latest “G Suit” each pilot must wear in order to help in high “G” (gravity force) maneuvers.  In high “G” turns and other abrupt maneuvers, the “G” force is so great, that the pilot’s blood, along with their bodies, become so heavy that the blood rushes to the pilot’s feet and legs, which may cause him or her to “black out,” which is the term used to describe the loss of eyesight experience, when the blood is too heavy to permit normal vision, as it leaves the eyes for the lower extremities.  This suit automatically inflates in high “G” maneuvers, squeezing the legs tightly in order to help prevent the wearer’s blood from rushing into his or her legs.  The hose protruding below Dolan’s left hand is connected to a compressed air port fitting inside the Viper’s cockpit.

L to R: Jenine Hemphill, Alma and Virg Hemphill at the social gathering before dinner.

Alma with the City of Alamogordo Mayor’s wife, Mrs. Kim Boss.

L to R: Alma, Captain Cayce Wilkins (HAFB Liaison Officer for the Daedalians), and Jenine and Virg Hemphill.

L to R: Jenine Hemphill, Alma Villezcas, Alamogordo NM Mayor, Richard Boss, his wife, Kim and Virg Hemphill.

L to R: Alma, Roger Nichols, Jenine and Virg Hemphill, all long time FASF members.

L to R: At rear: Alma, Lt. Col. Michael Driscoll, Commanding Officer (CO) of the 311th Fighter Squadron, Roger Nichols and, in front, seated, are Jenine and Virg Hemphill.

L to R: Roger Nichols, Flight Captain of the El Paso Daedalian Flight, and Virg Hemphill speaking with Lt. General Richard “Tex” Brown, USAF Retired. The General’s last post was as 2nd in Command (Vice Chief of Staff) of the United States Air Force. The General was once a fighter pilot, himself.  As guest speaker at the graduation, the General shared some of his own hair-raising combat experiences with the audience.

Lt. General “Tex” Brown speaking to the graduating class, their parents and guests.  Photo by Sgt. Chase Cannon.

Roger Nichols presenting the Daedalian Leadership Award to new graduate, Captain Chris “Romo” Luke at right.

L to R: Class Leadership Awardee, Captain Chris “Romo” Luke, Roger Nichols, Virg Hemphill and Ric Lambart.

Alma joins the happy group.

L to R: Alma, CO Lt. Col. Michael Driscoll, Roger Nichols, Jenine and Virg Hemphill.

General “Tex” Brown and Alma Villezcas.

L to R: Chief Sergeant Majors Dave Wade and Brian McRory, Alma, and HAFB Public Affairs Office Photographer, Sgt. Chase Cannon.  Chief Sgt. Major Wade is in charge of all the HAFB aircraft maintenance  facilities and operations.

L to R: Virg Hemphill, Ric Lambart and Daedalian Flight Captain Roger Nichols.  Photo taken by Alma Villezcas.

L to R: Ric Lambart, CO, Lt. Colonel Michael Driscoll, Roger Nichols, Virg and Jenine Hemphill. Photo by Alma Villezcas.

U.S. Border Patrol Deming NM HQ Helps FASF Clean Runway

Bob Wright, FASF Airfield Security Chief, hooks up the new U.S. Border Patrol Designed Runway Weed Drag assembly.

The U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) Headquarters (HQ) in Deming, NM volunteered to help us keep our 1st Aero Airfield clear of weeds and other dangerous desert overgrowth by assembling one of their dirt roadway drags, which they use regularly to keep their network of special USBP dirt roads clear on their daily area sweeps.  USBP HQ Officer Jeffrey Northrup coordinated the project and Field Officer Ivan Lechuga and his crew assembled and then delivered the drag to the Airfield.  The drag is made of two large heavyweight used truck tires (see above) attached to the tow chain by large welded steel plates placed inside each tire and directly connected to the chain itself through holes drilled in the front center of each tire.

                                  Bob starts out on his first drag with the new terrain clearing tire drag.

Heading to the West at full throttle, Bob picks up speed.  All of these photos can be seen full size by clicking on them.

Bob noticed that a plume of dirt rose up inside each truck tire and entered the inside of the tires, filling them with dirt and increasing both their weight – and efficiency – as he progressed.   If you click to enlarge the above photo, and look closely, you will see that dirt wave immediately above the tire closest to the camera as it enters the tire itself.

This shot shows both the Airfield Windsock (above and behind Bob’s Jeep), and the town of Columbus in the background to the Northwest, with the city’s landmark historic black water tower to the left above the trail of dust.

The FASF wants to take this opportunity to again thank the Deming HQ USBP station and its officers Northrup and Lechuga for their generous public community service contribution towards helping the Foundation keep its runway clear of dangerous weed and tree growth through the use of its newly fabricated roadway/runway drag unit.  We also want to thank Bob Wright for donating the use of his Jeep, the gas – and time – it took to accomplish this major runway maintenance project, the first time it’s been done since the initial grading and restoration of the old Columbus Municipal East-West runway itself in 2013,  Further views, including aerial, of the newly cleaned runway and other volunteer restoration projects at the historic Airfield will appear in upcoming new posts to the FASF website.

All FASF on site projects since 2013 have been done by the FASF’s dedicated staff of volunteers from Columbus, Deming, Santa Teresa, Las Cruces, NM, and El Paso, Texas.