Aviation at Mid-Century

Following my dad’s example, I learned early to keep my eyes on the sky and my ears open to the sound of approaching aircraft.

My father, assistant barnstormer.

He was a barnstormer’s assistant in his late teens, while he was dating my mother, but after losing two friends, one who died following the crash of his plane in the Allegheny Mountains, and the other who fell to his death when his parachute failed to open after jumping from his plane, he decided that aviation and romance were mutually exclusive pursuits. However, he never lost his fascination for aircraft of any sort, and fostered that interest in me.

Airplanes have been central to some of my best memories — and some of my worst; the web pages included in Aviation at Mid-Century reflect the "aviation sector" of my life.


The MiG-15 fighter re-defined aerial combat: A domestic post-Korean War cover pictures an iconic jet fighter of that conflict, the MiG-15. The transonic MiG-15, built in Russia and using a British engine design, challenged American aerial supremacy early in the Cold War (and lost).

Surviving a plane crash in the Black Range: When I was 19, I walked away from a plane crash in a wilderness canyon in New Mexico’s Black Range almost without a scratch. You won’t believe I survived.

Christmas tragedy at Prestwick: The crash landing of a BOAC Stratocruiser airliner at Prestwick, Scotland, early on Christmas morning in 1954, wreaked havoc on families and destroyed the pilot’s distinguished career. A shipment of diamonds went missing, too.

North Star Falling: Death rained from the sky over Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in 1954 when a Trans-Canada Airlines North Star airliner collided with an RCAF Harvard trainer. It was Canada’s worst air disaster up to that time.

A Comet Falls: In 1950s, airliners fell to earth every five or six days. On April 8, 1954 two of them fell to earth. One of them brought into serious question the safety of the world’s first successful jet liner, the British Comet, and ended Britain’s hopes of dominating the worldwide commercial aviation market.

Consternation in a Constellation: In 1948, when Ben Guilliamse was 14 years old, his family flew from their home in Curaçao to Amsterdam in a KLM Lockheed Constellation airliner. Over the North Atlantic at night, they faced possible disaster.

Notable Aviation Books & More Notable Aviation Books: Not everyone can be a pilot, but anyone can be an armchair pilot, curled up with a mug of your favourite hot beverage and one of the hundreds — probably thousands — of worthwhile books covering every possible aspect of aviation, from the drama of “impossible” pioneer flights to fascinating story of how earthbound man left the bounds of earth for the rarified air of the stratosphere and beyond.

Low & Slow in a “Connie” — Flying to Japan in 1963: My first duty station after training to be a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman was at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan, near Tokyo. It took a 26-hour flight in a Lockheed Constellation to fly to Tokyo via Hawaii and Wake Island from Travis Air Force Base, near San Francisco.

A Charles Lindbergh Puzzle: A 1930 Spanish airmail stamp includes four design elements — a portrait of Lindbergh, his airplane (the Spirit of St. Louis), the Statue of Liberty, and … a cat! A cat? Why a cat? What the…? Well, it seems there was this kitten….

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