THE KEY BROTHERS
The article in the November “Legacy of Flight” on Wesley May and Earl Daugherty’s early air-to-air refueling efforts brought to mind the exploits of two other pioneering aviators. While the Key brothers, Al and Fred of Meridian, Miss., were not the first to accomplish air-to-air refueling, in June 1935, they continuously circled Meridian in a modified Curtiss Robin for 28 days and nights. The brothers accomplished this thanks to the formation flying skills of Bill Ward and James Keeton. This involved an astonishing 484 midair refuelings.
In order to achieve their feat, the Keys built a metal frame alongside the engine, which could be stood upon but had no railings on the outside. Al was the primary pilot, and Fred served as the aircrew man. This involved his climbing out onto the frame completely exposed to the elements and performing oiling (which also required many air-to-air resupplies) as well as other engine maintanence. Adjusting the mounts involved his straddling the engine, a modified Wright Cyclone. Ward and Keeton also dropped sandwiches, fried chicken, etc., to the brothers, made by their mother. My dad—himself later a private pilot— witnessed this flight, along with tens of thousands of others.
This remarkable flight resulted in tremendous excitement about flying in the Deep South, as well as national acclaim. The Meridian airfield was later named Key Field.
The plane itself, which was named Ole Miss, is now in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. A most interesting book, The Flying Key Brothers and Their Flight to Remember, by Stephen Owen, goes into great depth about their struggle to create a plane able to withstand this kind of flight, and includes fascinating photos. Speaking of endurance, it took the Keys several days to recover their hearing after their extended ordeal.
Thanks for an uncommonly interesting and informative magazine. I buy every issue.
EYEWITNESSES TO HEROISM
I was stationed at Biggs Field, El Paso, Texas, when war was declared after Pearl Harbor. After that, we were all excited to see modern warplanes such as the Martin B-26 Marauder arriving on a daily basis.
I was on hand at Biggs when the event described in Lt. Col. Stuart McLennan Jr.’s letter (published in your November issue) took place. As a young private in the U.S. Army Air Corps, I witnessed the crash in which his father, Stuart Sr., managed to drag all the other crewmen out of the plane despite his own injuries.
I did not arrive at the site of the wreckage until all the men had been taken out of the plane. But I vividly recall that everyone there was awed and amazed at Colonel McLennan’s heroic actions. How was it possible, we all wondered, for him to have rescued his fellow crew members from a plane in flames, with his broken ankle?
FLYING CHAIR REDUX
The piece in “Legacy of Flight” in your July issue (as illustrated above) jogged my own memories of the inaugural flight of the rocket belt. I was a manager at Bell Aircraft just prior to the acquisition by Textron, which established Bell Aerospace with two separate divisions, Bell Aerosystems and Bell Helicopter. I was on hand during that first flight, which took place in an immense hangar at the Wheatfield plant outside Buffalo, N.Y. Entering the hangar, I saw a fire engine and an ambulance off to the side.
A carriage had been mounted to an overhead beam that ran the length of the hangar. Two quite robust men from the shop had been commandeered to participate in the flight test, along with engineer Harold Graham, who would actually operate the rocket belt. The two other men wore harnesses to which were attached a heavy rope that went up through a pulley and returned to the floor level, where it would be attached to the rocket belt. The plan was that, as the vehicle traveled down the length of the hangar, the men would run laterally out from it, taking up the slack in the rope so that the vehicle remained tethered the whole time.
During that initial test, it was clearly a challenge for the pilot to get accustomed to the response from the motorcycle hand controls on the belt. At first I remember hearing a roar, and seeing Graham shoot up vertically—after which he immediately cut power. The thrust was better controlled in subsequent attempts, and those of us standing by witnessed a series of successful tethered flights down the hangar.
John P. Hanlon
A SHOT ACROSS THE BOW
In the “Letters” department of the November issue I noted a letter by Michael Gardner questioning the title of Roy Grinnell’s painting, A Shot Across the Bow, on P. 42 of the July issue of Aviation History. Those who commissioned the painting and published the B-26 print were responsible for titling it A Shot Across the Bow, naval terminology for a warning shot. Jim Muri’s attack on the carrier Akagi—and the Battle of Midway in general—served as a warning to the Japanese that much more was in store for them. The title has nothing to do with the placement of the aircraft in relation to the carrier.
We are deeply sorry for any confusion resulting from the title of the image. Roy continually strives for accuracy in his aviation art, and we both want to make it clear that he himself did not choose the title. We were afraid that the general public might not get its symbolic meaning. That said, just yesterday I received an e-mail from a friend who is a U.S. Navy ace, who said, “No matter what the title is, it is a magnificent painting.”
Little Elm, Texas
LIEUTENANT IZBICKY’S CAPTIVITY
In “Clash of Titans,” by Diego F. Zampini, published in your November issue, the author notes that one of Russian pilot Semyon Fedorets’ victims was 2nd Lt. Edward Izbicky of the 336th Fighter Interceptor Squadron. I thought your readers might be interested to know that Izbicky was honored by the Illinois Athletic Club as its Airman of the Korean War. Izbicky was chosen for the award because of his patriotic activities while he was held captive in a North Korean prison.
Izbicky surreptitiously made two American flags out of clothing scraps that he managed to collect, dye and sew together. As I recall, he fashioned the 48 stars out of soap wrappers. Why two flags? The first one he made was discovered by his guards and confiscated. Needless to say, his actions led to additional beatings and periods of solitary confinement. But following his release from solitary, he started all over again, putting together a second banner.
I was serving as the public information officer for the 4706th Air Defense Wing, based at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, when Izbicky returned to his native Chicago, and I was privileged to act as his escort during several events. I remember that when asked how he managed to conceal the flags from his captors, he said he had sometimes secreted them in his bedding and other times worn them next to his skin. He managed to bring back with him his second flag, wearing it under his clothes as he walked across a bridge to his freedom.
Sierra Madre, Calif.
Originally published in the March 2006 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.