Endeavour reminds of US aviation history
November 6, 2012
What a thrill to watch Endeavour roll through my hometown of Inglewood, Calif., on Manchester Blvd. There, on Manchester as an Inglewood High School student in the '40s, I would race my hot rod with those of friends in the wee hours, eluding the cops. Well, most of the time. Manchester was the first four-laner around.
Wow, Endeavour is so huge. Must be much bigger than Captain Cook's old sailing vessel for which it was named. Did any of those ancient mariners ever anticipate a ship that could sail in space? What? Be ye daft, mate?
Only a few hundred yards west on Manchester Blvd., was the southeast corner of Mines Field (now LAX) where as a 12-year-old in 1936, I rode my bike out to hang on the wire fence with my friends and say hi to Amelia Earhart, working on her Lockheed Vega. She always had a cheery freckle-faced greeting for us pesky boys.
Ms. Earhart would sometimes go into Inglewood and buy stuff like wire from my stepdad, Ed Ritter, at his Gibson auto parts store. He took her to lunch at the diner a few times.
Did any of those ancient mariners ever anticipate a ship that could sail in space?
We were all saddened when, next year in 1937, Amelia and her navigator were lost in the Pacific.
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We also hung on that same wire fence watching the 1936 Air Show.
A crazy guy they called Jolly Rogers, because his name was Rogers and he had only one eye with a black patch over the other blind eye, stunted a Ford tri-motor passenger plane. Rogers turned out to be my primary flight instructor at Tex Rankin Academy in Tulare, Calif., in 1945. Without depth perception, his landings were a bit bumpy. We were flying Stearman PT 17 Biplanes with a high center of gravity and narrow landing gear so were prone to dragging a wing (ground looping). I sweated his landings more than mine.
We watched the German Ace, Ernst Udet, fly along the runway upside down in his hot little red and yellow biplane and pick up a handkerchief with one wingtip. We hoped he would defect to our side in the coming World War.
He didn't and knocked down several allied aircraft before he was shot down himself. Isn't war fun?
Also in that corner of the airport was North American Aviation, where I worked in 1942 while waiting to be called up as an Army Air Force cadet. I was there on the night shift on March 16, 1942, when the announcement came on the horn that Jimmy Doolittle and 16 of his heroic airmen had bombed Tokyo with our NAA B-25 Mitchell Bombers, less than three months after Pearl Harbor.
We all cheered and danced in the aisles, as we heard Roosevelt say, "Today, our brave American airmen flying B-25 bombers from Shangri-La have struck a blow to Tokyo, the heart of the Japanese Empire. To those who have attacked America at Pearl Harbor, let them know this is only the beginning." It was.
The Japanese were in disbelief. Nobody dared strike their sacred land. They lost face and never recovered their arrogant certainty of winning the war. In only a few weeks, they lost most of their fleet at Midway.
Sadly there were just five of the Doolittle Raiders who attended this year's reunion.
During the Cold War" years in the '50s, I was working on Top Secret multimedia presentations at North American and I had the honor of meeting Gen. Doolittle and other visiting brass.
Gale Edward Boulton is 88 and a WWII AAF pilot.