On the Wing and On the Ground
Ernie Pyle's aviation and war dispatches.
- By Rebecca Maksel
- AirSpaceMag.com, September 16, 2011
The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
When Charles Lindbergh made his historic solo crossing of the Atlantic in 1927, he captured the world’s attention—and the interest of a slender, red-haired reporter at the Washington Daily News named Ernie Pyle.
Pyle penned his first aviation column in 1928, pitching it to a public eager to learn more about these daring and adventurous aviators. Aviation was still out of the reach of the vast majority of Americans; a one-way ticket across the country was more than half the price of a new car.
Readers connected with Pyle’s easy, conversational reporting. Although his early columns were straightforward accounts of the day’s flying weather and happenings at local airfields, Pyle soon began telling the stories of the pilots he met. Readers clamored for more, and the style that would come to characterize his World War II correspondence was born.
The following examples of Pyle's aviation writing were published between 1929 and 1944.
“Hard Luck” Bates
Washington Daily News, December 27, 1929
They call him “Hard Luck” Bates. Some fliers won’t let him ride with them, and a few of the more superstitious won’t even let him touch their planes. He just naturally brings bad luck to flying men, they say.
His name is Robert Bates, and he used to be a book-keeper or something at Hoover Field. Laid off now during the dull winter season, he sort of “tramps” around the country by airplane, picking up rides here and there, as long as the pilots don’t know his history.
Bates is not a pilot, but an inveterate air passenger. And in less than two years of flying he has been thru five crackups. And never been scratched.
He took his first airplane ride at Fredericksburg in May, 1928. The motor cowling blew off, hit the prop and broke it. A forced landing was the next thing in order, and the ship turned over and was washed out.
Last summer Bates was flying with Lieut. Bernard Thompson in a Fleet. Near Charleston, W. Va., a cylinder head gasket blew out, and they went down in the tree-covered mountains, and escaped unhurt.
Then he went down to Nokesville, Va., one day with Roger Scott, Hoover Field operations manager. Landing at Nokesville they ground-looped and tore off a wheel.
Last fall he was flying over Virginia with Hank Pritchard in a Travel Air. Pritchard became lost and they decided to land in a school yard. They did, but hit a ditch, the plane went over and was wrecked. One wheel came up thru the cockpit.
Hoover Field got a telegram from the sheriff there. It said: “Sending Bates back by train. Plane washed out.” That meant, they thought, that he was dead. Poor old Bates.
A little while later Bates walked into the hangar, covered with mud and grease and carrying a bent propeller over his shoulder. They thought it was a ghost, but it wasn’t. It was Bates.
But that didn’t sour Bates on Pritchard, or Pritchard on Bates. They flew together again at Atlanta the other day. When they landed the ship went up on its nose with a big smash. Nobody hurt.
You can see now why some pilots won’t carry Bates. Scott, of Hoover Field, isn’t afraid of him and carries him around here and there. But Jack Parker, formerly of Hoover and now flying in Baltimore, won’t even let him sit in his plane on the ground. If Bates so much as touches the ship, Parker wipes it off before going up.
There are other superstitions about Bates. He was a friend of Tom Gurley, Pitcairn mail pilot. He stood in front of the hangar one day and waved to Gurley as he took off for New York. Gurley was killed before he got there. Some of the fliers forbid Bates to wave goodbye to them.
Today Bates flew to Richmond in a Robin of the Standard Oil Co. Robert Oertel doesn’t know about Bates’ history, and the flight will be over before he can read this.
Pilot Rescues Drowning Dog
Washington Daily News, June 5, 1930
The other day a friend of ours, “Sunset” Cox, sent me from Shanghai, a copy of the magazine Asiatic Fleet. In it was an article written by Cox, about a naval flier named Ballentine, who three and a half years before had landed in rough and dangerous seas off the southern Philippines to rescue a drowning dog.