Thrills! Chills! Mystery in the Air!
In the 1930s and ’40s, heroic pilots engaged enemy aircraft — every Saturday morning.
- By Rebecca Maksel
- Air & Space magazine, November 2010
Courtesy Bill Allen/Allen Airways Collection
(Page 2 of 3)
In this 1941 serial, pilots in a World War I daredevil squadron, the Sky Raiders, have reorganized as aircraft manufacturers under the leadership of Captain Robert Dayton, their former commander. They’ve developed a pursuit ship (which appears to be some kind of modified Ryan with a Ranger engine) and a bomber that is very loosely based on the Bell XFM-1/YFM-1. Ruthless international spy Felix Lynx is determined to obtain both for an unnamed foreign government. He’s aided in his quest by the use of a Kellett KD-1 autogiro, which he keeps parked on the roof of his luxurious penthouse office for fast getaways.
“Autogiros were much in the news for rooftop operations the year before this was released,” says Roger Connor, the Museum’s vertical-flight curator. “Given that this was a Universal production, they had ready access to newsreel footage to splice in. [There was a lot of] attention surrounding Post Office autogiro airmail trials, most notably in Philadelphia—which also featured a KD-1, and which may be the one seen in the serial.”
Captain Robert Dayton to Mary Blake, his gal Friday:
“When I come back, remind me to fire you.”
JUNIOR G-MEN OF THE AIR
The Dead End Kids and the Little Tough Guys save the day in this 1942 serial celebrating the efforts of “wide-awake, energetic young civilians” who expose a nest of dangerous fifth columnists working within the United States. “Ace” Holden, played by actor Billy Halop, leads a gang of scruffy juveniles who work at his father’s junkyard. His brother, Eddie (Gene Reynolds), the brains of the group, has designed a muffler for airplane engines; he plans to give the technology—which would enable entire bomber squadrons to fly silently—to the U.S. government. But the treacherous Black Dragon Society (“a dangerous alien organization working right here in our very midst, to pave the way for the conquest of the United States”) has other plans. A dated biplane, possibly a 1930s Great Lakes trainer, makes an appearance as the Black Dragon Society’s “hot new pursuit ship.”
Ace Holden: Where are you takin’ me?
Bad guy: Up to about 12,000 feet — and then you’re going to try a little cloud walkin’.
Derived from the popular radio program of the same title, which was a favorite with the U.S. Army Air Corps, Captain Midnight was the code name of Captain Red Albright, a former World War I Army pilot engaged in a “one-man war against crime.” In this 1942 serial, scientist John Edwards invents a range finder and becomes a target of the evil Ivan Shark, who heads a mercenary organization. Captain Midnight comes to Professor Edwards’ rescue, of course, with his trusty sidekicks Ikky and Chucky. Shark flies a Stinson Model A Trimotor, an aircraft ideal for a villain: its double-tapered wing and forward-raked windscreen gave it a strikingly sinister appearance.
Bad guys as they enter Professor Edwards’ home:
“The job will be easy if there aren’t any screaming women about.”
THE ADVENTURES OF SMILIN' JACK
Although the comic strip was loosely based on the dashing air racing pilot Roscoe Turner, the movie serial made do with a former child model for Buster Brown shoes. In this 1943 serial, Smilin’ Jack works with the Chinese government to stop the Black Samurai, a covert Japanese spy ring run by Fraulein Von Teufel (German for “Miss Devil”), from learning the route from China to India through the fictional mountain kingdom of Mandan.