On the Wing and On the Ground

Ernie Pyle’s aviation and war dispatches.

By 1944, Ernest Taylor Pyle (in Normandy, France) had won millions of loyal readers and a Pulitzer. (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.

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