Operation Full Moon

From Nashville, Natchez, New Orleans, Mobile to Pensacola and back

I left Nashville on Thanksgiving morning. I intended to take the Natchez Trace parkway, but in my haste to get on the road, I realized I did not have time to make my destination in Natchez before the required holiday check-in time. So I opted for the expressway via I-40. I was greeted by a continuous host of road-kills for hundreds of miles. I guess deer hunting season had started, and it was obvious by the carnage along the roadway. It’s fortunate I did not decide to leave at night, which I often do to avoid heavy traffic, but I figured T-day would be easy travel’n.

About an hour into my journey I pulled off the exit along the way looking for a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich. After a few stops, I realized that they were all closed for the holiday – and everyone else. Was this going to be a day of hunger on the most sacred American holiday? 

6 hours later, I arrived just in time for check-in, but Google sent me to the house on the opposite corner of the intersection. Gates being locked, I scaled the fence only to alarm the resident at their back door. He was convinced that it was one of his fathers friends playing a practical joke on him.

About 15 minutes after the appointed check-in time I found the stately Choctaw Hall B&B empty and locked. In my haste to pack for the trip, I had forgotten my car charger adaptor. At this point my iPad mini and iPhone were completely out of juice. Rummaging thru the trunk of my car, I found another one I had forgotten about, and called the proprietor of my temporary home. I was certain I would be feasting on a can of Polish sardines, nuts and rice cakes that night.

Choctaw Hall

My hosts were astonished to learn that I had not received their text. They had walked down the street to briefly attend a party. The couple raced back to greet me. The husband Lee grabbed my bags and carried them down to the lower level were the B&B rooms were located. He asked me if I would join them for Thanksgiving dinner upstairs at 6 PM. YES SIR!

I was seated with Lee, his wife, the elderly property owner David and four Texans staying for the night. We were seated at a large round table in the foyer between the library and dining room of this opulent four-story 1846 mansion. The grand dining room had a static display set for a 12 course meal. This exhibit is for daily tours of Choctaw Hall, except today there were none.

Twelve Course Dinner Static Display at Choctaw Hall, Natchez, Mississippi

Everyone was quite pleasant and we had a wonderful conversation over several delicious courses of turkey, sweet potatoes, green beans, ham, biscuits and much more. There were five or six dessert options. I chose the chess pie and minced meat pie (a British specialty). The owner David asked me how I liked the latter. “It kind of reminds me of a sweet fruit cake. I think it would pair well with brandy”. “Right you are sir!” and he raced to the kitchen for a bottle and poured everyone a small glass in the Sherry Glasses that were already pre-positioned on the dinner table. 

The Choctaw Hall B&B – Special Thanksgiving Dinner with host Lee

We enjoyed each others company for over two hours. Towards the end I spoke for about 20 minutes about the The First World Flight that I am currently researching. To my astonishment, the entire group of seven listed attentively during my entire dissertation. 

At the end, one of the Texas ladies asked me if I was a writer or movie producer. No I said, but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, with a smile. I do have a  cousin that has six or seven Emmys. What’s his name she fired back, seemingly thinking I was telling tall tales. Billy Pittard I responded. You can look it up. You can also reference these adventures on my blog: bnabucketlist.com.

The next morning I got a VIP tour of all four levels of the house. I thought the Cedar Grove Mansion in Vicksburg was the pinnacle, but Choctaw Hall set the bar even higher. I’m not sure how far back David’s family owned this place, but I observed at least three generations on the wall in the music room. The three story cantilever stairwell is simply amazing. The Hermitage has nothing on this one.

David and Lee suggested I stop and see the Catholic Grand Cathedral down the street before I leave. It is the only one in the state of Mississippi, and took about 20 years to build. I had the place to myself the day after Thanksgiving.

Looking south towards my route to New Orleans, I selected a B&B near Port Hudson where my great-great grandfather was positioned at one point during the American Civil War. I think it is the last place on my bucket-list of his locations during that awful conflict. Captain Bearden and his twin brother Edwin narrowly escaped capture there during the Vicksburg Campaign, only to be taken down in the battles of Atlanta and Chickamauga respectively. They survived the war, but carried the scars for the rest of their lives.

It occurred to me that one of the 8 fliers in The First World Flight of 1924 was from Mississippi: Henry “Hank” Ogden. Referencing the original 1925 edition of the book I purchased on eBay a few weeks before, I learned that he was from the very small town of Woodville near the Louisiana state line. This was right on my path. Fueling up there I decided to check out the antique store across the street. The local elderly lady that owned it said she had never heard of Ogden and suggested I inform the local paper: The Woodville Republican. It is the oldest newspaper, as well as the oldest business, in continuous incorporated operation in Mississippi.

After touring the battlefield, I decided to hit one more antebellum mansion before I left the state. A road sign directed me to Rosemont. It’s easy to miss, but I found the back entrance and made it up the twisty gravel road. There was one car in the parking lot and they were wrapping up their tour. A polite black man named Jerome greeted me and I paid him the $20 admission fee. He said they use to get bus loads of people there, but I was the second visitor he had seen in two weeks! He had never heard about Hank Ogden either.

The house was not grand by the standards of Natchez or Vicksburg, but I could tell it had some age to it. To my amazement, he took me on a 30 minute tour of the former home of Jefferson Davis. He lived there from age 2 until he went off to Washington to be a Senator, Secretary of War and then on to the Presidency of the Confederate States of America.

Did the bus tour companies red-line Rosemont because of Black Lives Matter? If so, it certainly is at the expense of Jerome. What a shame. There is no way he can live on what ever he gets for the tours. I regretted not giving him a large tip.

I stopped in St. Francisville, Louisiana for the evening at a quaint old antique roadside cottage complex. The covered carports between each one have been converted to a sitting area with a courtyard between two rows of six little tiny-homes.

Magnolia Bed & Breakfast – Saint Francisville, Louisiana

I guess my B&B host went to high school in the 1970’s because the outdoor speakers played non-stop classic rock from the period. Most people seem to like the memories evoked by that sensory experience. I am not one of them. It was not loud enough to keep me up, put I could hear them clearly as I drifted off to sleep listening to Reelin’ In the Years. A few songs were soothing, but memories of my old Hillwood High School are not from my favorite chapter of life.

I arrived in New Orleans Saturday afternoon about 4 PM. The instructions on parking were very vague and I waited for over two hours for the mobile valet to arrive. Fortunately, like most Air B&B’s you check yourself in with a computer lock that has a code. The apartment was a few blocks from the Museum, so I could go back and forth.

The destination in The Big Easy was the National World War II museum on Magazine Street. I hadn’t been there in 23 years (it was The D-Day Museum then) with my two sons when they were little.  

Lest We Forget: The Mission & Ann Frank Statues – National World War II Museum

They have added five more buildings since then, and the sixth had just been dedicated by Tom Hanks a few weeks before. The Liberty Pavilion’s theme are the events following Germany & Japan’s surrender, including the Holocaust, the War Trials of Germany & Japan, the rise of the Cold War and beyond.

A sweet retired psychologist named Karen working at the information desk, said that they were given special training on how to deal with grieving people affected by the Holocaust theater movie. It is a powerful 30 minutes of interviews with survivors, filmed by USC Shoah Foundation in the 1990’s, when many were still living.

Everyone said it would take three days to cover the grounds. I did it in two. This was accomplished by taking my Disney World play book procedures: start at the back, and work your way forward. For the first two hours I had the place to myself starting in the middle of The Road to Tokyo. I made it all the way thru The Road to Berlin practically alone.

I was struck by the number of Japanese visitors both days. I wonder if they have to come here to get the full story?

Part of the new building included women of World War II. It is called Our War Too. I went over it closely, and watched both  videos. There is one big problem here: not a word about Cornelia Fort, the Nashville native, Ward-Belmont Alumni, WASP which was the first female pilot to lose her life in flight, on active duty. I think that the suggestion box will respond to this soon Karen assured me. Cornelia was also at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked – in the air, training another pilot!

WASP Cornelia Fort

Cornelia was the daughter of Dr. Rufus Fort, one of the founders of the National Life Insurance Company in Nashville. Their farm was adjacent to my great uncles in East Nashville near the present day Shelby Park. My uncle J.B. Henderson flew a Beech Bonanza off his farm pasture. His two sons, and even his daughter Ceacy were pilots too. Dr. Fort considered this a much too dangerous hobby and required his two sons to plague an oath not to take to the air. He failed to think of including his daughter in this agreement. The rest is prophetic history.

Monday morning I headed out early to see the U.S.S. Alabama in Mobile Bay. My Infinity computer said I had enough gas for the trip, but entering the expressway tunnel under the bay it went down to five miles – and abruptly dropped to ZERO. White knuckles all the way out of the tunnel. 

U.S.S. Alabama Floating Museum

Admission was $15 dollars with my $5 military discount. I was surprised by the large aircraft collection they had. I decided to see The Mighty Mo first.

Entering the hatch at deck level, I was reminded of the NAVY smell. Weather it’s an old airplane, ship or even operational buildings, they all have the same odor. I have yet to figure out why. 

By Monday, the tourists were tournée en force. Dodging all the screaming children running around, I sped through the compartments at a brisk pace, in order to make my final objective at the National Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station Pensacola. I had a 2-4 PM check in window for my B&B on Pensacola Bay too (I found out these windows are usually very flexible, this one included).

It had been 23 years since I had last seen the museum, and 41 years since I was a young Ensign in pursuit of my Wings of Gold at NPA. This place is hallowed ground for me.

I was greeted by a Marine 2nd Lieutenant and a Navy Ensign at the bag-search table. This was the first new addition to the facility I noticed. At the help desk I was greeted by a guy about my age with miniature Naval Flight Officer wings like mine. He had been thru the Officer & a Gentleman School (AOCS) just like I had, two years after me. We were having a great chat until interrupted by an older couple looking for something.

My main objective was to find a curator at the museum. I had emailed the general email address about a rare photograph I had discovered in the Nashville Archives, but had received no reply. Sometimes it’s better to just show up in person when this happens. I definitely learned that one from my Dad. He was known to push the limits with this tactic.

In the administrative office, the only one there was in the far back office. It was the deputy director of the Museum. He was very cordial, even though I had blown in unannounced. Ironically his last name was Godspeed.

I told him I had something he might want to get a copy of. It’s a photograph of the U.S.S. Shenandoah, a rigid airship about the size of the Hindenburg. It was designated the ZR-1. I knew that this was one of the oldest negatives in our collection of aerial images from the 105th Observation Squadron in Nashville, because the ZR-1 was lost in a violent thunderstorm in 1924.

I also flew military planes with the Air National Guard after my Naval Air Reserve service in Millington, Tennessee. By then, the 105th were in C-130’s. They now fly drones from the comfort of Berry Field Nashville (BNA).

I told him I would email him the best copy I had, and if we can ever get funding to have it restored (it buckled with age), I would send a better reproduction.

As I looped around the first floor, there she was: the T-2 Buckeye Navy jet trainer. This was the intermediate trainer for me at Training Squadron VT-10 there. It almost brought tears to my eyes, and as I read this to my mother last night, I could barely choke the words out:

T-2 Buckeye Navy Jet Trainer

Letter to Parents after B-4 Check-flight – 23 March 83

I flew my B–4 flight yesterday afternoon and did pretty well. I got an above average grade in my navigation hitting most all my turn points right on course. The only significant problem I had in the whole flight were my time estimates which were off due to a math error on my part (go figure). My pilot told me that the “hop” was above average and that I had good potential. I think this was the first flight so far that I really felt in control of everything and got a chance to call all the shots.

It was really something to bring that plane down. We started a decent from a cruising altitude of 25,000 feet, which was well above the cloud layer obscuring most of the Gulf Coast. That was really beautiful. It was just about sunset and the cloud layer looked like a huge amber quilt. 

Penetrating into the clouds was kind of creepy however. It seemed that instantly the clouds engulfed us and it got very dark immediately. I groped for the reo-stat control to my side and adjusted the instrument lights. It got bumpy and I felt my insides groan, but I kept my instrument scan checking airspeed, altitude, course, airspeed, altitude, course. 

Keying my helmet mic: “Approach Control Zero Foxtrot 27 leaving one-six thousand”. To instructor pilot: “Sir descend to 1200 feet…passing one 5000 feet… “Sir mark right heading zero niner zero… passing ten thousand…Sir mark right heading zero five zero” 

Approach: “Foxtrot 27 contact Sherman tower at the final approach fix with the gear” “Zero Fox 27 Roger, switching to the tower” “Sir slow to gear speed, standby for the landing checklist: fuel transfer-off, speed breaks-out, wheels-three down and locked, etc. “Tower Zero Foxtrot 27 final approach fix with the gear”. 

Tower: “Zero Foxtrot 27 is cleared to land on seven right, winds one two zero at twenty, altimeter 29.96”. “Zero Foxtrot 27 cleared on the right 29.96”.

Just about that time, we descended from 1200 feet and broke through the clouds, and there it was right on course – the beautiful blue approach lights of Sherman Field! “On glideslope… above glideslope… on speed… slightly fast… on glideslope… on speed… on glideslope… on speed etc. – touchdown”.

I never would have thought it possible. I’ll never forget thinking as we approached Denver International last May, how anyone could break through a layer of clouds just 1000 feet above the ground and land. We were also “crabbing” about 20 degrees to the right of the runway, due to the high wind speed. We’re on short-final looking over our left shoulder to look down the runway approach. It just didn’t seem possible – but it happened and it was great!

Well, let’s hope I can pull it off again tomorrow when I am sure I will probably fly my B-5 check flight.

Love, Bob

VT-10 NAS Pensacola

The last nostalgia stop was the legendary McQuire’s Irish Pub and Restaurant for a pint and Shepards Pie. When one of my buddies got his wings he was witnessed standing on the table drinking them down with a pitcher of beer there.

My B&B in Pensacola

Thus ended my full-moon voyage into the past

As I headed out at the crack of dawn, with the full moon above me, I sang: “Up in the morning with the rising sun, Class 29 on a little run. I don’t know but I’ve been told, Navy wings are made of gold. I don’t know but it’s been, said Air Force wings are made of lead. Low, right left, lefty right left. Love to double time!”

Lt. Cdr. Bob Henderson, VP-67 & Captain 105th ALS

Around The World in 175 Days

Worlds First Circumnavigation Aerial Flight

This story is the 1924 equivalent of landing a man on the moon

Keys to Success:

  • Four planes instead of one
  • Flying west vs east to time the seasonal weather
  • Logistical supply chain
  • Diplomatic cooperation
  • Pilots with exceptional navigational skills (Lowell Smith)
  • Copilots with exceptional mechanical skills (Jack Harding)
  • The Donald Douglas aircraft
  •  Interchangeable pontoons and wheels
  • Luck and divine providence
3D Model of The New Orleans

Four of these Douglas World Cruisers, with eight men (I refer to as The Douglas 8), set off on an international race April 6, 1924 from Sand Point Field in Seattle Washington: The Boston, The Chicago, The New Orleans and The Seattle. After heading west for 175 days, 26,300 miles, 28 countries landed in, The Chicago and New Orleans set back down in Seattle, 28 September 1924. The Seattle crashed into an Alaskan Mountain near Dutch Harbor and The Boston went down in the North Atlantic. All crews survived. The Boston II replaced the original and continued on later down the road.

The international competitors were: Argentina, Britain, France, Italy and Portugal.

(L-R) Sgt. Arthur Turner, Sgt. Ogden (later Lieutenant), Lieutenants Leslie Arnold, Leigh Wade and Lowell Smith; Maj. Frederick Martin; and Sgt. Alva Harvey. Lieutenants Nelson and Harding are absent.
Sand Point near Seattle, Washington – Wade, Smith, Martin and Harvey

Fuel stops included many ship to seaplane transfers. This flight included the first aerial refueling in aviation history.

The route had pre-positioned logistical bases, divided into 7 divisions around the world, including ground support with spare engines and parts along the way. Maintenance was the key to success, and the reason an onboard co-pilot/mechanic was so vital to the mission.

Onboard Mechanics Gear
Prince Rupert, B.C. April 1924 (ai enhanced) – Courtesy of the US Air Force Museum

World Cruise Route – Courtesy of: https://www.seattleworldcruiser.org

(ai enhanced) – Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force Museum

In Tokyo (Tokio)

No event during our hurried visit to the capital of Japan impressed us so deeply as the luncheon given in our honor by the Faculty of the University of Tokio, at which the President, Dr. Yoshinao Kozai, addressed us in English as follows:

Officers of the Army Air Service of the United States, It is an honor and great delight to us to welcome you to our University – you, who have come to our shores over the seas, through the air. All here assembled, both the Faculty and the members of the Aeronautical Research Institute of Japan, cannot but admire your dauntless spirit and congratulate you on the success you have achieved.

At the same time we envy you, for your daring is backed by science. Indeed it is the happy union of courage and knowledge that has gained you your success and this honor of being the first of men to connect the two shores of the Pacific Ocean through the sky. This same spirit and skill, I am sure, will soon make you the pioneers of aerial flight around the globe.

Looking a little into the past, it is to your nation that the honor is due for having produced the pioneers of aviation, Langley and the Wright brothers, and during the two decades that have followed their first successes in the air, the progress of aviation accelerated by your fellow citizens has been simply marvelous. Your pioneership is a manifestation of your valor which implies daring and indefatigable spirit in conjunction with deliberation and endurance. Your success is not merely a result of adventure, but it is the fruit of study and research in the wide and complicated domains of physics, chemistry, mechanics, and meteorology.

Gentlemen! Your honor is, of course, the pride of your nation; but the honor and pride are to be shared by all mankind, because they are a manifest expression of moral and intellectual powers in the human race – the will, ability, research, means and methods, all illustrate through your success man’s control over nature.

More than four hundred years ago slow sailing vessels carried Christopher Columbus across the Atlantic. Two centuries later, your pioneers crossed the Rockies with weary horses and carts.

Nearly a half-century elapsed before the two oceans, the Pacific and Atlantic, were connected by rail. And now you are encircling the earth by machines flying through the sky.

Again I say, we admire and envy you. Again I say that your honor is to be shared by all mankind.

Wing west ward, farther and farther to your home! Then start anew toward the west and come again to our shores, then on to our neighbors and to yours, and through all the continents of the world! Thus through your efforts and successes will the nations of the earth be made closer friends and neighbors.

To the west, east, north, and south, we shall everywhere follow your journeys with admiration and congratulation! We bid you God-speed!” – from The First World Flight by Lowell Smmith

World flyers (left to right) Lieutenant Jack Harding, Lieutenant Eric Nelson, Lieutenant Leigh Wade, Major Frederick Martin, First Lieutenant Leslie Arnold, Lieutenant Lowell Smith. They are wearing black armbands in honor of former US president, Woodrow Wilson, who had recently passed away.

Forced landing near Hue, Vietnam. Improvising a bridge to replace the Liberty 12 engine of #2 Chicago. June 1924 (ai enhanced) – Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force Museum
Liberty 12 Cylinder Engine, 400 Horse Power – National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, Florida


“Below us passed many another caravan. ‘When the airplane comes into its own, as it is sure to do within a few years. one wonders what will become of that most picturesque of men, the desert Arab. Journeys that take him two months can now be made by airplane between sunrise and sunset. Within a short time, planes will be so cheap that even the Bedouin sheik will own one, or several. Then the day of desert raids and racing camels will have passed, because the sheik with his swift pursuit planes will be able to overtake and wipe out his enemy within a few minutes. Both the British in Mesopotamia and the French at Aleppo told us that the Arabs were extremely interested in flying developments. When taken up in a plane the average sheik keeps begging the pilot to go higher and faster.”The First World Flight

The Chicago flying from Aleppo to The Golden Horn


“Although the rain and wind were coming from the north and west, we knew they might shift any moment. So, of course, it was impossible to tell where we might drift. It had been our custom to cut our maps into strips and roll them so they would be easy to handle in the cockpit as we flew. They were large scale, and whenever flying over thoroughly explored regions showed every village, mountain, stream, or other landmark. The strip we had along on this hop to Iceland included nothing but the Orkneys, the Faroes, and the eastern end of Iceland. So we could only make a rough guess as to how far we were from the nearest mainland.

We now did a thing that caused the rest of the fellows afterward to dub us the world’s greatest optimists. “Hank” climbed out of his cockpit, hung on to the edge of it with one hand, opened the tool compartment, and ferreted out a very small-scale National Geographic Society map of the world which we had carried all the way with us. On this map we measured off the distance we were from the coast of Norway, and calculated that with favorable winds we might possibly exist -until we drifted to those shores, providing, of course, that we could keep the plane intact that long.”The First World Flight

Lt. John Harding 2nd from left and Lt. Eric Nelson (center) Reykjavík, Iceland in route. Shortly after this photo, the Italian’s would crash into the sea.

Iceland to Greenland

Captain Lyman A. Cotton, in command of the Admiral’s flagship Richmond, described this stretch from Iceland to Greenland as ‘the longest and most difficult leg of the trans-Atlantic flight’:

Eight hundred and thirty-five statute miles across an ocean covered by ice and beset with fog and cold, it was truly a flight to test the skill and courage of the hardiest aviator. As the Chicago and New Orleans, swept by the Richmond close enough to the bridge for every feature of the aviators to be recognized, it made a lump come in one’s throat to realize how fragile were these man-made ships of the air and how many miles of restless waters lay ahead of them before they reached Fredricksdal.

The Lost Italians

“Captain Cotton, skipper of the flagship Richmond, tells us what happened on that eventful night: ‘Midnight. Cold, and cheerless. The Richmond ploughing through the trackless sea one hundred and twenty miles east of Cape Farewell, Greenland, searching for a tiny object bearing four human lives, Just now for three and a half days. A momentary flicker of light on the horizon ten miles away. The Richmond turns and speeds toward the spot, throbbing with her hundred thousand horsepower. A red star, fired into the air, lights up our decks with lurid light, as officers, men, correspondents, and camera-men rush up on deck half-clad, hair disheveled, with heavy overcoats and trailing blankets hastily thrown around them. An answering star from the darkness ahead. Can it be that the lost are found? Can it be? Our searchlights feel along the horizon, groping over the hostile sea that is loath to surrender its prey. The light touches a small object, bobbing about like a cork on the water. All eyes are strained toward the plane, through moments of tense silence. How slowly it seems to draw near! The beams of our searchlights catch it again as it rises to the crest of a breaker, and this time we see the red, white, and green rudder of the Italian monoplane. One, two, three, four – the crew are all visible now. All are alive and safe!’

We can imagine with what a sense of triumph Captain Cotton rang down the ‘Stop’ signal to the engineers, when success thus crowned his efforts after eighty hours of search. The Richmond pulls up, with a surge of water from her reversed propellers, not ten yards from the Dornier-Wall and is greeted by a veritable salvo of Italian. A line is tossed from ship to plane. {Locatelli subsequently said, ‘This line was like the first thread connecting us with life again.) Helping hands are extended, for two of the crew are so exhausted that they have to be lifted limply on board in nets. Movie-men crank their machines in the light of the aurora borealis which is dancing its strange reel in the Arctic sky. There under the northern lights, on the Richmond’s deck, stand Locatelli and his crew, heavy-eyed, and utterly spent, but safe. For three long nights they have kept their watch with Death in a sea-swept cockpit: now they are in the world of men again.”The First World Flight

Jack and his adopted Greenland Family

The Last Hazard

On Defense Day, the boys flew over Washington to Arlington, where on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier,
they dropped flowers which Mrs. Coolidge had sent them from the White House. No other planes were allowed in the air at the same time, so that the people of Washington might have an opportunity of seeing the Cruisers.

Returning to Bolling Field, they motored to the Peace Monument and rode in the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. Next day they left for their westward flight. ‘So far as there may have been any hazard in it, says Erik Nelson, ‘the most dangerous leg of the remaining journey lay directly ahead of us on September 13th when we left Washington and rammed our noses into the fog west of Harper’s Ferry. Crossing the Alleghenies in the best of weather has its risks. But Lowell led us through or we should have had to turn back, as did the escort planes.

Just after leaving Cumberland, Maryland, the weather was so thick you could have cut it with a knife. We tried to climb over the fog, but it reached beyond our ceiling. Then we tried hugging the tree-tops. Smith had never been across this particular section before. When it proved impossible for us to proceed straight ahead without running considerable risk of hitting a mountain the five escort planes left us, but Smith, with the aid of his map and the uncanny faculty he has for finding his way in any weather, turned to the right until we picked up a canyon, and flying just high enough off a railroad to avoid trains and telegraph poles, he managed to lead us through the pass, single file, to Uniontown, Pennsylvania. The five escort planes, unable to find a way through, returned to Washington and followed us the next day.

The British Comendation

C. G. Gray, editor of ‘The Aeroplane,’ and one of Britain’s foremost aeronautical authorities, wrote of the
It was the Americans, Wilbur and Orville Wright, who were the first to fly an aeroplane under proper control. It was an American crew under Commander Read in a Curtiss-built flying-boat who first flew the Atlantic. And it is in accord with precedent that an American team should be the first to circle the
globe by air. What could be more natural? Such feats are achieved by grit, energy, pertinacity, determination, endurance, and faith. Such human qualities, and especially faith in one’s future, are
precisely those which inspired the ancestors of these men to pull themselves up by the roots and press ever Westward to the promised land. Always the wave of conquest has flowed Westward, and perhaps
there is a significance in the fact that this flight should encircle the earth in the direction in which all our ancestors have traveled.

Miss San Francisco kisses each of the DWC flyers
Nashville Banner – December 24, 1924

John Richard Harding, IV

Jack Harding was not only selected because he was an Army pilot, but more importantly, he was the best aviation mechanic the Army had.

Jack Harding was the great-grandson of General William Giles Harding of the Belle Meade Plantation fame. But Jack’s family fortune was gone by the time he came of-age. He would be a self-made man. He worked his way through the Webb Preparatory School outside of Nashville cutting wood for the school and working as a locksmith locally. He paid for mechanical engineering school at Vanderbilt University working in a Nashville garage. He attended the University of Tennessee’s engineering school as well before going to Detroit to gather more funds to resume his studies at Vanderbilt. World War I broke out in 1917 of his upcoming Junior year. Jack enlisted in the U.S. Army as a private.

Jack’s first duty was as that of an Army cook at Fort Oglethorpe, GA and then a ditch digger at Kelly Field, TX. He was soon discovered to be a mechanical genius. He fixed a Martin bomber engine that nobody else could figure out. This event made a big impression with The Brass. He was promoted to Sergeant and assigned aviation maintenance school. He made aircraft master signal electrician, and aviation mechanician and sent to the Wright Brothers Field in Dayton, Ohio.

His mother Roberta later told the story of a 10 year old Jack disassembling her sewing machine into hundreds of pieces. After a serious trip to the woodshed by his father, he put it back together in better condition than before.

Because of his mechanical expertise, he was chosen as a back-seat mechanic for the first circumnavigation of the continental United States in 1919 (The Around the Rim Flight). He acquired 500+ hours of flying time, which set him up for selection of the prestigious round-the-world race of 1924 by pilot Lt. Eric Nelson.

Other competing countries, that had either tried it, or were planning it included Argentina, Britain, France, Italy and Portugal. The Army Air Service, as it was known then, enlisted the help of the Army, Navy, Diplomatic Corps, Bureau of Fisheries, and Coast Guard as well as 28 countries to pull this colossal achievement off. It was the 1920’s equivalent of sending a man to the moon. Download the PDF below for more details on this unprecedented historical event.

Jack Harding later went on to work for Boeing and several other aircraft manufactural companies. In 1942 he founded Harding Devices Company in Dallas, Texas with his brother William, where they developed a revolutionary electric fuel valve that was used on the B-29, and other World War II airplanes.

Harding also ventured into real estate and is said to be the “Idea Man” behind the Memphis based Holiday Inn hotels. His vision was a quality hotel for aircraft travelers. He owned at least one of them in Dallas.

He also founded Florida Airways with the WWI legend Eddie Rickenbacker, flying routes throughout the southeastern United States. It was later absorbed by Eastern Airlines.

Nelson, Arnold, Harding, ?, Martin and Wade. Seems to be a reunion circa 1950 (ai enhanced). – Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force Museum

He died in 1968 in La Jolla, California in his posh beach side high rise apartment building he built in 1966. His ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean after his death.

• U.S. Distinguished Service Medal
• Flying Cross of Japan
• The Order of the Sacred Treasure, Japan
• French Legion of Honor, France
• The McKay Trophy for outstanding service to the United States
(partial list)

• Order of the Daedalian, and Daedalian Foundation
Quiet Birdman, Card #514
• 32nd Degree Mason
• Wings Club
• Explorer Club
• Sigma Chi Fraternity, Vanderbilt University
(many others)

Lt.’s Jack Harding & Walter Williams 105th JN-4H – Photo courtesy of the Nashville Library & Archives (ai enhanced)

In the picture above, the look seems like a disapproving Jack. I can only imagine some idiot photographer saying something, trying to be witty, like “hey blue eye” (singular). Jack only had one blue eye, one brown. Besides issues with his fathers defeats, and this physical oddity, these things probably humbled Jack – and made him so endearing to people in general.

Jack Harding, a de Havilland DH-4 and a 1925 Cadillac probably at the 105th Blackwood Field Hermitage, TN – Photo Courtesy of the Nashville Library & Archives

Jack & the 105th OBS Tennessee National Guard

Lt. Harding was a good friend of the Tennessee National Guard 105th Observation Squadron and seems to have flown with our group on a number of occasions. The 105th had many notable Nashville member family legacies like General Vincent Meloy, Colonel Walter Williams, Captains Jim Reed and Herbert Fox, Sr. Lieutenants John Oman III and Harry Dyer.

The most celebrated 105th veteran was the legendary 1st Lt. Bob Hoover. Like Jack Harding, Bob paid his own way in the world, unlike most of the blue-blood flyers of Nashville. General Jimmy Doolittle once said, Bob was the best stick and rudder pilot ever born. The 105th “Old Hickory Squadron” is the 3rd oldest Air National Guard aviation squadron in the United States, although their drone pilots and weapon system operators no longer leave the ground thousands of miles away from the targets that they pursue.

Letter from Jack Harding to 105th OBS “Walt” Williams enroute in present day Vietnam 11 June 1924. At this location in Indo-China, Jack and Lowell were denied entrance to an event by the French because they were coming back from their aircraft repair in soiled clothing.
– courtesy of the Nashville Archives

Read more about the 1924 World Cruise here:

A few years ago this video was produced. We are actually coming up on the 100th anniversary now:

Courtesy of https://www.seattleworldcruiser.org/

Visualize this:

Returning to Santa Monica:

“Jack and the others landed on beds of rose petals, with guards surrounding the entire landing area. No sooner had the Aviators crawled from their cockpits, than the crowds went wild. With a screaming roar, the people, some of whom had waited for hours, knocked down the fence, knocked down the police, knocked down he struggling soldiers, and then knocked down the Fliers. They tried to pull the three planes apart for souvenirs and when they were stopped they turned on the Magellan’s. Men, women and children of all ages tore off bits clothing and snipped off buttons. Some lady cut a chunk of Jack’s collar, while another took hold of his ear and was going to take a piece of that until Jack yelled. Somebody even took a keepsake out of the seat of his pants. But things did improve when a slew of beautiful gals reached Jack and smothered him with kisses.” From: A MAGELLAN OF THE AIR – By KATHARINE SHELBURNE TRICKEY

The New Orleans (ai enhanced). – Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force Museum

Special thanks to Ridley Wills III, Bob Dempster, Tim Childers, Will McLaughlin of the USAF Museum, Ken Fieth and the Nashville Library & Archives for their help in researching this amazing chapter in aviation history.

– Bob Henderson, Captain 105th Squadron Navigator (ret.) @belmontguy


B-17 F #42-30385 KIA 26 July 1944

In July of 1944, the 301st Bomb Group flew 21 bombing missions in 26 days. On the 26th, their target was a Natzi aircraft engine plant near Vienna, Austria. Things went south when the fighter escorts didn’t show up. Almost half the bomber group went down in flames by over 100 German fighters. My cousin pilot 2nd Lt. David Kerr was one of them.

74 years latter, we found the crash site with the help of several local Austrians. This is what it looks like today. There are thousands of pieces of the aircraft scattered for many kilometers. Many are clustered near these 360º images I shot on my trip there in 2018.

Letter home from Vienna:

Dear Family,

I am taking my boy Ryan to see the crash site today. Yesterday the family that owns the property treated me like a king. The son of the ranch refused to let me cary my backpack up the mountain. We talked for hours after this incredible exploration over dinner.

Upon arrival, my most gracious host presented me the radio operators chart holder complete with their call tag #30385. This I will give to his sister Mary Ann in Texas when I return. The green coloration on one piece of the aluminum left no doubt this was David’s B-17 F model. He also gave me three 50 caliber rounds (defused) and a couple of squares of flack jacket armor.

3 local Austrians spent most of the day with me cataloging everything from flight controls to bomb fragments. One guy dug up parts with his metal detector at every turn (Steve you would be impressed with his skill). His older brothers were on the scene right after the crash in 1944. Not aware of what this really was, they described it as Christmas-like with all the silver, red and green bright colors – the smell of burning spruce.

As I reached the summit with the family Cocker Spaniel, I was greeted by only the birds and the wisp of the cool mountain air. A cuckoo bird in the distance chimed in. In the distance to the west, a 3000 meter snow caped mountain top stood majestically across the valley below.

From the Rocky Mountains, to the Smoky Mountains it’s the most beautiful forrest I have ever trekked. There is no underbrush like Tennessee, so you can see a long distance down the steep slopes.

The tranquil nature of the landscape juxtaposed with the most violent event imaginable, was odd. It felt so incredibly peaceful in the midst of a 74 year aerial graveyard. It remains like sunken shipwreck. There is a large opening in the dense tall spruces near the top of the ridge line were trees will not grow again. This would be a fitting place for a small monument to the crews.

We found plexiglass from the plane which indicated to me an explosion before it had a chance to burn. We located the precise location were most of the crew where found, buried and reburied in 1947 at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Missouri.

The sole of a boot, shredded nylon, even large pieces of of a leather glove lay scattered on the hillside 74 years later. In David’s plane alone every 500 lb. bomb but one detonated on the way down. A hole the size of baseball in the massive propeller blade was shot clean through. Most of the airplane is less than the size of your fist, and they lay at every step for hundreds of yards down the steep slope.

Some of the airmen in parachutes were witnessed catching on fire going down. I believe that much of the crew were probably killed in the explosions, and most likely died instantly, including David and his copilot.

Eye witness accounts of the fall have been well documented by our host. He has a vast database of information with a map detailing debris over more than 6 kilometers of the area.

The year after this infamous tragedy the area was overrun by the Soviets with fierce fighting. The grandmother of the current property owner was killed in a 1945 rocket attack on her property. Ironically, this was the high-water mark of the Soviet push west in this region.

Our Austrian friends grandfather was able to survive the war and surrendered to the American forces. He told me that most locals in the past have not wanted to discuss the WWII history in this region. This is changing he said.

The family is very protective of this sacred ground and have done a great job keeping it as-is. At their request, we will keep its location a secret. My hope is, that this might give some closure to family still living that never knew their fate. Like so many horrible wars, many times, they just never came home.

2nd Lt. David Kerr and family on his last visit to Nashville.

Video narrative of 21 missions in July 1944

Fox 17 News Story:

3D Simulation

AI Animation of David Kerr

Smart Phone Airdrop

Samsung Galaxy S5 Phone Drops 1000′

A few weeks ago, my brother Blake Henderson was filming a World War I Curtis JN-4 “Jenny” flying near the Bowling Green Regional Airport in Southern Kentucky. The phone bounced out of his hands due to severe turbulence.

This was not staged, and we have the meta data to back that up. The only editing was condensing the time lapse between the scenes. The original video is 11 minutes long, and is on YouTube also. This version, I cut down to about 3 minutes.

“This ain’t my phone” © Blake Henderson 2017

UPDATE: 12 August 2017

– #38262 Curtis Jenny crashed on a golf course in Bowling Green …read more

FullSizeRender (1)

#airdrop #smartphone

Camp Kick’n Booty


July 5, 1982

Mr. & Mrs. Robert W. Henderson
222 Vaughns Gap Road
Nashville, TN 37205

Dear Mom & Dad,

I just thought I’d drop y’all a line to let you know how much fun I’m having at summer camp! Here at Charlie Kilo Bravo (Camp Kick’n Booty), we have lots of fun activities that last all day long.

First we play exercise. This game is very fun because you get to see the campers turn all different shades of pretty colors. At this point people do the most remarkable buffalo imitations. After morning recess we get to play jungle soldiers in the mess hall. This event requires a great deal of skill, because the enemy is very carefully disguised: last week I was attacked by an ambush stew (it attacks your stomach when you’re least likely to expect it).

After lunch we get to take an afternoon nap. This opportunity is afforded us in the cool confines of our class rooms. The only problem with this activity for me though is, that I have not yet learned to sleep with toothpicks supporting my eyelids – very uncomfortable.

The only thing I don’t like at this camp is the big green man that comes around. He has a very big hat that looks like Smoky the Bear. However, he is much louder than smoky. He screams and yells a lot, calling us all sorts of names I never heard of before.

Yesterday he told me my head was made of silly putty – but I don’t believe him. I think his undergarments are too tight or something, cause he always looks so red in the face. I think the man needs a vacation. Maybe you could talk to his boss?

Well, I’ve got to go now, my counselor just informed us that he is taking us out for rifle target practice – with a gun?

Your devoted camper boy,

“Telly Savalas” Henderson

Love, Bob

Belmont’s Female WW II Pilot

Cornelia Clark Fort (WAsp)

by Bob Henderson, Jr. | Belmont Alumni Board | Class of 1982

Reviewing ‘From Here to Anywhere’ by Joy Jordan-Lake, at the Belmont 125th anniversary book-signing tonight, I have a story to add. Thumbing through the photos, the CornCorneliaPT19elia Fort picture caught my eye. I have a little known family story about her, told to my brother and me by our cousin Dick Henderson a few years ago.

Dick’s father (my great uncle) John Bernice Henderson, Sr. of The Southwestern Company owned the farm adjacent to the Fort’s, which is now known as Shelby Bottoms. They called it Wild Acres. Dick vividly described to us the “old-growth” forrest he explored there as a child.

The Henderson’s were close neighbors with the family of Dr. Rufus Elijah Fort, founder of the National Life and Accident Insurance Company. They had many stories. Dick once described his brother racing past Cornelia’s chauffeured commute to Ward-Belmont one day, nearly ending in calamity around Shelby Park.

Dicks father (uncle “J.B.” to us) was a sport pilot, as well as his boys: J.B. Jr., Bruce, Dick and even daughter Ceacy. Dr. Fort was so concerned about this hobby of his neighbors, he made his own son promise that he would never learn to fly. Not anticipating that his daughter Cornelia would consider this vocation, he failed to make her pledge this oath. The rest is history.

Cornelia was the first U.S. pilot to encounter the Japanese air fleet during the Attack on Pearl Harbor. After her tragic death in 1943 ferrying a BT-13 out of Texas, J.B. donated the land they used as a grass runway to the Civilian Air Patrol. It was named Cornelia Fort Airpark. Cornelia was truly a pioneer for women in the armed forces, and military aviation in particular. Another Belmont legend.

Book:  Daughter of the Air: Brief Soaring Life of Cornelia Fort

#belmont125 #corneliafortairpark #womenmilitarypilots