The Summer of 1954…
As a “younker,” I was raised in an aviation family albeit in the small mountain community of Saratoga, Wyoming. My folks ranched and built a resort, The Saratoga Inn. Every summer the Conquistadores del Cielo, a very secret group of high-level aviation leaders would fly into Saratoga’s “Shively Field” (named for Jack Shively KIA near Chinon, France June 13, 1944. Chinon is some 160 miles SW of Paris). Shively was flying a North American P-51B. Shively Field was a single grass/dirt runway with a 2 1/2º sloping runway. No lights, no fuel in those days. Now it’s a jet port!.
Every year there were 20 – 30 airplanes, the smallest a Spartan Executive flown by Aubrey Keif. The largest, a modified B-24, a C-87 flown by Ed Keiner. By far, the most beautiful airplane, and the one I most anxiously awaited, was the Mesta Machines Douglas A-26C flown by Al Litzenberger and Jack Bald.
One summer Al Litzenberger planned to fly the A-26 on to California for some major modifications. There, it would become the only Super A-26 ever.
Al had been an airline pilot. He was one of the founding members of the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA). His name is on a magnificent plaque at ALPA headquarters in Washington, DC. However, Al would become chief pilot for the very large Pittsburgh company, Mesta Machines, and airline flying became but a dim memory.
“Al, Jack Bald, Mrs. Litzenberger, and Billy Litzenberger will be flying to California t’morrow. Would you like to go along,” my Dad asked. In a nano-second I was packed and ready. It would become a HUGE highlight of the 13 years I’d accumulated at that point.
I remember telling Al that someday I would have my own A-26! Raised eyebrows or not, I did!. Mine, was stock military and no where close to the beautiful example the Mesta Machines A-26 was. But, WOW, was it a hellofa flying machine.
I remember being in the cockpit the entire trip to California. The first leg into Salt Lake City for fuel, we were crossing the Wasatch range when the earth literally dropped suddenly away. 40,000 hours of flying time later, it still makes me gasp recalling the impression.
We stayed at the Hotel Knickerbocker in Hollywood. Billy, a couple years older and I shared a room. We had total freedom to explore. Streets, even in California, were safe back then in those days. Billy would later retire as a US Airways captain and, sadly, has Gone West.
Billy and I made it a point to visit the famous intersection of “Hollywood & Vine.” We went in a pizza parlor (something not then known of in Saratoga, Wyoming). There sat one of my movie idols, Dana Andrews. It was not yet 11 AM and he was knee-walking drunk! Dana Andrews was instantly demoted!
Lots to do and see. Al introduced Billy and me to Col. Robert L. Scott, Jr., author of “God is My Co-Pilot.” I still have an dog-eared autographed copy. While my view of matinee idols changed, my view of tru American heroes like Col. Scott has remained.
Next, we clambered aboard an ol’ Catalina DC-3 for an easy flight to the island of that name. We would come back to the LA basin via ferry boat.
The Litzenbergers treated me to a solo-ride back to Wyoming on a UP pullman. I had my own cabin. I will never forget this wondrous adventure…
I was so reminded of this memory from my youth when I received the following video. The ol’ Catalina DC-3 has really been spruced up, like the P-51D my buddy, Larry Perkins, flew for Ron Pratte. I’m totally outta superlatives to describe it, so you’ll just have to see for yourselves:
This DC-3 was restored in Oregon and was flown down the coast to Catalina last year. The video/music is stunning. The password for the video is catalina. Make sure to use all lower case.
PS: For more stories go to: https://captainbillywalker.com …every one of my stories is guaranteed to thwart insomnia !