July 17, 1945
Billy Brock, An Unsung Hero Of Early Aviation
Long Cross-Country Flight Ends Near Urbana
"We paid our written tribute last month to Charles Lindbergh and it is with no thought to belittle his achievement that we write what is to follow. We know that Lindbergh would echo a hearty 'Amen' to our present toast. That is: "To the unsung heroes of the air."
"We are looking back a little over eight years ago, and there comes to mind another airplane flight. It was made at the very end of October, 1918, while the war was still raging. Billy Brock, who was about twenty-two years old, was an instructor at Park Field in Tennessee, an Army Flying Field. He had been training other boys to fly, so that they could go overseas to help win the war. He was so good that they wouldn't let him get away from this side of the pond.
"Toward the end of October in the year 1918, there was no thought or talk in the army, on this side at least, of any armistice or early end of the war. They planned on many more months. In fact, at Park Field they were all set with overseas equipment, as they were at all the other flying fields. The plan was to leave only a skeleton organization behind at each field, to pull up stakes enmasse, and establish an overwhelming American airplane force-in France, to overwhelm Germany from the air.
"Knowing all of this, Billy Brock wanted to fly from Park Field to his home in Springfield, Ohio, to say good-bye to his mother. That was 600 miles away, and in America only two or three had ever flown a longer distance, and no one had ever flown nearly that distance in a Curtiss Jennie. But Billy had been flying since he was 15 years old, and he was good. So, the commanding officer gave him permission to make the flight. He was to take another Army officer along as a passenger. The ship chosen was one of the first type of Curtiss training planes, a J.N.4-A, with a Curtiss O.&.5 motor. It was the only J.N.4-A at the field. They were then using J.N4-D's, an improvised type of plane. All the other J.N.4-A's had been junked, and this one had been put out of service. Being out of service some of the boys, in their spare time, had taken the controls out of the front cockpit and had built in a 20 gallon gasoline tank instead of the usual 10 gallon tank. That was the reason that Billy selected this discarded ship -because it could carry more gasoline. But it had this disadvantage-the installation of the larger task had necessitated the removal of all the instruments, they being on the front dash, so the ship had no compass, no altimeter, no wind-drift indicator, not even a gasoline or an oil gauge. Its maximum speed was about 75 miles an hour, and its ceiling was about two thousand feet.
"At daybreak on a Friday morning, the ship was 'on the line.' No other ships were out, because the fog was so bad you could not see 50 yards ahead. Flying had been called off for the forepart of the morning, and the only people on hand besides Billy and his passenger were their wives, a couple of hanger-men, and Red Thompson, a buddy of Billy. The passenger climbed into the front seat and fastened his safety belt. Billy walked around the ship a couple of times, then climbed in and strapped. Red Thompson told Billy what a fool he was to take off in such a fog. Billy replied in proper Army repartee, and then Red handed Billy a horseshoe and a rabbit's foot. These two buddies, who both came from Springfield, and who had flown together for years before the war, had several times handed back and forth these same charms.