July 17, 1945
Billy Brock, An Unsung Hero Of Early Aviation
Long Cross-Country Flight Ends Near Urbana
At conclusion of Tuesday's installment- the first of a four part story- Billy Brock, accompanied by a pal from Springfield, Ohio, were about to take off in an outmoded army plane for a cross-country flight from Tennessee to Urbana and Springfield.
Enshrouded by heavy fog, with no navigation instruments to guide them, the two flyers gambled their destiny on a horseshoe and a rabbit's foot which they had decided to take along as good luck tokens.
The story continues: "The ship took off. The fog was so thick, it was sticky. Nothing could be seen, and they had no altimeter, but they could tell by the feel that the ship was climbing all right. In less than 20 minutes the ship came out of the fog into clear air, which would have been a relief, except for the fact that there was no sight of ground in any direction, nothing but dense banks of clouds underneath. They had no compass and no chart-only a six-inch pocket map of Tennessee and Kentucky. Billy had planned on following the Louisville and Nashville railroad, but they couldn't see it. The sight of the sun helped little, as there was a side to rear gale blowing, which might have been 30 miles an hour or it might have been 60. But they had no means of telling its strength or its directions, as they had no wind-drift indicator. It was afterward learned that it was over 50 miles an hour.
"They flew above the clouds, without a sight of the earth, for a couple of hours, without knowing whether their altitude was two thousand or five hundred feet. Finally, Billy called to his companion: "We ought to be about over Paris (Tennessee); I'm going to cut down and find out." He started a tight spiral, but in less than a minute he almost jerked the plane apart, coming out it, took away some branches out of the top of a tree, missed a couple of buildings by less distance than was comfortable, and found that he was squarely over the heart of Paris, Tennessee. It hadn't been clouds he had been flying over, it was clouds and fog right down to the ground.
"Billy Brock had flown for two hours with no sight of the ground, no compass, no instruments of any kind, and with a terrible side-tail wind of unknown strength or direction. And he not only guessed, he knew, within less than a mile, exactly where he was. How did he know it? You have learned how cats know their whereabouts. Perhaps it was something like that, only more marvelous, as this was all done in the air.
"Well, Billy got his ship flattened out, and was again on his way. It wasn't long until they left the clouds and fog, and were over Kentucky. Worry about gasoline supply advised a landing, and they landed in a stubble field at the edge of the town of Russellville. We will omit some of the details of the take-off from Russellville. In that take-off they came nearer death than at any time on the flight. It was a matter of inches several times-a short, soggy field, loggy gasoline, a nose-heavy ship, telephone wires straight ahead, a zoom over the wires that anyone would have said was impossible, a vault over some more wires and a railroad track, a gliding squash into a soft field across the track, but with enough headway to keep going and to finally climb fifteen feet in the air, but with a house straight ahead. There wasn't time or altitude to turn, so Billy went straight for the house, and just as he came to it, he threw the ship into a vertical bank, one wing missed the chimney by not more than a couple of feet, and the other wing came that close to the ground, but they cleared the house.
"They finally gained altitude, and it was straight and clear flying over the edge of the mountain district of Kentucky. That is the country that, form the air, has nothing underneath for well over a hundred miles but mountains, forests, snake-like rivers, small clearings and intermittent small lakes and ponds. A forced landing would have meant the tree tops.
"They landed near Louisville for the night, took off the next morning in a blinding rainstorm, tried to get above the rain, but the higher they went, the more it was sleet instead of rain. They kept on toward Cincinnati, got out of the storm, then turned north, did some stunts over Springfield, and then landed on the golf course of the Springfield Country Club. They had lunch with Billy's mother, then took to the air again, and landed on a farm just west of Urbana, where the passenger had relatives.
"Billy Brock, twenty-two years old, had resurrected a J.N.4-A out of the junk pile, and had flown it, with no instruments and with nothing but genius to guide him, in bad weather, over a wilderness country, and part of it was blind flying; then, he turned around and made the return trip, which was even worse, because the wind was against him.
"Billy Brock didn't get overseas, because they kept him on this side. Few people have ever heard of him. The last we heard of him, about four years ago, he was taking up passengers for five dollars an hour, when he could get the passengers. He is unknown to fame, but he was one of the pathfinders in aviation. He is an unsung hero."