Puddle Jumpers vs Zeros
We at Tyagarah often feel hassled by the Cessnas from the Gold Coast and various aerial tourists wandering through our airspace. But at least they aren’t trying to shoot us down. On that Sunday morning in 1941, the only American planes in the air were several J-3 Cubs, an Interstate Cadet and an Aeronca 65TC (Looks much like Alan’s 7AC except for the cowling.)
The Aeronca 65TC was produced as an artillery spotter during the war as the L-3. (I was flying a surplus one of these over the Calif. desert and ran out of gas due to a rich mixture leading to much more that the calculated 4 gph consumption. I landed on the only road for miles.)
The Aeronca 65TC was the first American plane engaged in combat during World War II. As the pilot and his teenage son were enroute back from Molokai to Honolulu in this Aeronca operated by Gambo Flying Service, they encountered the first wave of 150 Japanese Zero fighters headed to attack Pearl Harbor. Two Zeros circled back and attacked, causing damage to the aircraft.
Aeronca 65TC Civilian Trainer Owned by Gambo Flying Service
Pacific Aviation Musuem Photo Gallery
At least 2 J-3 Cubs were also in the air, along with an Interstate Cadet. The instructor in the Cadet was Cornelia Fort, who went on to become a pioneer woman ferry pilot. The airport manager who was instructing in the J-3 Cub landed successfully but was killed running to the hangar.
While working as a civilian pilot instructor at Pearl Harbor, Cornelia Fort inadvertently became one of the first witnesses to the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II. On December 7, 1941, Fort was in the air near Pearl Harbor teaching takeoffs and landings to a student pilot in an Interstate Cadet monoplane. Hers and a few other civilian aircraft were the only U.S. planes in the air near the harbor at that time. Fort saw a military airplane flying directly toward her and swiftly grabbed the controls from her student to pull up over the oncoming craft. It was then she saw the rising sun insignia on the wings. Within moments, she saw billows of black smoke coming from Pearl Harbor and bombers flying in. She quickly landed the plane at John Rodgers civilian airport near the mouth of Pearl Harbor. The pursuing Zero strafed her plane and the runway as she and her student ran for cover. The airport manager was killed and two other civilian planes did not return that morning.
With all civilian flights grounded in Hawaii, Fort returned to the mainland in early 1942. She made a short movie promoting war bonds that was successful and led to speaking engagements. Later that year, Nancy Love recruited her to serve in the newly established Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, precursor to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). She was the second woman accepted into the service. The WAFS ferried military planes to bases within the United States
Stationed at the 6th Ferrying Group base at Long Beach, California, Cornelia Fort became the first WAFS fatality on March 21, 1943 when another plane being ferried by a male pilot struck the left wing of the BT-13 she was ferrying in a mid-air collision ten miles south of Merkel, Texas. At the time of the accident, Cornelia Fort was one of the most accomplished pilots of the WAFS. The footstone of her grave is inscribed, “Killed in the Service of Her Country.”[11