Pilot Eyes

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Much of this information comes from the biographical file, CB-810500-01, for pilot Brophy reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC.


Los Angeles Times, 3/3/29.

Newark Star Eagle, 1/23/31, 1/27/31.

Newark Evening News 3/19/31.

New York Sun, 3/21/31, 3/20/31.

New York Times, 3/20/31, 3/21/31, 3/22/31, 3/23/31.

Washington Herald, 6/18/32.



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Los Angeles Times, March 3, 1929
Los Angeles Times, March 3, 1929

Glenn Warren Brophy was the principal of Arizona Flying Service, Van Buren Airport, Phoenix, AZ. He landed at Tucson five times in three different aircraft between May 7, and September 2, 1929. He carried passengers on four of his visits, and their itineraries generally focused on cities of the southwest, ranging from Los Angeles to Huechia, Mexico. The small article, right, from the Los Angeles Times, tells us why. The Rankin system was developed by Register pilot Tex Rankin.

He came to Tucson flying an American Eagle Phaeton 7103, a Standard J-1 NC2472, one of the oldest aircraft to land at the Airfield, and a Monocoupe NC7311. See the respective links for information about those aircraft, and the context around Brophy's visits to Tucson with them.

Brophy's landings at the Airfield preceded a harrowing adventure, of which, at this writing, I am not sure about the outcome. Barely a year after his last Tucson landing, he was working as manager of the aviation division of the L.E. Gale Company of Shanghai. He and his wife moved to China.

The Gale Company was an importer of aircraft from the U.S. to China. To build business, Brophy was tasked with the job of blazing an airplane trail for mail and passenger service from Shanghai to Manila via Foochow, Canton and Macao.

A Bumpy Start

Brophy left Shanghai on January 17, 1931 on his pathfinding venture. A few days later, the Newark (NJ) Star Eagle of January 23, 1931 headlined, "U.S. FLYER FORCED TO LAND IN CHINA". Fog was the reason given for the landing. He was uninjured. On his second takeoff, on January 27, he was again forced down in China, thirty miles southeast of Foochow. Ice formed on the wings, and the propeller was slightly damaged. He was, again, uninjured. Refer to the images below to see what he and his airplane looked like in January 1931.

A Hiatus, Another Attempt, and a Disappearance

Almost two months later, on Thursday March 19, 1931, the Newark (NJ) Evening News reported that Brophy had left Macao at 8:50AM that morning and was overdue at Manila, a 600 mile flight over water. The New York Sun reported no sign of him on March 21, 1931.

The search was formidable. Seven destroyers, two destroyer tenders, two aircraft carriers and their complement of aircraft were deployed. L.E. Gale told The New York Times on Saturday March 21, 1931 that the fuselage of the airplane had been stuffed with, "...strongly inflated air-tight bags. Several life rafts and life belts also were in the equipment...and these together with wings should keep the plane afloat several days." Gale was convinced Brophy was drifting somewhere in the South China Sea and would be found if the Navy continued its intensive search.

That was not to be. The New York Times of March 22, 1931 reported that, after 47 hours of searching over 34,000 square miles on all possible courses and drift patterns the plane might have taken, the search would be discontinued after the 22nd.

On March 23, 1931 The New York Times reported a cessation of search activities and the return of the search fleet.

A Year Later...

The Washington Herald reports:

Brophy News, 6/18/32

Frustratingly, that's where my information ends. Anybody KNOW anything about pilot Brophy's fate? Stand by for further developments.


And here is a further development as of August 3, 2006. I received these images and comments from a grand niece of pilot Brophy (see credit in right sidebar).

G.W. Brophy, ca. early 1931

Above is Brophy standing by one of the Gale Company aircraft, a Waco RNF (see below). This is probably the aircraft in which he was lost on his way to Manila. His niece says of the image:

"This is the bi-plane used in the mail route from Shanghai to Manila in 1931. This was probably one of the last photos ever taken of Warren Brophy as the date on the back of the photo is January, 1931.  It isn’t easy to read in this scanned image but on the top of the plane, near the cockpit, is painted “Pilot-G.W. Brophy”.  Note the words on the tail – “Phoenix, Shanghai” and the words on the side of the plane, nearest Warren, “Shanghai to Manila”  The words directly below the Chinese characters read,”Feng Wang”.  Not sure what that means...."

A site visitor from Nanking shares the following translation of the Chinese characters, "The two Chinese characters on the plane [below the fuselage stripe] mean 'Phoenix' and their pronunciation is 'Feng Wang.' The traditional way of Chinese writing is from right to left. So the right character is ,'Feng' [and] the left one is 'Wang'." And further, "The Chinese words above 'The L.E.Gale Company' mean 'Aviation Division of L.E.Gale Company.'" The top line means "Waco F series- Warner one hundred and twenty five hp engine." The two ideograms on the rudder below SHANGHAI are just that, "Shang," the top character, and "Hai."

The image below shows Brophy in Canton, China sometime in 1930. Note on back of photo reads, “Chinese-made plane copied from an American plane.”   The man in the necktie is Glenn Warren Brophy.

Brophy in China, 1930

Below is a Ryan aircraft exported to China. Caption on back of photo reads, "Canton, China, 1930 - Ryan planes delivered with one of the pilots”.

Ryan Aircraft in China

Below is a news interview of Mary Brophy, probably soon after she and her husband reached China. Their niece says the following about the article:

"This is an undated article from an unknown newspaper published in Shanghai.  It is an interview with Mary (Whelan) Brophy, Glenn Warren Brophy’s wife.  The article mistakenly refers to her as “Merriam”.  Her handwritten notes in the margin explains, 'The “Merriam” was taken from "Mary M." and never corrected.' (Her middle name was Magdelena)  The article makes reference to Amelia Earhart, Ruth Elder, Bobbi Trout and Pancho Barnes.

"The last comment about Mary offering the reporter ginger ale was also commented on in the margins, “It took me months to live down the ginger ale bit”.

The tone of the article, as for many articles written about female aviators of the era, is sexist, even though it was authored by a female reporter.

Mary Brophy News Article, date unk.

Alas, even with these excellent sources, we still do not know the fate of Glenn Warren Brophy. His niece concludes, "There was always some speculation that Warren may have been spying on the Japanese for the Chinese and/or American government due to some irregularities of his last flight. As far as what eventually happened to him, no one really knows. The report of the blonde man on the island seems to be the last possible trace of him."


November 2006 Update:

An email exchange with Lennart Andersson, an aviation historian from Sweden with an interest in China aviation, provides us with the following information (edited from his emails to me):

A trio of Waco aircraft of different models, all three-seat biplanes, were sent out to L.E. Gale in China in 1930 for demonstrations: a CSO (225 hp Wright J-6 Whirlwind), c/n 3115, an MNF (125 hp Menasco Pirate C-4), c/n 3408 (ex US Reg 11213), and an RNF (110 hp Warner Scarab), c/n 3359. The airplane appearing first on this page (see above) is the Waco RNF. The Chinese characters mean "Shanghai" (rudder) and "Phoenix" (fuselage).

The trio of Wacos probably arrived late in 1930, as one was demonstrated by Brophy in December or early in 1931. The MNF was demonstrated by an American pilot named Williams at Mukden in the spring, but was not flown after May due to engine problems. It was seized by the Japanese.

On 23 January 1931 Brophy left Shanghai in the RNF, now named “Feng Wang” (Phoenix), which had been fitted with an extra fuel tank in the front cockpit for an attempt to fly to the Philippines. He got lost, however, and instead arrived in Canton about 18 February. As the news articles imply, he made several attempts before finally taking off from Macao on 19 March, only to disappear without trace.

The second airplane pictured above is probably an Avro 594 Avian IV (Cirrus engine) and not a "Chinese built" copy. If it was photographed in 1930 Mr. Andersson suspects that it is a British-built example. It could also be one of three Avro 616 Avian IVMs that were delivered at the end of July 1930 and were fitted with Cirrus engines locally. Perhaps that is why they were called "Chinese built". Copies of Avians were built at Canton, but only in 1933.

The third photo above Mr. Andersson believes is a B-1, but could also be a B-5. It is named "Hsichiang/Hsikiang/Hsi Chiang". He has no idea who the person is, but the photo is taken at Canton.

Further, Mr. Andersson sends us this article, right, from The New York Times, March 21, 1931.

NYT March 21, 1931

He also cites for us a book by E.B. Santos titled "Trails in Philippine Skies". Here is what that book says about Brophy's trial. Note the interesting details of what the pilot carried, and of the rescue operation mounted to find him.

"On March 19, Glenn Warren Brophy, an American, left the race track in Macao in a single-seat Stearman [sic, it was actually the Waco RNF pictured above] biplane and headed southwestward on an attempt to make the first solo Shanghai-Manila flight. The L.E. Gale Company in Shanghai was his sponsor.

"Brophy named his plane the Phoenix. He had been waiting at Macao for good weather over the South China Sea for more than a week. Thrice he took off and thrice he was turned back by strong winds and thick clouds over the Pratas Reef. The skies finally cleared somewhat on Thrusday, March 19. He decided to leave again.

"A small crowd came to see Brophy off. The mayor of Macao handed him a letter to deliver to the mayor of Manila. The pilot also was carring 500 pieces of mail from Macao and 400 other pieces from Shanghai, Foochow, Swatow and Hongkong.

"With Brophy in the plane was a black chow puppy given him by the 'Macao Review'. he named it 'Contact'. For sustenance during the flight, the pilot had a few chocolate bars, some fruits, a bottle of water and pack of cigarets [sic]. As emergency equipment, he had lifevests and liferafts and 'air bags' stuffed inside the plane to keep it afloat in case he had to land at sea.

"The Phoenix was loaded with 125 gallons of gasoline, considered enough for 10 hours, and Brophy had hoped to reach Manila in less than five. He intended to circle over the Pratas Reef and drop a package with magazines and a letter of thanks to the weather station there for its reports to him. Then he would head for Poro Point in San Fernando, La Union, and proceed to Nichols Field from there.

"'Not so good, but I'm going to chance it,' Brophy told his assistant, Ed Curtiss, as they looked up at a murkey sky in Macao on March 19. If he were forced down, he said, he would send up a red flare every hour on the hour. He carried 20 flares, each of which could burn for 20 minutes. He estimated his arrival in Manila at two P.M.

"In his cockpit with the engine turning over, Brophy shook hands with his sponsor and taxied out. In Manila, Mrs. Brophy had been waiting since March 10 when she arrived by boat. Interviewed in her Manila Hotel room, Mrs. Brophy said she was sure her husband would succeed. She would keep to the hotel until he arrived and then they would be busy 'stepping out'. She had brought with her Brophy's tuxedo and evening pumps.

"The weather was not as good as Brophy had hoped. From Pratas Reef, the observers reported a strong northeast wind and poor visibility. A steamer reported to Macao that it sighted the Phoenix at 9:10 P.M. 15 miles out of the City. That was the last time anyone saw the plane. The men on Pratas maintained a lookout for Brophy. But he failed to appear. As the day lengthened and no word of Brophy's whereabouts had been received from Manila and ships at sea, Macao and Shanghai became uneasy.

"By nightfall, the cities on both ends of Brophy's intended route prepared a search for him. Gale, backer of the flight, cabled the U.S. Navy commander in Manila from Shanghai to ask for assistance. He also told the press the plane could be expected to remain afloat 'for many days' because of its emergency equipment.

"Three U.S. Navy destroyers and the seaplane tender 'Heron' steamed out of Manila Bay at 11 p.m., March 19, to scour the western coastline of Luzon and the adjacent waters of the South China Sea. Four more destroyers were told to stand by. Hines ordered the Sikorskys to leave at daylight, with fuel for 6.5 hours, one to search along the coast and the other to fly 10 miles out over the sea in a parallel course up to the Batanes. The planes would refuel at Aparri before returning to Manila. Friends of Mrs. Brophy took her from the hotel into their home at Nichols Field.

"In Macao early the following day, Air Force Commander Cabral set out in a seaplane and attempted to trace Brophy's route up to the Pratas Reef. He was in the air for five hours, but he could reach only the small islands between Macao and the reef. Rain and clouds prevented him from getting to the reef and he returned to Macao, landing there at three p.m. In Shanghai, Gale remained confident that Brophy was still afloat somewhere and would be found.

"But the sea and air searches on March 19 proved fruitless. The U.S. Navy threw in the four other destroyers, another seaplane tender and more planes into the effort. The destroyers lifted anchor at six in the evening of May 20, to make a wide sweep of the China Sea in a line abreast off Corregidor to San Fernando. The seaplane tender left Olongapo at 2:35 P.M. May 20, to take up station off Cape Bolinao. At daylight, six planes departed from Olongapo to search as far out as 90 miles out of San Fernando. The army Sikorskys spent the night of March 19 at Aparri and resumed their search the next day, with special attention to the small islands in the Batanes Group.

"A report from Lingayen at eight P.M. March 20 that a plane had been sighted on its way to Manila sent reporters, photographers and aviation enthusiasts rushing to Nichols. They thought that it might be Brophy's plane despite the fact that he was more than 24 hours overdue. The plane turned out to be one of the navy's.

"Hopes for Brophy's survival finally collapsed on the evening of March 21. Mrs. Brophy went into seclusion. The planes and ships returned to their bases the following day. It had cost the U.S. Navy some $75,000 to undertake the search. An Associated Press story on March 24 indicated that despite the foul weather, Brophy had decided on taking off from Macao after receiving a telegram from a 'cheap fellow' in Manila who offered to make the flight in Brophy's place for $1,000 in gold if the pilot thought he could not make it. The AP representative in Macao said Brophy told him of the wire just before the latter left. 'He was rather upset,' said the correspondent.

"Brophy's name faded from the headlines...."


Further, another update, November 2006. These two articles from The New York Times of March 20, 1931 and March 22, 1931 provide addtional insight into the searches. Files courtesy of Matthew Miller, site visitor.


Dossier 2.1.58

UPLOADED: 03/12/06 REVISED: 08/03/06, 11/10/06, 11/11/06, 11/20/06, 07/18/09

The Register

There is a reference to pilot Brophy in the June 2001 issue of MacaU Magazine, which I have been unable to acquire. If you have a copy of the article, please let me know.

Images of pilot Brophy and news clipping of Mary Brophy interview courtesy of his niece and grand niece Julia Seymour and Lisa Schwarzenholz of Kansas City, KS. Many thanks to them!
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