Pilot Eyes

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Some of this information comes from the biographical file for pilot Dickson , CD-340000-01, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC.

Your copy of the "Davis-Monthan Airfield Register" with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available at the link. Or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-0-1.


http://www.cafepress.com/content/global/img/spacer.gifThe Congress of Ghosts is an anniversary celebration for 2010.  It is an historical biography, that celebrates the 5th year online of www.dmairfield.org and the 10th year of effort on a project dedicated to analyze and exhibit the history embodied in the Register of the Davis-Monthan Airfield, Tucson, AZ. This book includes over thirty people, aircraft and events that swirled through Tucson between 1925 and 1936. It includes across 277 pages previously unpublished photographs and texts, and facsimiles of personal letters, diaries and military orders. Order your copy at the link, or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author.  ISBN 978-0-9843074-4-9.


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Corporate Pilot, Short on Records, Dies in Africa

Thanks to one visitor to our site (see credit in the right sidebar), we are fortunate to have a fairly complete history of the Culver family, frequent passengers of pilot Dickson, as well as one of the airplanes they landed with at Tucson, NC/X9617.  The image, below, shows Dickson, left, with Culver in front of Stinson 9617.

James B. Dickson, Left, with H.H. Culver

Written on the back of this image: "1929 Capt. Jas. Dickson - pilot and HHC in front of Harry's Stinson Detroiter - on speaking tour as Natl. Pres. of Real Estate Boards (640 cities in 1 year.  Board of Realtors of America)". See the Culver link for more information.

Pilot Dickson was a prolific visitor to the Davis-Monthan Airfield, recording eight landings in the Register during the 18-months between June 2, 1928 and December 7, 1929. 

Dickson flew three different Stinson aircraft exclusively to the Airfield, NC209 (once), NC1517 (five times), and NX/C9617 (twice).  His frequent passenger was Harry H. Culver.  Mr. Culver (1880-1946) was a real estate developer in the Los Angeles area.  Culver City, CA, incorporated in 1917, bears his name.  Culver City quickly became "The Heart of Screenland" as Culver invited filmmakers to base their operations there (e.g. Laurel & Hardy).  Dickson was Culver’s “corporate pilot”.

Pilot Dickson, H. Culver, Office Desk

Image, above, with corner missing, shows James Dickson and Harry Culver inside Culver's "airplane office". Culver was famous for pioneering the use of an airplane as a "flying office". A rare look into corporate aviation in the late 1920s! Note Culver's cigar.

Most of the information I have about pilot Dickson is from news articles that post-date his landings at Tucson.  For example, in June-July 1932 he attempted a couple of transcontinental records to improve upon the times set by Frank Hawks and Jimmy Doolittle. 

The Washington Evening Star of June 16, 1932 reported his departure from Newark, NJ to break the East-West record of 14 hours, 30 minutes held by Hawks. The Washington Post of June 17th reported his arrival at Santa Monica in 14 hours, 49 minutes actual flying time.  He carried three passengers.  They were Arthur Loew, theater magnate, Henry Ginsberg, general manager of the Roach Studios and William Melnicker, South American manager for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. They must have been disappointed to miss the record by 19 minutes!

The airplane they flew in was owned by Hal Roach, motion picture producer, and was the Orion 9A, NC12229, "Spirit of Fun" (not cited in the Register). For the east-west flight, in order to make lemonade out of their 19-minute lemon, Dickson claimed a record for flying distance (2,480 miles) in one day between sunrise and sunset (they had departed Newark a half hour after sunrise, and landed Santa Monica half an hour before sunset). It wasn't the first time, however, someone had flown a long distance during daylight hours and set a record. Register pilot Russell Maughan had done it in 1924.

Below, two views of NC12229 shared with us by Lockheed afficionado and friend of dmairfield.org Tim Kalina (cited, right sidebar). Hal Roach is the man in the sport coat to the left of the propeller with his left hand on Ollie's chin.

The Hal Roach Studios Airplane ‘Spirit of Fun’, NC12229 (Source: Kalina)

Below, Roach is standing between the two men wearing the Laurel & Hardy cartoon heads. Dickson is the man in knickers and the white cap. He wears aviator sunglasses in the top photo, and carries them in his left hand in the one below. The others in both images are unidentified. Can you help identify them?

The Hal Roach Studios Airplane ‘Spirit of Fun’, NC12229 (Source: Kalina)
The Hal Roach Studios airplane ‘Spirit of Fun’, NC12229

On June 21, 1932 the Washington Post announced that Dickson's attempt to break Doolittle’s West-East record of 11 hours, 15 minutes was foiled by thunderstorms that forced his landing at Kylertown, PA. 

After these attempted record flights, the Orion was loaded aboard the Matson liner S.S. Monterey and shipped to Australia. It was undertaking a round-the-world tour. See this link for more information and pictures of NC12229. See this link to view 47 pages of documentation from the National Archives of Australia between Dickson and the Australian government during the preparation for the Australia leg of the flight (sometimes this link doesn't work on this research-oriented site, try again later). See this link for images of NC12229 on the ground in Australia (enter "Spirit of Fun" in the search box). Another, partial, photo of the airplane is at the link. The link is a blog, so I'm not sure how long the content will be available. If you find the link is down, please let me KNOW.

Alas, the world tour was not to be. "The Spirit of Fun" crashed in Africa killing Dickson and injuring passenger Loew.


Dossier 2.1.81

THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 07/11/06 REVISED: 07/17/06, 09/07/06, 05/15/07 (NC12229 images), 10/13/07, 01/06/11, 01/04/14

The Register

Images and information on this page, and those for passenger H.H. Culver and Stinson Detroiter NC/X9617 comes to us from Robert Battle, great grandson of H.H. Culver. Our warmest thanks to Rob.

The two images, and link information, for Orion NC12229 come to us from Tim Kalina.

I have only optimized and sized these images for use on the web. I have not cropped or modified them in any other way. You are seeing them as they were shared by Messrs. Battle and Kalina.


"Military Aircraft of the Davis Monthan Register, 1925-1936" is available at the link. This book describes and illustrates with black & white photographs the majority of military aircraft that landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield between 1925 and 1936. The book includes biographies of some of the pilots who flew the aircraft to Tucson as well as extensive listings of all the pilots and airplanes. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-2-5.

"Art Goebel's Own Story" by Art Goebel (edited by G.W. Hyatt) is written in language that expands for us his life as a Golden Age aviation entrepreneur, who used his aviation exploits to build a business around his passion.  Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-1-8.

"Winners' Viewpoints: The Great 1927 Trans-Pacific Dole Race" is available at the link. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. What was it like to fly from Oakland to Honolulu in a single-engine plane during August 1927? Was the 25,000 dollar prize worth it? Did the resulting fame balance the risk? For the first time ever, this book presents the pilot and navigator's stories written by them within days of their record-setting adventure. Pilot Art Goebel and navigator William V. Davis, Jr. take us with them on the Woolaroc, their orange and blue Travel Air monoplane (NX869) as they enter the hazardous world of Golden Age trans-oceanic air racing. ISBN 978-0-9843074-3-2.


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