Pilot Eyes!

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This information comes from the biographical file for pilot Johnston, CJ-520000-01, -20, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC.

Juptner, Joseph. 1962-1981. U.S. Civil Aircraft. Volumes 1-9. Aero Publishers, Inc. Fallbrook, CA.

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Forest Myrten “Iron Hat” Johnston  was born January 12, 1904.  The “Iron Hat” moniker came from the derby he wore while flying.  He was billed as the “king of stunt flyers” and his preferred airplane was the Aeronca C-2.  Image, below, is of an advertisement for his stunting show (note the two different spellings of his name).

His airshow work included the standard loops and rolls with his C-2, as well as take-offs and landings on a special platform rigged on top of a speeding automobile.  He also picked up a handkerchief from the ground with a hook attached to his left wingtip.

Pilot Johnston landed solo at Tucson June 25, 1930 flying Aeronca C-2 NC568V. Having left Cincinnati, OH, he was westbound from El Paso, TX to Oakland, CA.  The C-2 is a small single-place airplane, sometimes referred to as a “vest pocket edition” of an airplane because of its size, or the "flying bathtub" because of its guppy-like fuselage shape. It couldn't have been a comfortable cross-country machine.  Yet, when he landed at Tucson, Johnston was on a month-long tour with NC568V that began on June 19th and ended July 19th.

"Iron Hat" Advertisement

From his NASM dossier (reference in left sidebar) we know exactly what his itinerary was (table below) that brought him to Tucson with his Aeronca.  His flight covered 2,022 miles in 62 hours and 12 minutes.  This averages to about 32 miles per hour across the ground.  Like I said, it couldn’t have been a comfortable cross-country machine.

It’s interesting to note a few things about his itinerary that are mentioned in his NASM dossier.  The following anecdotes were captured during an interview with Johnston December 29, 1977, as recorded in his record.  He gives us a good appreciation of what it was like to fly a small airplane cross-country in the early 1930s. 

Flying across Texas he was advised to follow highways in case of emergencies.  The “flats” mentioned at Pecos were actually flat tires.  He landed in an open space near town that he said, “…might be called an airport, but was a very small area scraped out of the bush.  [It was] rough and full of small thorn/burr type objects [goat heads?] that gave me two flats which were repaired and the take-off made from the road with success.”

Johnston's Itinerary with NC568V
Johnston's Itinerary with NC568V

He said of his visit to El Paso, TX, “[I] only recall being given two horned frogs or toads as mascots that stayed with me until El Centro, California when they jumped ship somehow.  Also the hangar doors were opened for me to fly thru the hangar, and a take-off from inside the hangar.  Don’t recall either event.”  Try that today and see what happens!

He endured a forced landing thus, “Somewhere over either N.M. or Arizona put-puting [sic] along the highway at low altitude to avoid headwinds the C-2 quit cold.  Landed straight ahead on the concrete or hard surface and pulled the airplane tail first off the highway just in time to let a car pass that had just made the blind corner ahead.  The driver returned and together we looked the AERONCA over.  Nothing was found wrong with the engine.  After letting the engine cool it ran perfectly.  The driver of the car returned and blocked the curve and the take-off went perfectly normal.  The engine never acted up again, and it was never known what caused it to quit.”

He further says about his “Bunker T.O.” at Benson, AZ, “In the barren country, flights were made from highway gas station to station.  Log shows Benson, Arizona.  The take-off into the wind was short with obstructions.  The run was made downhill [on a golf course] then pull up over a bunker which deflected the wind upward thus clearing the high hazards.”

F.M. Johnston's Pilot Certificate
F.M. Johnston's Pilot Certificate

Now we find him in Tucson on June 25th after a 50 minute flight from Benson, AZ.  Notice his mention of the “big login register”.  If you click on THE REGISTER above, right, you’ll see a picture of the original Register that Johnston signed.  It is, indeed, big.  Of all the pilot and passenger biographies on this website, Johnston’s is the only one where our Register is specifically mentioned in any of the documents I have researched.

Although not apparent from his entry in the Register, according to the table above, Johnston remained in Tucson overnight, departing on the 26th.  After he left Tucson he had another incident as he reached California.  “Before reaching Imperial, California at dusk the C-2 gas tank started oilcanning due possibly to vibration.  Wet feet since the tank was above the feet and the drip into the shoes.  Tank removed and repaired and the flight continued to Oakland, California’s muni airport.”

Image, below, is of a C-2 Aeronca from the Juptner reference in the left sidebar, volume 4, page 167.  This is NC561V, sister ship similar to the one Johnston flew to Tucson.  All Aeroncas were manufactured by the Aeronautical Corporation of America located at Lunken Airport in Cincinnati, OH.  All were powered by a 2-cylinder, 26HP engine.  Cruising speed is listed as 65MPH; maximum speed 80MPH.  Interestingly, the fuel capacity of 8 gallons would take the airplane 240 miles.  Do the math.  That’s 30 miles per gallon: better than most automobiles then or now!  And the single pilot could carry 50 pounds of baggage.

Aeronca C-2
Aeronca C-2

“Iron Hat” Johnston flew farther West on March 10, 1994 from Oakland, CA.


Dossier 2.1.105



The Register
I'm looking for better images of Johnston, and photographs of Aeronca NC568V to include on this page. If you have one or more you'd like to share, please use this FORM to contact me.
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