Salt Lake City (UT) Tribune, January 13, 1929 (Source: Web)
LaMar Nelson landed twice at Tucson. The first time was solo on Sunday, January 27, 1929. Based at Phoenix, AZ, he was flying an aircraft he identified as a Consolidated Husky, NC27. He was northwest bound from El Paso, TX to Phoenix. He noted in the remarks column of the Register, "A good field." I find no reference to a Consolidated Husky aircraft ever registered as NC27. Nelson was the Operations Manager for
Scenic Airways, Inc. based in Phoenix, and this might have been a flight on behalf of the company.
It was a busy time for Scenic Airways as suggested in the news article from the Salt Lake City Tribune of January 13, 1929 at right. The company acquired 64 new aircraft for its business about two weeks before we find Nelson at Tucson thr first time.
Earlier, Nelson, a native of Salt Lake City, UT, capitalized a company for airmail transport. The Deseret News (Salt Lake City) reported on April 16, 1920 that he and seven other entrepreneurs from Salt Lake and Denver, invested $80,000 in the startup with plans to carry the mail in Curtiss Oriole aircraft between Salt Lake and Denver. The paper stated that the operation was being delayed by foul weather that spring.
Nelson's second visit was on Sunday, March 24, 1929. This time he was carrying three unidentified passengers in the Fairchild FC-2W2, NC9702, which was owned by Scenic Airways, Inc. for a year beginning in February, 1929.
Below, from the New Mexico Digital Collections (NMDC), is a photograph of Nelson on the left with an unidentified woman. The Collection gives the date as 1943, but the aircraft is of a much earlier vintage than that, as is the woman's clothing. Nelson's cap badge is from Western Air Express, which would date the photo to the late 1920s-early 1930s.
Lamar Nelson (L) and Unidentified Woman, Ca. 1920s-30s (Source: NMDC)
Below, from the Arizona State Library, is a group photograph in front of a Grand Canyon Airlines Ford trimotor. The people are identified in this July, 1928 photograph (L-R) as Register pilot Dean W. Burford, Arizona Governor George Hunt, Mickey Harrington, LaMar Nelson and William Delbridge. Harrington and Delbridge were with the Governor's party. Another photograph of Nelson taken in 1941 is below.
Dean W. Burford, George Hunt, Mickey Harrington, LaMar Nelson and William Delbridge, 1928 (Source AZ State Library)
The context of this photograph was explained in the Prescott (AZ) Evening Courier of July 11, 1928. The paper states, "Governor Hunt and party visited the Grand Canyon today also visited the airport operated by the Scenic Airways, Inc. [Register pilot] J. Parker Van Zandt, president and Lamar Nelson, chief of operations invited the governor and his party to take an airplane ride over the canyon. Governor Hunt accepted the invitation to take his first flight.... The pilot was Lieut. Dean W. Burford, who has more flying hours to his credit in tri-motor planes than any aviator in the United States.... Gov. Hunt was delighted to have sailed over the canyon and the turbulent Colorado [River] and enjoyed the marvelous view of the canyon from the air." Please direct your browser to Van Zandt's link to learn more about this learned pilot and the airline he created. His airline is still in business today.
Below is a biography of Nelson available in the original at the link. It appeared in the TARPA News of January, 1982. It has an elongated preface and covers mostly Nelson's military career. It mentions just a couple of highlights from his civil flying days.
By Ed Betts
April 6, 1917, the USA declared war on Germany. Our allies had already been engaged in the all-out battle since August of 1914, when Germany first declared war against Russia. In just a little over a decade, since the first flight of the Wright Brothers, the flying machine had become a potent weapon of war. When the war first started the Germans had about 1,000 planes of the combat type, France about 1,500 and England a scant 179. When the U. S. joined in, the Army's Air Service had one operational group with already obsolete planes. There was a lot of bureaucracy involved and military bickering as to what type of planes would be produced, and what type of training for the crews in order to make our nation an air power. It took almost a year.
The nations that had been at war had years of experience with first hand knowledge of what was needed. Over a hundred different models of fighters, bombers and reconnaissance type planes had been built and tested under actual conditions. Besides training planes, America chose to mass produce the British deHaviland DH-4, a two-place biplane that could be used for both reconnaissance and bombing.
Few of the American built planes ever reached Europe, mostly because of shipping priorities for troops and supplies. Nearly all of the planes that our pilots flew were built in Europe with materials
sent from the U. S.
Early air-to-air fighting was done with rifles and hand guns. Machine guns entered the picture in early 1915 when Anthony Fokker perfected a synchronized gear to allow a machine gun to be fired
through a rotating propeller...now the pilot could take direct aim with his plane for strafing or combating another plane. Names that were to become legends appeared in the world's headlines: the Baron von Richtofen and Max Immelman of Germany, Rene Fonck and Georges Guynemer of France and Canada's Billy Bishop. The leading "aces" that captured the fancy of thousands of future pilots along with the stories of their "dog fights"...it was a gentleman's war in the air with a typical scene showing the victor saluting the victim, and the latter gallantly returning the salute as he went spinning down in flames. Towards the end of the war the Germans were wearing
parachutes, but not the Allies, as they considered it cowardly and lack of faith in their ability. The U. S. had no trouble recruiting airmen, there were over 38,000 immediate and eager volunteers.
Training consisted of a 12 week ground school course given by some of America's leading universities. Primary flight training took several months (40 to 50 flight hours), after which the young "shave tail" was ready for advanced training. The pay, a handsome $100.00 per month! Advance training, in the DH-4, could be given here although a large number of pilots received their advanced training in England and France.
It was our allies' plan to use American crews (and hopefully,planes) as replacements for their own squadrons. General Pershing said no, they would form their own units under their own leaders. It was almost a year after our entry into the war, March of 1918, that the first American unit saw combat (the 94th Pursuit Group, later headed by [Eddie] Rickenbacker). Lt. Rickenbacker got his first of 26 victories on April 29th. During this same period quite a number of our flight crews were assigned to, and flying with, our allies.
On September 10th of that year the Allied Forces were prepared for the most massive all-out offensive of the war against the St. Mihiel salient, the German front that had been sticking into eastern France for over four years. Brigadier General "Billy" Mitchell headed what was to be the largest air armada, ever, to support the effort (nearly 1,500 planes). Incessant rains had hampered the air support.
One American pilot waiting for the rains to abate was Lt. C. LaMar Nelson, a native of Salt Lake City. Nelson was 24 years old when he signed with the military, having recently completed his studies at Columbia University. He had completed his flight training at San Diego and was now assigned to a French bombardment unit, Escadrille 131. Their station was a make-shift airdrome.... an open wheat field, stubbled, with Bessanoux canvas hangars located by a small river near the town of St. Dizer, about 35 miles from the St. Mihiel line. The temporary barracks, mess hall, and squadron office were all made of plywood and canvas.
On the night of September 11th, after two days of cancellations due to the rain, the group commander advised the men: "Demain nous volons, le temps tant pis"...in English it meant "tomorrow we fly, the weather be damned!"
It was still raining on the morning of the 12th, making the field an oversized mudhole and difficult to get enough speed for take-off. Because of the weather they flew in groups of three instead of the usual six to eight planes, at tree-top level towards the enemy line. Their target was anything that they encountered of military value after they crossed the River Meuse; troops, installations, ammunition dumps, convoys, etc. According to LaMar it was utter chaos after they crossed the Meuse...the Germans were retreating fast and shooting at him with their rifles as they ran.
As soon as the bombs were dropped it was every man for himself so far as getting safely back to home base. His only map was a small chart mounted on the plane's instrument panel, but impossible to read with the heavy rain and sometimes hail. All of the planes made it back. LaMar's propeller had to be replaced because of the beating it took from the hail, as there was no metal protection on the leading edge.
This was the same day that one of America's leading aces and war hero, Lt. Frank Luke, shot down his first balloon. In a seventeen day period he shot down four planes and fourteen balloons before he was killed. Luke was the first American airman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The second sortie for LaMar came that same afternoon, and it was still raining hard. Intelligence had advised the men that our troops were advancing faster than scheduled, with thousands of
Germans taken prisoner...which meant that the mission would be deeper into enemy territory and more caution observed not to bomb our own troops. Once over the target the leader, le Capitaine
Mezergues, raised his right arm as a signal to drop the bombs, which LaMar's plane did and then he made an immediate turn for the run back towards home. Directly in his path appeared a "sausage" (observation balloon) hanging in the base of the clouds...he merely pressed the spade grip trigger on the control stick and a quick burst from the two forward firing Vickers guns hit the mark. He had to bank fast to avoid the stricken "sausage" and as they passed by, the bombadier, Jim Newell, rendered the 'coup de grace' with his two Lewis guns mounted on the turret.
The French were understandably skeptical with Nelson's claim of victory, for such a feat had never before been accomplished by a bomber-type plane. The balloons might be considered a "sitting
duck", or easy prey, but they were generally well protected by pursuit planes and ground fire. Later, occupation of the area by American troops confirmed Nelson's claim and the French offered an
immediate apology along with the award of the Croix de Guerre.
On the night of September 13th, Captain Mezergues called a special meeting of all the squadron airmen in the intelligence tent. It was a very solemn affair after he made the following announcement: "demain nous avons une mission tres delicat"....a hazardous mission, with at best, a 50-50 chance of returning. He eased the tension somewhat with further information that no one
would be ordered to go, just volunteers. Half of the 32 pilots present, including Nelson, volunteered. There was good reason for the trepidation as they all knew that the Richtofen squadron (they were all aces) lay waiting on the enemy side of the lines. There were a lot of queasy stomachs that night, and little sleep. What they hadn't been told that night (or there might have been fewer volunteers and less sleep) was that their target, a railroad marshalling yard near the Swiss border, was the
furthest into enemy territory (about 160 miles) ever undertaken by any flight up until then. This information was given to the pilots along with their map after they were strapped in their seats and
the engines warmed up and ready to go.
It took about three hours for the group to climb to cruise altitude (15,000 feet) before heading off towards the target. Half of the 16 planes dropped out of the formation during this time for various reasons....mostly spinal troubles, or yellow streaks, under the guise of "motor troubles". The remaining planes headed off in a tight "V" formation and as soon as they crossed the enemy lines there was plenty of flak from the guns below. Even though they took evasive action, changing course and altitude, Nelson picked up a few holes in the lower wing. Suddenly the ack-ack stopped, Mezerques held up his arm and it was "Bombs away"... and just as suddenly the sky was filled with German fighters-the deadly Fokker D-7's.
Nelson let fire at one in his sight that was attacking a bomber ahead of him and at the same instant realized that he had three fighters on his own tail...two coming up from below and hanging by their props as they fired away, and the third coming from above and out of the sun with the two Spandau machine guns blasting away. Nelson's plane was riddled, one bullet caught in the thick heel of his flying boot but still had enough force to slam his foot against the top of the cockpit.
The plywood board that normally provides a resting place as well as a slide for working the rudder was gone, but fortunately the rudder was still operable. He looked back to see why his bombadier
was not firing...he had disappeared from view. Several of the squadron planes were balls of fire and spinning down in flames and about this time the motor started sputtering and Nelson could no
longer keep up with the remainder of the formation. He was alone.
Fortunately the Fokker had a well known weakness...which Nelson took immediate advantage of. They could not take a steep dive at high speed without shedding a wing or two. Since the stricken bomber's motor was putting out a lot of smoke and steam, the Germans surmised that he was already a victory and didn't warrant the risk of further chase.
Once assured that he was safe, for the moment, from the attacking aircraft. Nelson recovered from the steep dive and started a gentle glide towards home. The motor was still putting out some
power, but not enough to sustain level flight. The next problem was that he was lost, somewhere over enemy territory...nothing for a reference to navigate by except the crude map on his instrument panel and the general direction of the sun for a compass. The windshield was a complete blur from the escaping oil, and when he tried to look out for some kind of a view ahead, his goggles got the same treatment.
Finally, after what seemed to have been eternity, the crippled bomber was too low to go any further with the sputtering engine and LaMar was able to spot what looked to be a clearing where he could
land. It was a pasture surrounded by trenches and barbed wire, with numerous deep pits left by heavy shelling and bombs. It wasn't a landing, it was a controlled crash, and fortunately the fuselage and Nelson were still intact. He still didn't know where he was, so his first action after climbing out of the cockpit was to unstrap his 45 caliber pistol...the standard procedure to avoid being shot on sight rather than taken prisoner. He made his way to the bombadier's cockpit....it was a mass of blood with Jim Newell slumped on the floor. Jim had a massive wound in his left leg, but before passing out he managed to contrive a makeshift tourniquet with his leather helmet twisted tight with the emergency stub control stick. (In case the pilot is incapacitated, the bombardier could steer the aircraft.)
The entire area seemed to be a "No man's land", with no sign of activity or habitation. Once again the problem...where was he, and which direction to go? After a short period a small convoy of
camions (army trucks) was sighted traveling along a road about a half mile away. Nelson made his way towards them, all prepared to hold his hands up and say,"Kamarad, ich bin Amerikaner", and surrender. It turned out, much to LaMar's relief, that they were French soldiers and ready to help.
The group lifted Newell from the wrecked plane and took him to the nearest hospital. That was the last time that LaMar saw Jim, there was never any news as to his being alive or dead from there on. LaMar had finally got through with the cumbersome telephones to his squadron for his report and that night was sent a chauffeur for the return to home camp.
Nelson was given a hero's welcome by his French comrades. They could not believe that he had survived the ordeal that afternoon, let alone get back from the enemy lines, and was awarded the 'Croix de Guerre, the second in two days. He had already been reported ' missing in action' to his parents in Salt Lake City and it was better than two week's time before a letter from LaMar finally arrived that put their minds at ease. In the meantime, for LaMar, it was a good night's sleep and back on another mission again the following morning.
A crew of mechanics were sent to survey LaMar's wrecked plane. It was damaged beyond repair. The motor had been riddled, numerous bullet holes in the wings, vital control parts severed plus 26 dents in the back of the protective steel armor plate...all by machine gun fire. LaMar brought home two souvenirs, the map from the cockpit (which is now displayed at the U. S. Air Force Museum, Dayton, and the bullet that had lodged in his flying boot.)
LaMar stayed on active duty through 1919 before returning to civilian life, although he kept active with the military reserve and in later years was promoted to the rank of Major. In 1927 he went to work for the Ford Motor Company, flying the tri-motor "Tin Goose". Larry Fritz was then chief pilot. In June of that year Larry, Jack Maddux and a small group made a trip west with the first Ford airplane to California [no record of this flight in the Register]. Nelson and another pilot from the Ford Company, Parker Van Zandt, joined the group at Salt Lake City for the remainder of the flight to Los Angeles. They made numerous tours of the National Parks in Utah and Arizona testing the Ford's capabilities. Van Zandt became president and general manager with Scenic Airways later that year, and Nelson was chief pilot and operations manager.
On August 26, 1929, Nelson joined Western Air Express as a pilot on the passenger runs (with the
Fokker F-10 from LAX to Salt Lake City. When Western and TAT-Maddux merged to form T&WA...Nelson was selected to fly the inaugural flight of the new company on October 25, 1930 [see news report, below], from LAX to ABQ (Orm Gove was his co-pilot). For the next ten years LaMar flew the line for T&WA, piloting the Fokkers and Fords, the single-engine mail planes and the Douglas airliners. Most of this period he was a supervisor or check pilot.
Nelson was 48 years old when he gave up his position as a senior captain with T&WA in 1941, and once again, volunteered his services with the military. By the time that the U. S. entered the war in December of that year, LaMar was already in charge of an important Ferry Command unit, based at Long Beach. LaMar was later promoted to the rank of Colonel. After the war he stayed in the service until he reached retirement.
LaMar Nelson passed away in 1975, at the age of 82. He was one of the few aviation pioneers whose flying careers, in the cockpit, spanned the two great wars with a distinguished record, as
well as the formative years of the nation's commercial airlines. A special citation signed by Marshall Henri Petain, then Commander- in-Chief of the Armies in the East, read (with English
translation): Great General Headquarters, January 10, 1919. Lieutenant Nelson, Carlyle LaMar, of Escadrille 131. Attached to Bombardment Group 4, he has given under all circumstances proof of remarkable bravery and devotion. The 12th of September 1918, he accomplished two successive
bombardments, machine gunning from a very low altitude in terrific weather, he surprised and set fire an enemy "drachen". On the 14th of September in the course of a bombardment of a great railroad station a long distance from the front, he engaged in a terrible combat against enemy pursuit planes three times superior in number. He brought down one of his adversaries in flames."
Salt Lake City Tribune, March 7, 1927 (Source: Web)
The biography above alludes to a couple of incidents from Nelson's career. These are corroborated with various news articles as follows. At right, from the Salt Lake City Tribune of March 7, 1927, his activities are cited with the Army reserve. Note the mention of Register pilot Russell L. Maughan.
His employment with the Ford Motor company was documented in the Deseret News of November 26, 1927. Under the headline "Lamar Nelson Takes Position With Ford Airplane Company," it stated, "Captain LaMar Nelson ... will leave Salt Lake Sunday to accept a position at Detroit, Mich., with the big Ford airplane manufacturing and operating company....
"When the big Ford 10-passenger plane toured the west with a party of officials last summer Mr. Nelson acted as guide out of Salt Lake on a trip to the Grand Canyon country. During the trip he piloted the plane part of the time. The local aviator will take a factory course in the plant for several weeks before being assigned to a plane as pilot, he said."
Just a few months after Nelson joined Western Air Express in 1929 he made the news as a witness to a terrible air crash that involved a Maddux aircraft. Below, from the Geneva, NY Daily Times, is a report of that accident. Seriously degenerating weather played a role.
Geneva (NY) Daily Times, January 20, 1930 (Source: Web)
The scheduled route from Los Angeles to Agua Caliente in Mexico was a popular one with several west coast Golden Age airlines. While Prohibition, up to December, 1933, was the law of the land in the U.S., alcohol was freely available in Mexico and thirsty Americans frequented towns in Mexico that weren't too far from the border. Gilpin Airlines as well as Maddux traveled the south of the border routes.
The crash airplane was the Ford trimotor NC9689. Site visitor Ray Watkins from western Australia provides the following logic. "I went through all the early civil aircraft registrations for Ford aircraft procured by Maddux (and TAT) and found that they operated eight of the 4-AT models and 18 of the 5-AT models. Five of those crashed - two in 1927, one in 1930, one in 1931 and one in 1937. The one in 1930 was on 19 Jan at Oceanside CA - which has to be our 'mystery ship'. The aircraft was a 5-AT-C (5-AT-46) with registration NC9689." NC9689 is not a Register airplane.
Geneva (NY) Daily Times, January 20, 1930 (Source: Web)
At right, a companion article from the same source tells of the circumstances of Nelson's being near the scene of the crash. He was in the same airspace as the crashed plane, enduring the same deteriorating weather. The idea of transport aircraft feeling their way through fog at an altitude of 200 feet is just out of the question today.
The Western Air Express inaugural flight cited in his biography above was reported in the Prescott (AZ) Evening Courier of October 30, 1930. The paper reports that 85 pounds of mail was loaded at Winslow, AZ for transport east. The copilot was identified as "Orm Grove."
As an indication of what a big deal this flight was, if not a testimony to the technology of the day, the Courier goes on to state, "Dictaphone records of oral greetings from Governor G.C. Young, Mayor John C. Porter of Los Angeles and James Rolph, Jr. of San Francisco will be delivered to governers of some states and several principal cities en route...."
The January 28, 1941 issue of the TWA Skyliner, an internal TWA publication, documents Nelson's retirement from the airlines and re-entry into the military. Below, a photograph of him from that publication.
LaMar Nelson, January, 1941 (Source: TWA)
Carlyle LaMar Nelson was born June 9, 1893 and died during March, 1975, age 81, at Los Angeles, CA.
There is a pilot identified as "Nelson" who landed six times during March and April, 1931 at the Grand Central Air Terminal, Glendale, CA. He was flying Fokker transports between Los Angeles and Kansas City, MO and was identified as working for TWA. Chances are this pilot was LaMar Nelson.
THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 10/12/11 REVISED: 11/05/13