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There is no biographical file for pilot Powell in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington, DC.

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http://www.cafepress.com/content/global/img/spacer.gifThe Congress of Ghosts is available as an e-book at the link. It 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 It includes across 277 pages previously unpublished photographs and texts, and facsimiles of personal letters, diaries and military orders.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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"Winners' Viewpoints: The Great 1927 Trans-Pacific Dole Race" is available as an e-book at the link. 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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CLELL EARNEST "Ab" POWELL

Clell Powell, Date Unknown (Source: Powell Family)
Clell Powell, Date Unknown (Source: Powell Family)

C.E. Powell signed the Tucson Register once, on Saturday, March 9, 1935 at 7:20PM. He flew the Fokker Super Universal he identified as NC126M. Please direct your browser to the airplane's link for more information about this robust airplane and to see vintage motion picture footage of it on the ground and in flight. The airplane wears Western Air Express livery in the footage.

Powell carried two passengers through Tucson, identified simply as Middleton and Williams. Based in Los Angeles, they arrived at Tucson from Phoenix and identified their destination was El Paso, TX. About three months after we find Powell and NC126M at Tucson, the airplane was flown to Mexico to be used on an airline flying out of Chihuahua. Note in the article below that Powell was involved as a partner in a "Mexican airline venture." I have no information that connects Powell to the Chihuahua operation, except perhaps the transfer of NC126M to Mexico.

The year following his landing at Tucson, Powell was involved in a hazardous landing at Portsmouth, OH flying what was probably the DC-2 NC1000 (not a Register airplane), the executive airplane owned and operated by the Cities Service Oil Company. The incident was reported in the Portsmouth TImes (OH) of October 11, 1936, below.

Portsmouth Times (OH) October 11, 1936 (Source: Woodling)
Portsmouth Times (OH) October 11, 1936 (Source: Woodling)

The text of the article is below. Note monitoring of air-ground conversations via amateur shortwave radio by Kermit Micklethwait.

Portsmouth experienced its first real drama of aviation Friday night when many citizens watched the plane circle over the city, while the pilot was flying blind, looking for "any old port in a storm." Safe landing of the plane was the most thrilling and dramatic rescue ever made here. Local amateur shortwave radio operators experienced a real thrill while the plane communicated by radio with Columbus airport. Several local shortwave sets picked up the conversation and followed the drama by radio. Kermit Micklethwait. son of Dr. and Mrs. W. D. Mieklethwait, 2233 Summit street, received all of the messages and conveyed them to city police. Mr. Micklethwait, a pilot, has been ill several months and recently obtained a shortwave set to help pass the time. He received his first real thrill Friday night while listening to the tense messages between the plane and Columbus port. Sylvan Jackson, 725 Second street, local pilot, was at the port and assisted the pilots. An amateur operator also kept city firemen informed of the conversations. Because of air regulations the amateurs did not try to communicate with the plane. Fog obscured every city along the Ohio river from Huntington to Cincinnati, except Portsmouth the pilots said. Because of the fog and low gasoline supply the pilots were afraid to risk an attempt to go either to Cincinnati or Columbus airports. Residents in the vicinity of Mound park were thrilled when the plane soared low over the park, training landing lights on the ball field, in search for a place to land. The plane dropped so low that many thought it would land in the park. The pilots were Louis Brewer, Edward Harrington and Ab Powell of Floyd Bennett field, N. J. Passengers were Hough Benson and Justin Brown, New York businessmen. They chartered the plane Friday afternoon to fly to Cincinnati to catch a train at 10:50 p.m. for New Orleans.

Powell joined the Vultee Aircraft Division of AVCO in 1936. The July, 1938 issue (volume 1, number 1) of the Vultair, the internal magazine of Vultee Aircraft, provided an abridged biograpy of Powell, below. This article ties together several aspects of Powell's flying life. The sketch of him might have been based on the formal portrait at left, provided by his family.

The Vultair, July, 1938 (Source: Powell Family)
The Vultair, July, 1938 (Source: (Powell Family)

Note mention of Powell flying Harry Richman's Vultee V-1A to a record between Chicago and Miami. Following is a text from aerofiles.com that describes Richman's relationship to Vultee, and a flight he sponsored. His airplane, NC16099, was not a Register airplane.

"Harry Richman, a well-known entertainer of the time, and an aviation enthusiast and part-time pilot, sponsored the first round-trip flight between New York and London. Henry T "Dick" Merrill, chief pilot of Eastern Airlines, would captain the V1-A [NC16099]. Extra fuel tanks and a 1000hp Wright Cyclone with a constant-speed, two-blade prop were installed, and some 41,000 Ping-Pong balls were stowed in the hollow recesses of wings and fuselage—if forced to ditch, the airplane would certainly float! With war looming in Europe, Richman christened the Vultee Lady Peace.

"On Sep 2, 1936 the pair took-off for London. The flight was uneventful until they were 600 miles from landfall, when they were forced to fly through very bad weather for nearly four hours. Eyeing their fuel gage after battling the storm, Merrill wisely decided to land in Llandila, South Wales, some 175 miles west of London. Flying for 18 hours and 36 minutes, they had made the fastest Atlantic crossing to date. The next day they completed their flight to London.

"On Sep 14 they began a return flight from the hard-packed sands at Southport, England. Enroute Richman inadvertently dumped some fuel and, with insufficient fuel to reach New York, Merrill had to land on a soft bog at Musgrave Harbour, Newfoundland. After minor repairs and refueling, a week later they landed in New York. The round-trip flight cost Richman $360,000, and is known in aviation history as the "Ping-Pong Flight."

Around the same time, Powell was partners in a charter operation out of the Grand Central air Terminal (GCAT). Below, a photograph of Powel (left) and his partner in front of GCAT. The sign lists their charter offerings. The airplane they used was named "The Miss Patsy" and was the Lockheed Vega NC7044. The person at right might be Loren L. Miles, who owned 7044. Powell was the manager of the operation. The Honeymoon Express was alluded to in the article above. Compare the architecture of the GCAT building behind them with the photographs exhibited on the home page of the Grand Central Air Terminal Web Site.

Powell Charter Operation, GCAT, Ca. 1936 (Source: Powell Family)

Below is a photograph of NC7044 in profile.

Lockheed Vega, NC7044, "Miss Patsy" (Source: Powell Family)
Lockheed Vega, NC7044, "Miss Patsy" (Source: Powell Family)

The image is actually on the back of his business card, below.

C.E. Powell Business Card, Ca. 1936 (Source: Powell Family)
C.E. Powell Business Card, Ca. 1936 (Source: Powell Family)

 

Clell Powell & Unidentified Vultee, Le Havre de Grace, March, 1937 (Source: Powell Family)
Clell Powell & Unidentified Vultee, March, 1937 (Source: Powell Family)

 

Powell was documented aboard the ship Normandie bound from Le Havre, France to New York City on May 31, 1937. And on the same ship from Southampton to New York on August 11, 1937. His occupation was recorded as "Pilot," but there was no indication of his business in France or England. His address was identified as 1214 Air Way Drive in Glendale, CA, which was near the location of the GCAT. Compare this address with the one on his business card.

The photograph, right, courtesy of his family, and the article above, give clues to his business in France. The photograph was taken in Le Havre de Grace, France in March, 1937. The article states that he, "Instructed Spanish Loyalist pilots and superintended assembling 19 ships for them in France."

C.E. Powell was born February 6, 1901 in Memphis, MO. The 1910 U.S. Census, his first, placed him at age 9 living with his parents in Salt River Township, MO. His father, Robert (37) was a general farmer. His mother, Fannie M. (35) was not employed outside her home. Older brother Glen R. (11; 1898-1983) lived with them. The 1920 Census placed the family living in El Reno, OK. His father was now a house painter. Clell, at 18 was employed as a laborer for the local telephone company.

We can follow Powell from 1921-1927 in local city directories. From the Oklahoma City, OK directory for 1921, he lived at 1211 West 13th Street. He was married to Helen H. Powell (nee: Harkins). The same address appeared for them in the 1922 and 1923 Oklahoma City directories. He was listed as a painter and a mechanic, respectively, in those directories. In 1927, he had moved to Tulsa. The Tulsa, OK directory cited their address as 638 North Cheyenne Avenue. He was a mechanic.

The 1930 Census listed his name as "Ponell." Nevertheless, he was still in Tulsa at 111 North Zunis Avenue and his occupation was coded as airplane mechanic. His household consisted of him (age 29), Helen (29) and daughter, Helen Margaret (7). By 1933, he and his family were moved to Glendale, CA. The 1933 Glendale city directory identified their address as 526A North Orange St. His occupation was cited as "Employee." The 1934 directory listed the same address, but his occupation was "mechanic."

The Los Angeles Times of December 5, 1935 featured an article and photo about daughter Mary Ann Powell. Clell was cited as maintenance superintendent at American Airlines in Los Angeles. They lived at 501 Fairmont Avenue in Glendale. His wife, Helen, was not mentioned in the article, but it appears they were divorced somewhere near this time.

I found no information about what Powell did for fun, or his family life. He had two daughters by 1938, Helen Margaret (16; 1922-2006) and Mary Ann (8), as cited in the first article above. His second wife was identified on the form below as Claire M. Powell.

Powell was killed in an accident in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil January 30, 1939 at 10:30AM. He and his passenger, Jose Zippin, were flying a Vultee V11 GB2 on a training flight. According to the first article above, as of July 1938, Powell was the Vultee representative in Brazil. HIs death was reported officially through the American Consulate on the following form. He suffered grave injuries. His remains were shipped to the U.S. and his personal effects cancelled passport were given to his wife, Claire Marlin Powell (see below).

C.E. Powell, Death Certificate, Brazil, January 1, 1939 (Source: ancestry.com)
C.E. Powell, Death Certificate, Brazil, January 1, 1939 (Source: ancestry.com)

One local newspaper, the Gazeta de Noticias of January 31st published a photograph of the crash site, below.

Gazeta de Noticias, January 31, 1939 (Source: Woodling)
Gazeta de Noticias, January 31, 1939 (Source: Woodling)

The airplane fell into a private home. The text described the resulting fire and sensationalized the pilots' injuries.

The 1940 Census listed the two Powell daughters living in Glendale with grandfather Bayard Harkins, grandmother Helen Harkins, and aunt, Ann Harkins. His wife Claire was not mentioned.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle (NY), August 19, 1935 (Source: Woodling)
Brooklyn Daily Eagle (NY), August 19, 1935 (Source: Woodling)

 

Claire Marllin Powell was a pilot in her own right in the northeast, appearing in local newspapers before her marriage to Powell. The Mount Carmel Item (PA) of May 20, 1935 cited her participation in the 5th Annual Central Pennsylvania Air Meet at the Sunbury airport that included a who's who of Register pilots, including George Haldeman, Frank Hawks, Clarence Chamberlain and Amelia Earhart. Interestingly, an adjoining article reported the death of Lawrence of Arabia in a motorcycle accident.

Also, a couple of articles appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (NY) that described her activities. The first, from August 19, 1935, is at left. Register pilot and global flier Wiley Post and humorist Will Rogers had crashed August 15, 1935, during an aerial tour of Alaska. The flight described was a tribute to the two men.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 3, 1936 (Source: Woodling)
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 3, 1936 (Source: Woodling)

 

The second article, at right, which appeared about a year later, is from August 3, 1936. This article described a meeting of the Women's International Association of Aeronautics (WIAA) held at the Aviation Grill at Floyd Bennett Field. The WIAA was founded in 1929 by Elizabeth McQueen (not a Register pilot), an ardent supporter of women in aviation. The organization is currently inactive.

Below is an engraved, sterling silver bracelet worn by Mrs. Emory Bronte (Martha Edwina Griffith of Terrell, Texas, not a Register pilot). The bracelet, identifying the owner as a resident of San Francisco, CA, is post-1929, because Bronte was engaged to Clover Field Register pilot Marvel Crosson in 1929.

WIAA Braclet Belonging to Mrs. Emory Bronte, Post-1929 (Source: Web)
WIAA Braclet Belonging to Mrs. Emory Bronte, Post-1929 (Source: Web)

 

Powell is signed in no other Registers.

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THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 05/25/17 REVISED: 06/05/17

 
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I'm looking for information and photographs of Powell and his airplane to include on this page. If you have some you'd like to share, please click this FORM to contact me.

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Thanks to Guest Editor Bob Woodling for help researching this page.

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