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Leo Terletzky, Ca. 1938 (Source: Clipper Link)
Leo Terletzky, Ca. 1938 (Source: Site Visitor)

Leo Terletzky landed twice at Tucson. Both times he flew the Waco GXE NC5850. His first visit was on Tuesday, September 4, 1928 and the second on Friday, September 21, 1928. Terletzky carried passenger Roland Chilton both times. Chilton owned the airplane. Based in New Jersey, they were westbound and eastbound, respectively, on those to dates. The National Air Races (NAR) took place in Los Angeles, CA between those two dates, so, at face value, it is a good guess that they were on their way to spend a couple of weeks on the west coast enjoying the NAR.


In fact, thanks to Guest Editor Bob Woodling, we have documentation that this was the case. The news articles below, from the New Orleans (LA) Times-Picayune of September 21, 1928, and left below, from the Salt Lake City (UT) Tribune of September 21, 1928, headlined "Overland Fliers Finish First Lap," places Terletzky and his Waco as competitors in the eastbound race from Los Angeles to Cincinnati, OH. Portrait, right, courtesy of the Clipper link in the right sidebar.



New Orleans (LA) Times-Picayune, September 21, 1928 (Source: Woodling)
New Orleans (LA) Times-Picayune, September 21, 1928 (Source: Woodling)


Salt Lake City (UT) Tribune, September 21, 1928 (Source: Woodling)
Salt Lake City (UT) Tribune, September 21, 1928 (Source: Woodling)



The datelines of the newspapers above and to the left agree perfectly with the date of Terletzky's eastbound landing at Tucson, identified above. Note the departure delay from Los Angeles due to fog and smoke from an oil well fire.


Terletzky's pilot license for 1930 is below.

Leo Terletzky Pilot License, February 13, 1930 (Source: Clipper Link)


Terletzky enjoyed a small role in the overthrow of Cuban dictator Gerardo Machado in August, 1933. His feat was informally summarized in a brief piece in a Pan American newsletter as follows.

Sometimes, Pan Am's missions were of the can't-refuse variety.

Days after an August 1933 revolution ousted Cuban dictator Gerardo Machado, a friend of Trippe's who once had a Clipper aircraft named after him, Capt. Leo Terletzky, prepared to pilot a Pan Am flight from Havana to Miami.

Takeoff was delayed when a most-wanted Machado associate sneaked into the Pan Am dock by reportedly hiding under his wife's skirt in a taxi and bribing his way onto the Clipper. A Pan Am manager demanded the ex-Cuban official disembark, declaring the American-flag airline "couldn't be involved in a revolution," but the Machado crony brandished a revolver and threatened to shoot if anyone dared to drag him away.

At that point, Terletzky took the controls and flew the seaplane out of Havana as a mob of anti-Machado vigilantes opened fire, and bullets just missed the captain and the fuel tanks. The plane arrived safely in Miami, where the Cuban expatriate rewarded Terletzky by giving him his gold watch.


Terletzky's pilot log book for August 13th captured the flights to and from Havana. The cover, below, is of that log book.

Leo Terletzky Pilot Log Book, August-September, 1933 (Source: Clipper Link)
Leo Terletzky Pilot Log Book, August-September, 1933 (Source: Clipper Link)






The log page that documented the actual flights is below. His flights for August 12th appear near the middle of the page. He flew a round trip from Miami to Havana that day.

Leo Terletzky Pilot Log Book, August-September, 1933 (Source: Clipper Link)
Leo Terletzky Pilot Log Book, August-September, 1933 (Source: Clipper Link)

The Remarks column of his book, however, is enlarged below. Terletzky noted, "Brought Ferrara from Havana, plane shot 10 times."

Leo Terletzky Pilot Log Book, August-September, 1933 (Source: Clipper Link)
Leo Terletzky Pilot Log Book, August-September, 1933 (Source: Clipper Link)


Trenton (NJ) Sunday Times-Advertiser, August 13, 1933 (Source: Woodling)
Trenton (NJ) Sunday Times-Advertiser, August 13, 1933 (Source: Woodling)



At right, an article that appeared in the Trenton (NJ) Sunday Times-Advertiser for August 13, 1933. It represents one of the numerous media pieces documenting Terletzky, flying a Pan Am Clipper, enduring gunfire, escaping from Cuba with then besieged Secretary of State Dr. Orestes Ferrara and his wife on board. That Ferrara was challenged to, and accepted, a duel in Miami shows up as being very curious today.

Much of Terletzky's Web presence focuses on his flight with the Secretary of State, and a Clipper tragedy that happened with him at the controls on July 29, 1938 somewhere between Guam and Manilla in the Pacific.

On that day, Terletzky carried 15 people on a commercial flight on the Hawaii Clipper, a Martin 130 flying boat, from Alameda, CA to Manila by way of Honolulu, Midway, Wake and Guam. It was the 229th accident free mission by a Pan Am Clipper.

The last known position of the Clipper was 600 miles east of Manila. Circumstances of the loss remain a mystery to this day, even after a contemporary search that was the largest sea and air rescue attempt ever undertaken in Pacific waters, in near perfect weather. Hope was held out when an oil slick was discovered by one of the search ships. Samples were taken to California, but were found, via chemical analysis, not to be aviation related. Unfortunately, the accident occurred in an area of the Pacific with known depths of 5,000 fathoms, thus precluding any sort of bottom exploration. Register pilot Sumpter Smith was an advisory member of the CAA board that investigated the disappearance of the Hawaii Clipper.

A book was published in 2000 by Edgar A. Haine entitled "Disaster in the Air" that goes into the details of the loss of the Hawaii Clipper. Notice of Terletzky's passing was noted in the Journal of Aeronautical Sciences as follows.

Leo Terletzky, a Pilot Member of the Institute, was captain of the Hawaii Clipper, lost over the Pacific Ocean on July 30, 1938.

Mr. Terletzky was born in Samara, Russia, on Feb. 1, 1895. He was a naturalized United States citizen. He was graduated from the gymnasium in Samara, Russia, and. after his immigra­tion to this country, was a student in the Liberal Arts College at New York University.

In 1929, Mr. Terletzky became associated with Pan American Airways, Inc., as air line pilot. For the past two years he had been captain of one of the Trans-Pacific Clippers on regular flight duty between Alameda, California, and Hong Kong, China.

The New York Times, July 30, 1938, published an extensive review of the crew, passengers and routes of the Clipper. I have no information about Terletzky's personal life. If you can help, please let me KNOW. Below he appears at leisure.

Leo Terletzky at Leisure, Date & Location Unknown (Source: Clipper Link)



THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 12/11/12 REVISED: 09/08/16

The Register

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


Some of these images are courtesy of Flagship Films, which is developing a documentary about the disappearance of the Hawaii Clipper. Terletzky and the Hawaii Clipper disappeared in the Pacific abot 600 miles east of Manila, Philippine Islands, on July 29, 1938.

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