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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.

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This information comes from the biographical file for pilot Wilson, CW-707000-01, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC.

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An excellent reference for Hollywood stunt pilots is:

Wynne. Hugh H. 1987. The Motion Picture Stunt Pilots and Hollywood's Classic Aviation Movies. Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., Missoula, MT. 184 pp. ISBN 0-933126-85-9.

There are numerous pictures of Al Wilson in Wynne's book.

Al Wilson has a fairly good web presence.  Google "Al Wilson" +aviation and you’ll get about 2,300 hits as of the upload date of this page.

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A public domain silent movie, "Won in the Clouds" is viewable in its entirety at the link. It features Al Wilson as Art Blake, pilot, daredevil, lover. The film includes Curtiss Jenny aerobatics and classic plane-to-plane transfers (without parachutes!) characteristic of the era. The link for this movie is pointed out to us by Dan Cahill. Thanks, Dan!

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ALBERT P. "AL" WILSON

Albert P. “Al” Wilson was a Hollywood movie stunt pilot (see the bottom of the left sidebar to view a 1928 silent movie of his early work).  In fact, we should say more about that.  He learned to fly at Venice Flying Field, CA circa 1914, using the Shiller School Bleriot machines.  He was one of the first to learn the trade of flying stunts.  He is credited with being the first “professional” motion picture stunt pilot, and he was the first member of a group that later became the Associated Motion Picture Pilots (AMPP). A brief bio is available here (scroll down that page a little).

Wilson was born in Kentucky in 1895.  Up to and through WWI Wilson was a civilian flight instructor and movie pilot.  In 1917 he flew a Bleriot for an aviation sequence in Cecil B. DeMille’s “We Can’t Have Everything.”  He and his brother designed wind machines, with an aircraft propeller attached to an automobile engine, which they also rented to movie sets to produce wind, sand and snowstorms.  Interestingly, DeMille wanted to join the military and be a pilot, so he hired Wilson to teach him to fly at Venice.  By the time he learned to fly, however, the war was over.

Not to worry.  DeMille established Mercury Aviation Company during 1919 on 40 acres of leased land.  He appointed Wilson Vice President and General Manager.  Mercury Aviation hired pilots and offered instruction, charter, advertising flights and sight-seeing rides.  “DeMille Field” quickly developed into a center for aviation for the movie industry, too.  An excellent resource for the movie pilot story is in the reference by Wynne cited in the left sidebar.

Although he was a founder of the AMPP, he drifted in and out of favor with the organization.  One particular incident involved disbarment from the organization for abandoning an airplane and leaving a mechanic in it to crash to the ground.  As reported in the New York Times of Sunday May 12, 1929, Wilson departed the airplane via parachute from 6,000 feet while the mechanic, Phil Jones, operating smoke pots for a movie, was left behind, “unaware of the fact that the pilot had jumped.” An image of Wilson during his movie days is here at the Charles Cooper Photograph and Document Collection.

Below, a sharp photograph of Wilson and his airplane autographed for Register pilot Jim Granger on February 29, 1928. His airplane, N3378, is a Timm-built replica made in 1927 of a 1911 Curtiss Pusher.  Please direct your browser to Granger's page for photo credit.

Al Wilson and N3378, February 29,1928 (Source: Granger)
Al Wilson and N3378, February 29,1928 (Source: Granger)

 

The Montana Standard (Butte), September 14, 1930 (Source: Woodling)

 

 

 

There is an active airfield below Wilson's autograph. Site visitor and Santa Monica resident Marc Norman identifies the airfield as Clover Field. Compare the aerial photograph at the link with the one above and you'll find the similarities. You'll also be able to notice some differences between this image, made in 1928, and the one at the link taken only five years later in 1933. Note the pencil lines inscribed at the edges of this photograph. For framing or cropping?

Al Wilson attended the National Air Races (NAR) at Chicago during September, 1930. He flew his Pusher during the NAR in a routine designed to please the crowd. The article, left, from The Montana Standard of September 14, 1930 cites Wilson's intention to fly his Pusher from Chicago back to Los Angeles. We find him doing just that when he arrived at Tucson from Wilcox, AZ, landing on September 28, 1930. He stayed two days and departed northbound on the 30th for Phoenix. He was on his way from Chicago to Los Angeles on what had to be one of the more grueling cross-country flights of the Golden Age. To fly this airplane across the country must have been monumentally exhausting. Just think of the engine noise and being battered by a constant wind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The image below is from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 1932, which covered the 1932 National Air Races (see below). Follow this link and this link for more images of Wilson and his airplane on this site.

Al Wilson, Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 1932 (Source: NASM File)
Al Wilson

Three years later Wilson’s life crossed another of our Register pilots, John Miller.  Al Wilson and John worked together as air show pilots.  They staged mock dogfights between John's autogiro (NC10781) and Al's modified Curtiss Pusher. At the finish of their show during the 1932 Cleveland Air Races, John landed at the circle in front of the viewing stand and, as the autogiro's blades continued to turn, Al "buzzed" him. The Pusher entered the downdraft of the autogiro blades, struck them, nosed to the ground and crashed (see other photos at Miller’s link).

Wilson died of head injuries two days later. The show and the crash are well documented in the Cleveland Plain Dealer of September 4 ( "PUSHER PILOT HURT IN SPILL AT RACES: Al Wilson in Hospital; Two in Autogyro [sic] Escape as Craft Mix in Stunt"), and September 6 ("WILSON, HURT IN 1910 PLANE, DIES"). As well, the accident was captured on film and is available on video as “Pylon Dusters: 1932 and 1938 Air Races”. A segment of that movie of the dogfight and crash (1 minute; 35 seconds long) is at the MOTION PICTURES page on dmairfield.org.

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Dossier 2.1.168

THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 01/29/07 REVISED: 10/31/07, 11/13/07, 03/14/08, 10/18/08, 01/12/10, 11/28/13

 
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Below, a copy of a barnstormer poster featuring "Royal" Wilson. Al was his nickname. The year was probably 1920 or 1926. Both years when October 10 fell on a Sunday.
Al Wilson, Barnstorming Advertisement, Date Unknown
 
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