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Man's conquest of the air?
The site of Howard Hughes' 1946 plane crash site in Beverly Hills, California.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – On July 7, 1946, “famous flyer and sportsman” Howard Hughes was seriously injured in an experimental-plane crash in a Beverly Hills, California neighborhood as he attempted to crash-land on a golf course at the adjacent Los Angeles Country Club, according to a 1946 newsreel titled “Hughes Plane Crash.”

Hughes was flying a prototype of the U.S. Army Air Force’s reconnaissance aircraft, the XF-11. Problems began with the motor shortly after takeoff and in the crash, noted in the film The Aviator, Hughes suffers burns and broken bones.

Film actor Dennis O’Keefe (The Fighting Seabees) is shown in the newsreel inspecting damage at the plane crash site, which was the home of Lt. Col. Charles E. Meyer, chief interpreter of the Nuremburg War Trials, involving Nazis.

Interestingly, both Hughes and O’Keefe were both born in Lee County, Iowa (Hughes in Keokuk and O’Keefe in Fort Madison) a little more than two years apart (Hughes in 1905 and O’Keefe in 1908). My mom’s side of the family has ties to this corner of Iowa and the bordering area of northeastern Missouri. And the last time I was in Hughes’ hometown of Keokuk – on May 14, 1984 – Rooskie chasing President Ronald Reagan (a former actor) presented pop singer Michael Jackson with an award for giving his song “Beat It” to an anti-drunk driving campaign. I recall laughing out loud of the absurdity of the encounter as I watched the news coverage in the motel room with my family.

In a Los Angeles Times story following the calamitous crash of the Hughes aircraft, O’Keefe is reported to have “witnessed the entire episode from his home at 802 N. Linden Drive” and that the XF-11 was “flying at an extremely low altitude, judging from the sound of the approaching engines.” One wonders if O’Keefe thought it strange that a fellow Lee Countian was crossing his path in the oddest of ways?

The 1946 newsreel ends with the narrator saying with a tone of triumphalism: “America’s aviation trailblazers willingly pay the price in man’s conquest of the air.”

Fast-forward nearly 69 years and a film actor Harrison Ford (who was just about to turn four years old the day Hughes crashed his plane), best known for his roles as Nazi-battling archaeologist/adventurer Indiana Jones and Millennium Falcon pilot Han Solo in the Star Wars franchise was flying a World War II-vintage airplane on Thursday and experienced engine failure.

Ford, an expert pilot managed to crash land the aircraft, a Ryan PT-22 Recruit, on the Penmar Golf Course in Santa Monica, approximately 8 miles from the Los Angeles Country Club where Hughes tried to crash his plane all those years earlier.

Harrison, who played a president in Air Force One (1997),  also played the role of Jack Ryan in film adaptations of Tom Clancy’s political thrillers Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. He was later in the 2013 film 42, about African-American baseball player Jackie Robinson (#42) during the mid-1940’s and the racism and challenges and successes Robinson experienced – this, all during the time that Hughes was developing – and later crashed – the XF-11.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the Ford crash, hot on the heels of Dust Devil Dreams noting that the NTSB this week said they would likely take a close look at the February 1959 plane crash that killed rock n’ roll pioneers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson in a rural area near Clear Lake Iowa, approximately 250 miles north of Lee County, Iowa. I wrote about it this week in my piece "Buddy Holly's ghost."

And, here we are a year-to-the-week later following the disappearance of MH370, the Malaysian airliner, and some in the Russophobic media are trying to spin a conspiracy suggesting that Russia' Vladimir Putin hijacked the plane somehow and flew it to Kazakhstan.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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