Navy, Aviation Pioneer to Renew Ties
PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) _ Seventy-five years ago, Forrest Wysong was a 17-year-old boy trying to get off the ground in a homemade glider and the U.S. Navy was buying its first airplane.
Wysong, 92, and the Navy got together in World War I, when he joined up and flew flying boats in France. They are teaming up once again at the Pensacola Naval Air Station this week for the diamond anniversary of the Navy’s air arm.
Comedian Bob Hope is one of the entertainers who will help celebrate the Navy’s anniversary gala Thursday, taping a television special aboard the Pensacola-based aircraft carrier Lexington.
Other entertainers on hand will be ″Miami Vice″ star Don Johnson, actresses Brooke Shields and Elizabeth Taylor, comedian Jonathan Winters and singers Sammy Davis Jr., Mac Davis and Barbara Mandrell.
The Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron, also based in Pensacola, will perform at air shows next Saturday and Sunday.
Wysong will be one of the early aviators participating in the festivities. But his career in the air almost ended before it started when he got his glider airborne in Greensboro, N.C.
″I just stalled the thing out and it nosed over and crashed,″ Wysong said in a recent telephone interview from his Laguna Hills, Calif., home. ″After that I decided what I needed was an engine.″
He got one in 1914 when he was a student at North Carolina State University. He built a biplane, taught himself how to fly it and made 11 flights before graduating with an engineering degree.
He then went to work for the Curtiss Aeroplane Co. in Buffalo, N.Y., joined the New York Naval Militia in 1916 as an instructor pilot, and saw combat in France in 1918.
He claims to have flown a plane off a wooden ramp atop a turret of the battleship Texas long before the days of aircraft carriers.
Navy historian Roy Grossnick in Washington said no documentation has ever been found of that flight, but speculated that the Navy, then distrustful of aviation, may have wanted to keep such an experiment quiet.
Wysong went on to become an aircraft designer for Lockheed and then Douglas Aircraft, retiring in 1960.
Another old aviator, Malcolm Brainard, joined the Navy three years before it got that first airplane. He took to the air during World War I, flying anti-submarine patrols in France.
″It was just one of the jobs and we did it,″ Brainard, 96, said in a telephone interview from Brookings, Ore., where he lives in a nursing home.
″Everybody was anxious,″ he said. ″Everybody had their own bundle of barrel staves to fly in. It was just something new, something to play with.″