The Adventures of John Willmott

All photos courtesy of John Willmott

As told by John:

When a was in second year high school, I was thrown out for misusing bombs for my model planes. So rather do than farm work, I went to Roosevelt Field and went to work for Air Associates. That's where I had earlier had my first flight in a Curtiss Challenger back in 1928 when in grade school. I did scut work like cleaning parts and planes until they found out I was an expert wood worker so got raised from $7 a week to $10 building wing ribs and setting them up on the spars. Then they found I could rib stitch so was raised to $12 a week which was man's work and a good salary. Meantime I met Leo Lowe while servicing his planes. He offered me flight lessons and a hamburger and perhaps a buck if we made any money barnstorming.

I soloed in 1932 by "accident" and my second solo flight I became a commercial pilot without a license when I "accidentally" carried 4 kids in the enlarged front cockpit for something between 1 and 2 bucks a head for a 10 to 15 minute flight. Back in 1927 or 1928, I had to pay $2.50 at Roosevelt Aviation.

Later as summer business slowed down, my boss said stay with him if I wanted but that I had better go back to school. "No future barnstorming." Took his advice. Graduated and with my school record of 3 and a 1/2 years high school for a full 75 credits or 15 units and, a first class radio ham license, "hot" at over 40 wpm, and being a sailor, crack shot with rifle and pistol, the USCG grabbed me as a Surfman. I served in the Life Saving Service at Fire Island NY saving lives, defending our coasts, and enforcing the law for $60 a month before the USMC called me a month too late. That was a plus for the petty officer rating at $60 a month rather than a Marine Corps in boot camp pulling only $21 a month. As an AS, I'd have been an AS's ass Apprentice Seaman or buck private, not a Surfman.

Whenever a "new" or old "recruit" showed up in or applying to the USN or USMC, he or she was offered AS or Apprentice Seaman at $21 a month until evaluated for retention as AS, transfer or assignment, at a rating or rank according to one's capabilities at their sole discretion.

Early on, I put in for the radio school at Ft. Trumbull, New London and after a glorious 6 months I was sent there. I graduated and went to sea as a Radioman 3d Class at the same pay of $60 a month and up to a dollar a day subsistence depending upon the station. After 3 years, I was offered USCG cadet at Pensacola to learn flying the seaplanes or to a top honcho in the communication and electronic automation section in the Lighthouse Service ordered by Roosevelt to be taken over largely for automation by the USCG. Instead, I went to fly for Pan Am on the Clippers out of Miami, then NY at North Beach (La Guardia), and Port Washington, LI.

I went to Miami in 1938 to fly as a Pan American Flight Radio Officer (FRO), and continued buying flight time in a 28hp Cessna 2C for 2 bucks to 3 bucks an hour. After transfer to NY, I made first FRO on first direct flight of Boeing 314, North Beach Marine Terminal (La Guardia) to San Juan, PR, in 1940. Here I am with the Boeing at the dock behind me.

I am forever proud of my three years in the USCG and my Honorable Discharge as I am also of my service flying the PBM and PB2Y3R Coronados for the USNR before being requisitioned by the USAAC-ATC for their new C-54 trans-Atlantic service to replace the seaplanes which had been essentially the only way to Europe other than swimming or by slow boat!

I also flew for Atlantic Airways Ltd. That story is on the Web here.

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