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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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http://www.cafepress.com/content/global/img/spacer.gifThe Congress of Ghosts is an anniversary celebration for 2010.  It is an historical biography, that celebrates the 5th year online of www.dmairfield.org and the 10th year of effort on the project dedicated to analyze and exhibit the history embodied in the Register of the Davis-Monthan Airfield, Tucson, AZ. This book includes over thirty people, aircraft and events that swirled through Tucson between 1925 and 1936. It includes across 277 pages previously unpublished photographs and texts, and facsimiles of personal letters, diaries and military orders. Order your copy at the link, or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author.  ISBN 978-0-9843074-4-9.

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There is no biographical file for pilot Lewis in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington, DC.

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Joe Lewis

"Honeymoon Joe"

Joe Lewis was born in September 1897 and died September 21, 1938 when he flew too low at an airshow during the performance of an outside loop.  His general biography is presented, followed by a collection of 49 images from the Golden Age of Aviation. These images, while related to the Davis-Monthan Register only because they belonged to Pilot Lewis, provide insight into the people and machines of the era.

He was typical of the successful aviation entrepreneurs of the Golden Age.  He translated his passion for flying into the business of aviation, working at all the variations of the trade, through good economic times and bad. Lewis owned a Curtiss JN4D that landed at Tucson, although not piloted by him. Please direct your browser to 2694.

Joe Lewis, Date Unknown
Joe Lewis

Joe Lewis landed at Tucson once on March 19, 1928 flying OX-5 Travel Air NC2927.  He carried one passenger, Don Lay.  They were westbound from Lordsburg, NM to Long Beach, CA.  According to the Register they were in a hurry, as they landed at 10:20AM and departed at 10:50, barely enough time to gas up and use the facilities.

His Travel Air landed twice at Tucson, however.  The second time it was flown by Eloise Burns, one of 41 female pilots to sign the Register.  She landed on October 25, 1929 westbound from El Paso, TX to Los Angeles.  She carried one unidentified passenger.  They remained overnight, departing the next day at 8:30AM.

I have only two images of NC2927 (see the other further below).  It is tempting to identify the woman standing in front of it as Ms. Burns, but according to Mr. Back there was no caption on the photograph.  Site contributor John Underwood states the following possibility, "Joe had a sister by the name of Bernadine Lewis King who decided to take up flying with her husband, a wealthy rancher, c. 1932.    They soon had an Eaglerock and then a Stinson.   I forget who taught them, but it wasn't Joe.    Later, Joe taught her aerobatics in a Fleet and she was very good.... until she too got too close to the ground, probably flying inverted, which was her specialty.   That was after Joe was killed, possibly in 1940 or '41." From photographs he has seen, Mr. Underwood hypothesizes that the woman might be Lewis' sister. If anyone recognizes the pilot, please let me KNOW.

NC2927 & Eloise Burns (?) ca. 1929
NC2927

Joe Lewis was an intrepid entrepreneur who barnstormed, performed aerobatics at air shows, did movie work and was President of Lewis Air Service at Union Air Terminal, Burbank, CA.  At its peak, his Air Service employed three pilots, six airplanes, two mechanics and a helper. According to his nephew, Mr. Lewis had several women working as pilots for him off and on. He was ahead of the social curve at a time when sexism in aviation was rampant.

He was known on the air show circuit for flying upside down very low to the ground (ten feet), and very fast (150MPH).  His skills were characterized in a contemporary newspaper (Willows, CA) account as, “…more like a great bird soaring over head than like a piece of machinery with a man at its wheel….”

Lewis Air Service performed charter and air taxi service to points throughout the U.S.  He specialized in carrying eloping couples to Las Vegas and Yuma for quickie weddings.  His so-called “Planelopement” charters were well-subscribed.  He is cited as follows in an article in Popular Aviation, October, 1937:

“The Lewis Air Service – Joe Lewis and two youthful but highly trained transport pilots in his employ – chalks up thousands of miles of cross-country flying each year in the active charter business Lewis directs.

“A stroll along the apron at the Union Air Terminal at any hour of the day or night is liable to bring you alongside a Lewis plane warming up for a flight to far places.

“A goodly portion of his traffic is of a type that has brought the short, stocky Lewis more than a little good-natured ribbing from his fellow airmen.  They call him ‘Cupid’ and ;Love’s Little Messenger’ and ‘Honeymoon Joe’ and accuse him jokingly of getting ‘rates’ from scores of Nevada and Arizona ministers and marrying justices.

“You’ve guessed it – elopers have found Lewis and his pilots always ready for those aerial jaunts to nearby Gretna Greens.  Mary Astor and Manuel del Campo; James Ellison and Gertrude Durkin’ Harry Joe Brown and Sally Eilers; Phillip Karlstein and Dixie Martin; Manly Danforth and Evelyn Hand, and Howard Lang and Vicki Astlett are a few of the prominent motion picture couples that flew to Yuma with Joe Lewis at the airplane controls.”

On January 18, 1937, upon return to California after her service, a local newspaper described Ms. Astor, “Dressed in a black dress and shoes, a mink fur coat, and wearing a blue ribbon on her auburn hair, [she] stepped from Lewis’ ship and asked immediately for a cigarette.”  She then asked a woman reporter to lend her some lipstick.  Image, below, is from that news article, presumably after she borrowed the lipstick, but still wearing the mink..

Joe Lewis & Mary Astor
Joe Lewis & Mary Astor

Another of Lewis Air Service's satisfied customers: the Danforths..

Manly Danforth and Evelyn Hand, Date Unknown
Danforth and Hand

In the same Popular Aviation article cited above, Lewis provides the following table of cost comparisons between airline and charter flights from Los Angeles to various cities.

Airline vs. Charter Rates
Airline vs. Charter Rates

Lewis Air Service also gave flight instruction and local rides.  George O’Brien and Cecelia Parker, movie stars, came to the Lewis Air Service when they wanted background for a series of aviation publicity pictures.  They became interested in the Lewis Ryan and Lewis made them regular customers by giving them a ride. Sadly, this airplane, a Ryan ST-A, was the airplane in which Lewis was killed at Modesto, CA on September 21, 1938.

George O'Brien, Cecelia Parker, Joe Lewis, Date Unknown
George, Cecelia, Joe

One of his airplanes, a Lockheed Vega, was modified as an air ambulance, with bed, medical supplies and room for a patient, doctor and nurse as well as the pilot.  With a range of 900 miles it was advertised as being able to transport patients just about anywhere in the country.

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The 49 images below also come to us from Mr. Back. The airplanes and people, except for Pilot Lewis, have no known connection with the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register. However, we include them because the airplanes either belonged to Mr. Lewis or the Lewis Flying Service (below, et seq.), or we hope someone in global Web land will be able to identify some of the people and let us KNOW who they are. There are no dates on the images.

Below, eleven images of Ryan 6584 with and without people standing by. It is not cited in the Register. The Ryan is in Lewis Flying Service livery and named "Spirit of St. Louis". Like many Ryan aircraft built after the "Spirit", it was dubbed the "sister ship" of Lindbergh's airplane.

Ryan 6584
Ryan 6584

The location of this image, identified by the storage tank in the background, is Long Beach, CA. The Rehbock hangar was owned at one time by Register pilot Paul T. Adams?

Ryan 6584
Ryan 6584

 

 

Ryan 6584
Ryan 6584

 

Ryan 6584
Ryan 6584

 

Ryan 6584  
Ryan 6584

 

Ryan 6584
Ryan 6584

 

Ryan 6584
Ryan 6584

 

Ryan 6584
Ryan 6584

 

Ryan 6584
Ryan 6584

 

Ryan 6584
Ryan 6584

Image, below, shows the same women as the image above.

Ryan 6584
Ryan 6584

Below, another image of NC2927 with Eloise Burns (?), date unknown.

NC2927
NC2927

 

Lewis 03

Below, identified by a site visitor, is an Arrow "Sport" powered by a 5 cyl. LeBlond.

Lewis 04

Below, five in-air shots. Locations unknown. The first image looks like it was taken either from a wing- mounted camera or by a fellow pilot in close formation. From the aileron deflection, the last two images are during a violent maneuver, perhaps a roll. Your challenge for the day: Figure out the roll direction!

Lewis 26

 

Lewis 05

 

Lewis 20

 

 

Lewis 08

 

Lewis 14

Below, unknown pilot. Aircraft looks like NC2927.

Lewis 01

 

Lewis 06

 

Lewis 07

Below, identified by a site visitor, is an Arrow "Sport" powered by a 5 cyl. LeBlond. Appears to be the same as image 04, above.

Lewis 09

 

Lewis 10

 

Lewis 11

 

Lewis 18

Below, NC6488 is not cited in the Davis-Monthan Register.

Lewis 28

 

Lewis 12

 

Lewis 13

Below, an interesting aerial shot above the clouds with a mountain in the background. The airplane is NC531 or NC53V, neither of which are cited in the Register. Could be the same Arrow "Sport" powered by a 5 cyl. LeBlond as images 04 and 09, above.

Lewis 15

 

Lewis 16

Below, a formal portrait of Joe Lewis, date unknown.

Lewis 17

 

Lewis 19

Below, Earl Daugherty. Follow the link to see more images and read his biography.

Earl Daugherty

 

Lewis 22

 

Lewis 23

 

Lewis 24

 

Lewis 25

Below, an unidentified wreck.

Lewis 27

 

Lewis 33

 

Lewis 34

 

Lewis 29

 

Lewis 30

 

Lewis 31

 

Lewis 32

 

Lewis 35

 

Lewis 36

 

Lewis 38

Below is an image of Joe Lewis' first airplane, which, according to family legend was built in his grandmother's barn. Date unknown.

Lewis 39

Dossier 2.1.172

UPLOADED: 03/27/07 REVISED: 03/30/07, 01/24/08, 03/26/08, 11/13/08

 
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YOU HELPED!

All the images and information on this page come from Bill Back, nephew of Joe Lewis, who contacted me through the Web site.

If you have any questions about Mr. Lewis or the images, you may contact Mr. Back at the following email address (you need to type it into your email engine):

 

 
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