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)
The Montana Standard (Butte), September 14, 1930 (Source: Woodling)
There is an active airfield below Wilson's autograph, above. 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?
Wilson suffered an accident as reported in the Billings Gazette, Billings, MT May 27, 1928, below. The airplane he abandoned was not his Pusher.
FLYER LEAPS TO BUSY STREET AS PLANE CRASHES
Hollywood, Cal., May 26.--(AP)--When the propeller fell off his airplane, Al Wilson, stunt flyer and former Canadian army aviator, leaped with his parachute from a height of 4.500 feet and descended in the midst of traffic of Hollywood boulevard Saturday. His disabled plane crashed in the garden of Frank H. Speaman, the novelist, and was wrecked.
Wilson was rushed to a hospital where physicians said he had dislocated his right arm and wrenched his back.
Traffic and business in the entire Hollywood section were paralyzed for half an hour. The flyer, dangling like a fly from the web of his big silk parachute, came swinging out of the fog bank and descended upon the traffic at a busy intersection.
Wilson told police he was flying at 4.500 feet with eight other planes in battle formation for a motion picture when the plane's propeller fell off.
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.
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
Al Wilson, Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 1932 (Source: NASM File)
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.
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, 05/16/16