A restored F4U-4 Corsair in Korean
War-era U.S. Marine Corps markings
UACI / ONA - JIM PEARSON
Jim Pearson was the bridge between Steedman Hinckley and the hiring of
Air America pilots who flew with UACI / ONA, since they were well
used to flying in difficult environments.
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25 May 2015 ONA doc 2.
Jim Pearson Bio Sketch Second Chapter
The Beginning of my Aviation Career
Upon release from the USMC in Wash DC 02 Jan 1956 I immediately drove to Miami, Florida and
reported in to Embry Riddle School of Aviation and then went over the U of M and checked into the
dormitory. It would be a couple weeks before the University commenced classes so I spend some time
checking out in the Piper J-3 Cub. To log the necessary hours for the Commercial Pilot rating would take
some time. As the courses at the U of M and Embry Riddle were coordinated we flew early in the
morning and had classes at the U late morning and the classes in Aviation subjects two hours In the
When the first semester was over in June I drove up to my home state of Delaware and got a summer
job at the airport in the adjacent town 9 miles away. I worked in the hanger on aircraft and as I had my
Private rating the owner let me fly local flights with passengers. Also as he had some chemicals left over
from spraying and dusting operations he would accumulate them and then let me dust and spray his
fields to get experience. Then he wanted me to promise to return next summer to work for him as a
pilot. Anything to build time. He liked me because I was small and only weighed 140 pounds. This way
he could load another hundred pounds of seed per load in the seeding season.
On return to Florida I had enough GI Bill funds due to having the 40 hours to start off with so I drove
down to Brown’s airport in South Miami and enrolled in a flight instructor course. At the end of the
second semester I had my commericial pilot rating my instrument rating and my Flight instructor rating.
The owner/manager, Mary Tracy Gafney wanted me to start as a Flight Instructor for her flying school.
Mary was a US champion Aerobatics flyer. I gave my promise to go back up to Delaware and fly, so I
honored my word. Then the guy wanted me to stay and fly through the end of November to complete
the seeding season. I felt as it cost $ 2000.00 for the last semester at the U and obtaining my multi
engine rating I would save the funds and enroll in a two year college in Dover, Delaware. Bad move.
Met a girl! Felt sorry for her for some reason and her mother and father were on me almost begging me
to take her off their hands??? Good recommendation for not getting married. Thought I should go to
Purdue and complete my education and then get married, but caved in thinking about how to drive back
east from Lafayette, Indiana and came up with no way. As I was crop dusting in the summer and looking
around for work I wanted to be mobile, so purchased a 35 ft. house trailer to live in while at school, then
tow it back east during the summers or where ever work could be found. Worse decision. Was offered
a job by my Geology professor flying his company aircraft and working as a budding Geologist. This way
I could analyze the rocks in my head.
Went back east and was hired by a big food producer in the area and flew his Stinson back and forth
from Milford, Delaware to Ft Detrick, Md. He was based there in the US Army and came home on the
Weekends in his private aircraft. So I ended up crop dusting for his agricultural operation and flying him
around the area. Flew up to New York City and saw My Fair Lady, Flew him over to Atlantic City for the
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evening. Flew out to Minnesota to visit friends. Not really much, but it contributed to my experience
and logged hours Then he wanted me to go out to Walla Walla, Washington and pick up a 450 Stearman
with high lift wings to spray his crops. Actually ended up going to Miami where the plane had been
transferred to and flew it up to Delaware and began pruning trees. The first operator I flew for in the J-
3 cubs gave me two words of advice when I began spraying or him. He said, Never Look Back and
remember; The farmers do not come out the cemetery and place flowers on your grave. Good advice.
I only violated it once and my first real prang job. I was spraying a group of small fields and planned on
making my last pass on this field and pulling up over a small group of trees and diving into the field on
the other side. I noticed on inspection of the field the day before that there were phone lines running
diagonally across the field about 15 feet high at the bottom of the catenary. No sweat I can fly under
them. Dove into the field after my pull up off the previous field and when I pushed the nose down I
could see I was not lined up. I also learned. Never ever turn into a stationary object as it is hard to
realize how much a plane side slips and must be banked away from the object to keep from impacting a
stationary object. So as I was cogitation this situation I looked over my left shoulder to study the
situation while my trusty aircraft was mindlessly plowing through the ozone by itself. I was jolted out of
my revere by a big BANG and was slammed into my shoulder harness. I immediately jammed the
throttle full open and pulled back on the stick and as I looked forward I could see a steady stream of tree
branches nicely cut up streaming over the left wing. I had tree tops slamming up against the upper right
wing causing a dented leading edge. The right lower wing had the leading edge smashed flat against the
spar and numerous tree branches sticking from the bottom up through the top of the wing, same on the
left side. The Pratt Whitney up front was putting out its full 450 hours power and the prop was howling.
I looked back and the tail was totally encased in tree branches. At this time I was still tip toing through
the tops of the trees making them slightly shorter when I hear a slosh sound, smelled chemicals and the
aircraft shot up out of the grip of the trees…. Took a swift assessment of the damage and decided she
was still flying and I still had about five acres to do, so I swung around and dove back into the field and
smartly turned on the chemical pump only to notice the valve was somewhat limp. Then the lite came
on. When the trees brushed by the bottom of the fuselage, they broke open the dump valve and
released all remaining chemical from the plane giving me just enough boost to get out of the drag of the
trees that were pulling me into disaster. I pulled up and decided to fly back to an airport where I could
get maintenance about 50 miles away.
On arrival the flying forest was causing quit a hit. We stripped her off and inspected the engine only to
find 4 spark leads were torn off and two spark plugs were broken off in the engine. All of the cylinders
had pine needles packed in them and branches were in the accessory section. We did not notice it at
first but one of the engine bolts were broken off. I told them to tape up the tree damage to the wings,
fill the gas and oil then we will load her up and go back and finish the job. We taped up the torn fabric.
Took off agan holding the stick over to the side to keep the wings level and finished the field then flew
back to the airport and had the plane maintained.
By now due to marriage and a family beginning to happen Purdue was out….Decided to move up to
Middletown, Delaware and work for Kippy DuPont. He was in my class at Embry Riddle He wanted me
to work for him Crop Dusting and instructing. So I drove up to Newark, Del enrolled and went home
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with $0.10 in my pocket. On my first day in Calculus class I met a guy that told me the Bank of Del was
looking for guys to work in the check clearing office running IBM check clearing machines from 1800 to
0600 in the morning. When was I going to study?? Never mind I did not have to funds to buy text
books. Really makes Calculus and Physics easy didn’t do bad until the mid term the had to go out and
look at the room number again. Thought I was in the wrong room. Decided to only take Calculus the
second term at night school. With the Bank job during the evenings the U of Delaware allowed me to
take the course in the day time. I managed to buy a Aeronca 7AC and do a little of flight instruction on
the side and got a small contract with the state to do aerial survey work. I was still smarting from not
obtaining a Multi Engine rating. I was doing some ad hoc work for an outfit up in Pennsylvania and they
checked me out on a Piper Apache so I could do some work on the side for them. I notice a Bamboo
Bomber sitting so forlornly on their ramp and fell in love with it. Great Airplane, Crash, Burn and Cool of
in two minutes. While flying it back down to Delaware I notice with great displeasure the rate at witch
the two fuel gages raced each other to see who became empty first. I did not make enough money to
fill the tanks so I put five bucks worth in each time I got paid. Saw the tanks full only once. Flew it back
down state to Jenkins airport and got Joe to give me some legal twin engine time and a
recommendation for my twin engine rating for the FAA. Got the FAA examiner to fly with me and all he
could say was please be careful, please be careful. I think he was scared of the plane. Of course I was
slowly beginning to find out that lack of fear was not bravery on my part but stupidity. To dumb to
know when to quit.
Finally, another of my friends from Embry Riddle knew Kippy DuPont and came down to visit. He said
Jim Capital Airways is hiring right now. Go over to Wilmington and apply. So I did and much to my
surprise I got hired and began flying a Curtiss C-46F as a First Officer. They were converted military
aircraft that met all the FAA certification requirements for Transport Category. Flying the C46 for Capital
Airways on Logair flights I managed to get experience in all parts of the US except the south west. When
I started I was blessed. I began flying with a frustrated instructor as a Captain. He flew the first leg in
the left seat then he let me fly from the right seat the remainder of the six legs. The next day he flew in
the right seat and let me fly the entire flight from the left side and every flight after that. He told me to
study and take the Airline Transport Rating test. I did and it was the best advice I ever received. When I
read the questions on the exam I could hear the controllers speaking to me. The test was a piece of
cake. The I got the usual notice after working for about six months. Due to reduction in contracts you
will be furloughed ….. I was really broken hearted. I loved that airplane.
Furloughed, what to do. Think. Think. Think! I always wanted to fly for General Chennault. Of course
the Flying Tiger days were long gone. I remembered while at the U of M studying Airline Operation that
all International scheduled airlines had to file their tariffs in the Official Airline Guide. Now where to
access one of these book. I wanted to find if Gen Chennault’s airline was listed. Allegheny airlines had
and stop in Harrisburg, Pa about 100 miles north. I had been flying USAF Logair flights out of the military
airport at Harrisburg.. Called Allegheny and asked the man on the counter if he had an OAG Guide
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there. He said yes. I asked him if he could kindly help me find Gen Chennault’s airline I thought its name
was China Air Transport. He said no there was no China Air Transport and I was very disappointed.
Then he said do you have a few minutes to wait I am interested in this. So I cheered up and said yes. He
there is no China Air Transport, but there is a Civil Air transport 46 Chung Shan Road, North Second
Section, Taipei, Taiwan….I almost jumped out of my skin. That’s it. He read off the address in Taiwan
and the address in Washington, DC and gave me their phone number….Could not thank him enough.
Jumped on the phone and called 411 what city? Wash DC, what number I told her and click!!I a Female
voice answered Civil Air Transport ! I could not believe it! A telephone operator knew by rote the
phone number of Civil Air Transport!!!!! Hmmm. Must be getting a lot of phone calls!
May I speak to someone regarding employment as a Pilot. Yes Mr. Red Dawson will take your call.
After about 5 minutes he said I will send you an application. For some reason I did not receive an
application but something else popped up and I got a job and had to be at Oklahoma City on Monday
morning…Flying C46F for Riddle Airlines. As I hung up the phone accepting the employment offer from
Riddle Airlines my favorite Captain called and said did you get a call from Riddle. I said yes. I am driving
to Oak city asap He said I will come down and go with you. Great we were on our way. I did not
abandon my dream of flying in the Far East with CAT, but a job at hand is better than nothing for now.
While attending U of Del I was sitting home in the afternoons studying if I had a text book and listening
to the North West Orient Airlines advertisements and dreaming… North West Orient Airlines!
What I did not know at the point in time was the third Geneva Conventions were in Session and it was
looking like the situation was not going to require CAT to hire hence no application. Lucky for me is
Uncle Ho up there in Hanoi decided to move 75000 Viet Minh soldiers into Laos many of which I was
privileged to have been shot at by. The US already agreed to take all of its uniformed troops out of Laos.
Now there was no one to resist them…but a company named Air America with civilian pilots.
After my mentor Capt Bob Colley and I arrived at Oak City and reported to Riddle Operations we found a
motel and started recurrent ground school on Monday morning and received our three bounces
(controlled crashes) to legalize our training program. Because I was a newly hired first officer I was
honored with nearly the last position on the seniority list. I was one of three pilots tested that day. One
was a Captain from another airline, one was a pilot from Germany who had flown a Messerschmitt
fighters at 15 Years of age and myself. Neither of them did very well and by the time I got in the seat
the check airman was having apoplexy. Of course he opened fire on me and was very curt. Take off,
keep in close don’t retract the gear. He was trying to save aircraft time, so OK it this is what you want
you got. I put the aircraft on the end of the runway gave it full power and as soon as we had wing
clearance I pulled up and made a steep left turn put it on the end of the runway and opened both
engines to full power and zoomed up and made a steep left turn landed and same thing again. Three
take offs and landings in about six minutes. He was all smiles now. When we got back to ops he
dismissed the other two and took me in to meet the Chief Pilot. Apparently they needed Captains, but
my seniority number was exceeded the national debt. It was nice to know that I was going to to be
upgraded as soon as they had a vacancy.
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Riddle operated the C-46 and the Argosy AW650 4 engine transport on Logair contracts and the Douglas
DC-7 on US Air Mail contracts. After a six months I got the coveted Furlough letter. Drat it! By now I
was developing an acute dislike for Labor unions. The Chief Pilot called me in and told me to not fret.
Use the Riddle company Jeppesen manuals and study the regulations and go take the Flight Engineer
written. As soon as I get the results he would call me back. True to his word I passed the written and
reported to his office. He said Flight Engineer ground school tomorrow..Ugh! Oh well it’s a job. Three
of us were scheduled for an FAA check ride on the AW 650. The FAA guy disqualified one of the three
because the method he used to qualify for the written test was rejected. Number two applicant was
first in the seat for the training flight. All went well until we touched down and he reached up and
pulled the FPS lever back before the Captain ordered it and while the nose gear was still in the air..Uh
Oh! Having flow the Argosy as a First Officer I knew of this caveat. There is no reverse on the Rolls
Royce engines. You pull back the FPS lever when the nose wheel is firmly on the ground and all four
props go to low pitch cause enough drag to slow the plane adequately. I was number three and having
made about one hundred landings on board as First Office I managed to make through OK. I was
immediately scheduled for a line check with the Chief Engineer from Tinker to Hill Field Utah then to
Rapid City South Dakota, Ellsworth Montana and the Tacoma WA. On the leg back to Hill Field and on to
Tinker. The Chief Engineer asked me how much I liked being engineer. I told him I liked it so much I
was going to resign when we got back to Tinker….Of course I was kidding. Needed a Job. So the next
day I was scheduled to fly as First Officer. The charade of going through the motions was to make me
legal to not be furloughed and to continue flying as a pilot. One thing I learned from this lesson was try
not to get into this situation. Riddle won numerous contracts and began a massive hiring program
clogging up its seniority list with many unqualified personnel who got their names on the seniority list
with out the experience to back them up. Never hire the first guy through the door and usually the first
ones to apply were most likely fired from somewhere else. Exercise caution and dispense with a
multitude of headaches in the future.
By now I was wondering about not having received an application from CAT as one of the Riddle
employees had just gotten hired??? I jumped onto World Airways DC-6 and dead headed to Dover Air
Base in Delaware. My brother on his release from the USMC got a job working for an aircraft
maintenance company named Cook Electric. I met him and asked it he could get off and drive me to DC.
No Problem. Of we went to DC 95 miles west of Dover.
Walked into the CAT office in DC and asked the receptionist if I could speak to someone about a flying
job. Just a moment sir! I will try to get you In to meet General Hewitt. General?? This is going to be a
lopsided interview as all a Marine can say to a General is Yes Sir! In fact, any commissioned officer in the
Corps. I learned my manners when flying on the Commandants aircraft. The Office door opened and out
came a young balding young man and an elderly gentleman. The lady spoke a few words with him and
she came back to me and said the General will see you now…I walked into his office and stood at
attention until he noticed I was there and said be seated. Thank You sir! He looked up from my
application and started at the top; Your name is…this was going to be a long interview. After about 4 or
5 question he threw the application down on the desk! You filled this out in Pencil! Yes sir the young
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lady handed me the application and a pencil and said hurry and fill this out. I can type and I will take a
blank home type it up and mail it back. After a couple of harumps we got back to the interview. Then
he said Have you ever flown a L-19. My less than sterling answer was: what’s that sir. I think I
adequately answered his question. He explained what the L-19 DeHaviland Beaver was and I told him I
had not flown that airplane but I have flown a 450 stearman with a high lift wing and the P&W engine is
the same as is installed in the Beaver. Then I flelt a calm set in. He said You will have to go to Taipei and
take a check ride. I almost could not restrain myself. I think I have a job!!!! As he escorted me out he
told the staff to issue me a check for $50.00 for expenses. I told him that I used a jump seat to come to
DC and did not need it. He then told me: Don’t call us, we will call you.
Back to Oak city and resumed flying the argosy as FO. In about one week received a Telegram. If
interested in employment call collect. The guy on the phone said: How soon can you leave. I told him I
was not even going the waste time to hang up, before the phone hits the floor I will be out or the front
door. Then he got serious and I told him I did not have a passport and I would like to give my present
company a two week notice as they have been good to me…..He said: Get a pass port photo and an
application at the Post Office and mail it to this address which I copied. I followed the instructions. This
was Friday morning. On Monday morning there was a knock on the door. The ink on my Passport was
still wet. Called DC and they said send it in for my Japanese and Taiwan visas. They will return them to
me with instructions and my airline tickets and travel cash. My head was spinning. I was really on my
way. These guys were not playing around. My last conversation with the guy in DC he said you
understand that you will be shot at!! Aye Aye Sir. I had to chuckle. When Gen Hewitt asked me, what
do you know about this company? I said I had heard that you will get shot at. He said you read too
many comic books!
My career in aviation was about to take a quantum leap forward.