For Sale, An Amazing Piece of Local History: The "Last Fool Flight" of the Dallas Spirit

Yesterday, Friend of Unfair Park PeterK sent me the link to yet another vintage photo with local ties that's presently up for grabs on eBay: "20s Swallow Airplane, Dallas Spirit, Dole Photo Negative." Peter also included the note that the "Dallas Spirit was out of Dallas, Texas, flown by William P. Erwin." He even included a few links, which I spent the better part of last night reading -- chief among them, a story Dallas Morning News-man Ted Dealey (son of George Bannerman Dealey) wrote for the Southwestern Historical Quarterly in July 1959 titled "The Last Fool Flight."

In it, Dealey tells the story of a decorated Oklahoma-born pilot named William Portwood Erwin, considered one of America's greatest flying aces during World War I. (He shot down either eight or nine planes, depending upon the obituary.) Erwin, writes Dealey, was among the many pilots in 1927 trying to borrow some of Charles Lindbergh's shine; hence the Dallas Spirit, its name borrowed quite obviously from The Spirit of St. Louis.

But Erwin, writes Dealey, was attempting something even more significant -- "the most hazardous air trip ever contemplated by man up until that time."

That meant first flying from Dallas to San Francisco to Hawaii for the so-called Dole Air Race of 1927, the winner of which would receive $25,000. Then Erwin planned on flying from Hawaii to Hong Kong and then back to Dallas, where local businessman William Easterwood Jr. was offering another $25,000 in prize money.

The Dallas Spirit was unveiled at Love Field on August 6, 1927, in front of thousands of spectators and city and state officials, including Mayor R.E. Burt and Texas Governor Dan Moody, writes Dealey, who also served as Erwin's sort-of business manager. Said Moody, "This thing you are doing in Dallas, sending an airship around the world, in my mind, is a forerunner of what is to come in aviation." Three days later, Erwin took off from Love Field for California, landing in Oakland on August 11 -- but not before encountering myriad storms over Texas and New Mexico.

As it turned out, those would be the least of Erwin's problems. If you have a few moments, read the entirety of Dealey's lengthy account of Erwin's deeds on what would become "that fateful August 19," when the pilot earned the deserved appellation "a man's man." No spoilers here, but one has to wonder: Where is the movie? If nothing else, at least we have the photo, which is worth a whole lot more than the $9.99 where the bidding's stalled with five days to go. Oh, Frontiers of Flight ...

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky