Forty years ago to the day, on September 23rd, 1976, the famed TV-series Baa Baa Black Sheep first aired on television in the United States. It was a seminal moment for many of us who follow vintage military aviation today, especially if we were kids at the time. Here to tell a little of the story about the making of that show, and the aircraft involved is Stephen Chapis, revisiting an article he originally wrote some years ago for Warbird Digest. We at WarbirdsNews thank him, and all of the other contributors who made this piece possible!
POOR LITTLE LAMBS
by Stephen Chapis
photos (all via Stephen Chapis)
The short-lived TV-series Baa Baa Black Sheep turned many young American boys into life-long fans of the famed Corsair, including the author who was just five years old when the show debuted in September 1976. What follows is not a biography of Pappy Boyington, a history of VMF-214, or a debate about the historical accuracy of the series. It is simply a history of the Corsairs used on the show and a collection of memories from the four surviving Baa Baa Black Sheep pilots: Thomas Friedkin, Steve Hinton, Steve Rosenberg, and the late-Bill Yoak.
THE REAL STARS
While actors Robert Conrad and John Larroquette may have thought they were the show’s stars, the real stars of Baa Baa Black Sheep (later syndicated as Black Sheep Squadron) were clearly the Corsairs. A total of eight Corsairs, of varied backgrounds, participated in the filming: four FG-1Ds, two F4U-7s, one F4U-1A, and one F4U-4. Five were combat veterans, two have turned hot laps at Reno, and two later became Oshkosh Grand Champions. Since the conclusion of Black Sheep in 1978, one FG-1D and one F4U-7 have been lost. Of the remaining six aircraft, four are actively flying, one is maintained in airworthy condition but not flown, and the last is awaiting restoration to airworthy condition.
THE DEARLY DEPARTED:
GOODYEAR FG-1D CORSAIR Bu.No. 92433
The Navy accepted this FG-1D on July 11th, 1945, and although its record card is nearly impossible to read prior to 1950, the fighter appears to have served as a pool aircraft in San Diego and Jacksonville. From 1950 through 1955, 92433 flew with VF-101 at Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana, Virginia and Reserve squadrons in Dallas, Minneapolis, and New York. In November, 1955, it moved to the storage facility at NAS Litchfield Park in Arizona. The Navy struck her from their records on January 7th, 1957 after she’d logged 2,307 flying hours.
In April 1959, it was one of 40 Corsairs listed on an Invoice/Shipping Document from Alu-Net Smelters of Long Beach, California. Frank Tallman purchased the aircraft from Alu-Net on May 7th, 1959 and returned it to flight in 1962, at which time it had only flown three hours since its military retirement.
On September 16th, 1969 the late Isaac Newton Burchinal (aka Junior) of Paris, Texas bought the Corsair for his Flying Tigers Air Museum where he had it modified with a rudimentary second cockpit and flight controls, covered by a crude Plexiglas canopy.
In early 1976, Junior flew ‘433 to California for Black Sheep. This Corsair is easily identifiable on screen by the tinted rear canopy, ADF “football” antenna under the fuselage and extended tailwheel. Sadly, in 1979 a hangar fire consumed this Corsair at Addison Airport in Dallas, Texas.
VOUGHT F4U-7 CORSAIR Bu.No. 133693
This Corsair was the 41st of 94 F4U-7s that Chance Vought produced at their plant in Grand Prairie, Texas for the French Navy (Aeronavale). Delivered through the Military Assistance Program (MAP), ‘693 arrived at NAS Karouba, Tunisia in the spring of 1953, where it served with Flotille 12F and later Flotille 15F. There is circumstantial evidence that she was aboard CVL La Fayette during France’s final combat missions in Indochina during 1956. In October 1956, ‘693 was again aboard La Fayette in the eastern Mediterranean Sea during Operation Musketeer (Suez Crisis) where it participated in an attack on Egyptian airfields near Cairo on November 3rd, 1953. Later in its career, ‘693 joined Flotille 14F, where it may have seen action in Algeria. Her final assignment saw her flying as a target tug with Escadrille 10S.
The Corsair returned to the United States in early 1967 for refurbishment at NAS Norfolk, Virginia. The French Navy had just received their brand new F8U Crusaders, and retired their venerable Corsair fleet. After a short stint with the Air Museum of Canada, Bob Guilford purchased the -7 in April 1970. He named her Blue Max and raced the fighter for the next 17 years. In 1976, Blue Max’s bold markings were covered in overall dark blue in preparation for her roll in Black Sheep with Steve Rosenberg at the controls. On August 19th, having flown just three sorties for the cameras, Blue Max suffered a catastrophic engine failure which ended her Black Sheep career.
On May 10th, 1987, Marshall Moss took a well-deserving female air show volunteer for a ride in Blue Max near San Diego, California. While performing low-level aerobatics, the Corsair crashed in an inverted attitude, tragically killing Moss and his passenger.
STATIC & UNDER RESTORATION:
GOODYEAR FG-1D CORSAIR Bu.No. 92132
The naval record card for this Corsair is sadly another which is impossible to read for dates prior to 1950. The U.S. Navy took delivery of ‘132 on May 26th, 1945. She spent most of her career with Reserve units in Jacksonville, Florida and Columbus, Ohio. The Corsair flew to Litchfield Park in December 1954, and the Navy struck her from their records on January 7th, 1957 with 1,533 flying hours logged.
On October 20th, 1959, Alu-Net Smelters purchased the aircraft for $485.67. Planes of Fame founder, Ed Maloney, saved her from destruction though, and placed the venerable fighter in storage. The late David Tallichet’s Military Aircraft Restoration Corp (MARC) purchased the Corsair on June 17th, 1971 and brought it up to airworthy status in April 1975. When she began flying on Black Sheep, 92132 had only flown 16 hours since the Navy retired her 19 years earlier. The airframe flew an additional 30+ hours during filming. She remained in the MARC collection until Henry ‘Butch’ Schroeder and the Midwest Aviation Museum in Danville, Illinois acquired her on February 3rd, 1994.
Schroeder changed his plans for the Corsair and sold her on to the Tri-State Warbird Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio on April 1st, 2003, where she is undergoing restoration. When complete, the Corsair will wear the historically correct markings of her former Columbus Naval Reserve unit.
GOODYEAR FG-1D CORSAIR Bu.No. 92629
This Corsair was in the last batch of 2,302 FG-1Ds to roll off the Goodyear production line in Akron, Ohio. After acceptance on August 18th, 1945, the Corsair joined the aircraft pool at NAS Alameda, California. Following two years of storage in Georgia, the fighter spent six years in Naval Reserve units in Norfolk, Seattle, Alameda, Columbus, and New York as well as VF-713 at NAS Moffett Field, California. Flown to Litchfield Park in June 1955, ‘629 was stricken in January 1957 with a mere 778 hours flight time.
In late 1957 ‘629 was one of 20 FG-1Ds pulled from storage and sold to El Salvador, where she saw action against Honduras in July, 1969 during the 100 Hours War (sometimes referred to as the Soccer War). Dr Bill Harrison brought the fighter home to the United States in October 1974. John Stokes purchased the fighter on February 8th, 1975. A year later its colorful VF-84 markings disappeared under a new coat of navy blue for her role on Black Sheep. This aircraft is also easily identifiable on screen, as it has a white arrow on the right upper wing and light blue undersides.
In July 1983, the aircraft suffered extensive damage in an off-airport landing following engine failure on take-off. A recovery crew loaded the wreckage onto a truck for the journey to “Fighter Rebuilders” in Chino, California. Steve Hinton’s team had the fighter airworthy again a year later. Today, this warhorse is on display at the Palm Springs Air Museum in Palm Springs, California. It is maintained in airworthy condition, but has not flown since 2006.
VOUGHT F4U-1A CORSAIR Bu.No. 17799
Due to its long association with the Planes of Fame (POF) Museum in Chino, California, this F4U-1A is arguably the most well known of all the Black Sheep Corsairs. She rolled off the Vought production line in Stratford, Connecticut on August 31st, 1943, making her one of the oldest surviving Corsairs in the world, and the oldest currently flying. During her short military career, ‘799 served with VF-84, VBF-14, VBF-98 & VBF-84. The Navy struck her from their records on August 31st, 1944 with an unknown numbers of flying hours.
In 1946, MGM Studios purchased the Corsair as a movie prop. She slowly deteriorated into disrepair until Ed Maloney saved her from almost certain scrapping, and placed the fighter in storage during 1970. In 1974, the original ‘Chino Kids’ Steve Hinton and Jim Maloney began gathering parts to bring the Corsair back to flying condition. In the fall of 1977, 31 years after she ‘officially’ retired, ‘799 joined the merry band of planes and pilots on the Black Sheep set at Indian Dunes Airport near Valencia, California. During filming the aircraft wore an overall dark blue scheme with star-and-bar insignia and no special markings. In the early 2000’s John Maloney performed a mild restoration on ‘799 and applied the beautiful tri-color paint scheme it wears today. This pristine example of an early Corsair is a regular flier at POF airshows and special events.
For quite some time, POF officials, particularly volunteer historian Cory O’Bryan, suspected that their Corsair had seen combat with the famous VF-17 Jolly Rogers in 1943, but they could never find evidence to substantiate their beliefs. That all changed in early 2016 thanks to children’s author Michele Spry who had a chance meeting with a 94-year-old, WWII US Marine Corps veteran named Ferrill A. Purdy who had flown Corsairs in combat with VMF-441 Blackjacks. Michele interviewed Purdy for her second book, which involved an Honor Flight veteran traveling to Washington, D.C. with a youngster. While studying his logbook, she compared it to Corsairs that had survived to the present day. She found one … Bu.No.17799!
This discovery led Michele to another Blackjack veteran, John H. Tashjian, who traveled to Chino in August 2016 for a Living History Event where he reunited with “his” old Corsair. Although POF continues to fill in the blanks in the wartime career of 17799, they can now proudly claim that their Corsair is a bonafide combat veteran.
GOODYEAR FG-1D CORSAIR Bu.No. 92106
Bu.92106 joined the Navy on May 17th, 1945. This Corsair was amongst the last sent to the Pacific Theater of Operations, but it never saw combat and returned to the States in early 1946. During its eight-year Navy career, 92106 was a pool aircraft in Norfolk and Jacksonville and also flew with the Naval Reserves in New Orleans, Seattle, Grosse Ile, Dallas, and Spokane. The Navy struck her on September 9th, 1954 with 1,437 hours on the clock.
Len Berryman purchased the Corsair for his amusement park/playground in Bridgeport, Washington in 1958. The fighter sat in the park until 1973 when the late-David Tallichet saved the aircraft from an uncertain fate and returned her to flying condition. She began flying on Black Sheep in 1976 and is considered the lead aircraft for she appeared in 22 of the 37 total episodes. After the show’s conclusion, Tallichet placed the Corsair in storage.
Gary Kohs acquired the aircraft in 1990 and shipped her to Airpower Unlimited in Jerome, Idaho. John Lane Jr’s team spent 17,000 man-hours and 13 years restoring the Corsair to its original factory configuration and set a new benchmark in Corsair restorations during the process. At EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2003 the Corsair rightly earned the Grand Champion WWII Trophy and the Airpower Unlimited restoration team received the Gold Wrench Award. Later that year, 92106 received the Rolls-Royce Aviation Heritage Invitational and People’s Choice Trophy’s at the Reno Air Races.
Mike Potter’s Vintage Wings of Canada (VWoC) flying collection purchased the Corsair in June 2007. VWoC already had a -4 Corsair on the books at the time, but had been searching for an earlier, -1 variant to more appropriately honor Canada’s naval fighter pilots who served within the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm during WWII. Using specialized vinyl decals, VWoC applied markings to represent Corsair KD568 (115/X), the Corsair which Lt. Robert Hampton Gray flew on that fateful August 9th, 1945 mission over Japan for which he received, posthumously, the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military honor. Today, this Corsair is a fitting tribute to the dedication of Goodyear employees, the courage of Lt Robert Hampton Gray, and the patriotism of all Canadian veterans.
VOUGHT F4U-4 CORSAIR Bu.No. 97359
Upon acceptance by the Navy on March 12th, 1946, F4U-4 Bu.No. 97359 immediately entered storage for the next 17 months. Afterwards, the aircraft spent a few months in the aircraft pool in San Diego. It then served with several units around the country, including VMT-2 at MCAS El Toro, California.
On January 28th, 1953 the Corsair joined VF-44 Hornets at NAS Jacksonville, in Florida and saw extensive action from the decks of USS Lake Champlain and USS Boxer during the closing months of the Korean War. In the final years of her military career, ‘359 served with VF-74 at NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island, VX-2 at NAS Chincoteague, Virginia and Naval Reserve squadrons in San Diego and Olathe. The Navy removed her from their books at Litchfield Park in July 1956 with 1,798 flying hours logged.
In November 1957, Bob Bean purchased the fighter for $1,500.99 and stored her outside for 19 years. When Tom Friedkin purchased the Corsair on November 19th, 1975, she hadn’t flown since her military days, but logged an incredible 300 hours during her career on Black Sheep. On screen, her four-bladed propeller and six 50-caliber guns can clearly separate this Corsair from the others.
The Corsair remained in the Friedkin collection until January 1988 when he sold her to the Duxford-based Old Flying Machine Company, where she flew in Royal New Zealand Air Force markings. The Corsair returned home to the USA in 1992 and went through several owners over the next 20 years including Norm Lewis and Max Chapman. In 2006 she briefly reunited with her former Black Sheep co-star, FG-1D Bu.92106, at VWoC in Gatineau, Quebec. In March 2008, Doug Matthews purchased her and repainted the fighter to represent the Corsair flown by VF-32 pilot Lt (j.g.) Thomas Hudner during his Medal of Honor mission on December 4th, 1950.
In 2010, someone discovered that Charles “Obie” O’Brien, a pilot flying with the Virginia Beach-based Military Aviation Museum, had flown this Corsair on three combat missions over North Korea in June 1953 from the deck of the USS Lake Champlain. In 2010, at 83 years old, O’Brien was the last Corsair combat pilot in the world still actively flying the type six decades on. When Doug Matthews, a former naval aviator himself, heard about Obie O’Brien he said without hesitation, “Well he has to fly it again.”
It took nearly three years, but in September 2012, the author, Warbird Digest editor Greg Morehead, and Obie were finally headed to Ramona, California, where Obie would reunite with his old combat steed. The last time Obie was in Bu.97359 was on November 20th, 1953 when he flew the Corsair ashore to Port Layute, Morocco while USS Lake Champlain was transiting through the Mediterranean Sea on her way home from the war zone. When the hangar doors opened and Obie set his eyes on the pristine F4U-4, his first comment was, “It sure looks better now than it did back then.”
Obie’s reunion flight took place during an NATA FAST clinic hosted by Doug Matthews and the word quickly circulated around the airport that a pilot that flew Doug’s Corsair in Korea was in town to fly it again … 59 years later!! Greg Morehead and the author had designed a special patch to commemorate the event and Obie spent the weekend shaking hands, answering questions, posing for pictures, and signing patches.
On Saturday, September 22nd, 2012, Obie climbed aboard Bu.97359 and expertly brought the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 to life. In the previous ten years, Obie had logged over 100 hours at the controls of MAM’s FG-1D, but this flight was different. It was special. He was once again about to fly the very same Corsair that he flew into the teeth of Communist AAA nearly six decades before. Dough and Greg had already taken off in the T-6 camera ship and as they came around the pattern, Obie poured the coals to the 2,000-hp radial and climbed into the clear California sky. At breakfast that morning, Doug jokingly said he’d arranged to have an LSO by the runway to grade his landing. There was no LSO, but at the completion of the photo flight, O’Brien made a crisp overhead break and flew a textbook arcing carrier pattern to a perfect landing.
When Obie shut down the Corsair in front of Doug’s hangar, there were cheers and applause for the silver-haired warrior. After more backslaps, handshakes, and pictures, Obie sat down in a lounge chair with a cold drink of water. While the FAST participants began briefing their next flight, Obie stared at “his” Corsair parked on the ramp. One could almost see the memories that were racing through his mind. In the years that followed this historic and emotional event, Obie quietly retired from flying and Doug Matthews sold the Corsair to a new owner.
VOUGHT F4U-7 CORSAIR Bu.No. 133710
This second F4U-7 to appear on Black Sheep rolled off the Grand Prairie production line 17 aircraft behind Blue Max, and arrived at NAS Karouba, Tunisia on November 20th, 1953. Although it cannot be confirmed, it is believed that ‘710 was involved in combat operations in Indochina, Egypt, and Algeria.
On August 21st, 1964 ‘710 arrived in Quantico, Virginia by barge, still wearing her French Aeronavale colors. Over the next several years the Marine Corps Air Ground Museum restored the Corsair, and finished her in a basic USMC scheme. In 1971, museum officials exchanged the -7 for an earlier model Corsair from Dean Ortner of Wakeman, Ohio. On August 17th, 1973 John Schafhuasen, a WWII Corsair pilot, bought the Corsair and flew it throughout Black Sheep filming. This aircraft is easily identifiable on screen due to its protruding 20mm gun barrels.
Schafhuasen flew the Corsair until 1983, when he sold it to Canadian, Blain Fowler, who displayed her as Alberta Blue at air shows throughout the United States and Canada for the next 21 years. In 2004, Philip Rogers, owner of the high-technology fiber optics firm Optical Air Data Systems (OADS) purchased the Corsair, but rarely flew it. In April 2013, he listed the aircraft with Courtesy Aircraft Sales and John O’Connor purchased the rare fighter in December 2014. John sent the aircraft to John Lane’s Airpower Unlimited where it is under conversion into the sadly extinct, AU-1 close air support variant.
Tom Friedkin learned aviation from his father, Kenneth, who flew Spitfires during WWII. By the late 1960s Tom had built an impressive collection of ‘surplus military aircraft’ including a T-6, P-51, P-38, and the previously mentioned combat vet F4U-4 which lead to a phone call from Frank Tallman in 1975. Frank said that NBC was looking for Corsairs to use in a new TV show about Pappy Boyington. Tom agreed, but only if he could fly his own airplane.
Prior to flying on the show, Tom got together with a few of his friends to knock the rust off his formation flying skills. When speaking of this demanding type of flying, Tom says, “Formation flying is a very perishable skill and if it is not done regularly you lose your edge”. During filming, Tom mostly piloted his F4U-4, but he also flew the other Corsairs, P-38, C-47, and various Tora Kates, Vals, and Zeros.
As mentioned earlier, the flying scenes on ‘Vella LaCava’ were filmed at Indian Dunes Airport near Valencia, California. Although there were wires on the east end of the field, Tom says he and the other pilots had no problems flying the Corsairs off the 3,800ft dirt strip. However, heavy rains would often leave huge puddles on the runway, which Tom nonchalantly says would make take-offs and landings “…a little interesting.”
Tom and his fellow pilots often flew up to three sorties a day, some lasting up to 90 minutes. He says there were a few occasions when airplanes got a little too close but other than that there was never any foolish flying on the show, and that Dick Martin, Tom Mooney, Steve Hinton, Jim Maloney, Frank Tallman, John Schafhuasen, Bill Yoak, and Junior Burchinal were all top rate pilots. While Tom thoroughly enjoyed the flying, he was never thrilled with the long hours of standing around the set waiting to do something. Even if there was no actual flying going on, Tom said the producers would always keep a couple of pilots on the set in case they needed somebody to start an engine, or taxi around the strip.
Looking back, Tom says, “Black Sheep was a tremendous experience every single week.” After Black Sheep, Tom went on to fly for numerous TV shows and movies. He still actively flies the warbirds in his collection. When you ask Tom what his favorite aircraft is, he says, “The one I happen to be sitting in.” However he loves the Corsair, “…it is simply a very lovely and smooth airplane to fly.”
One hour and twelve minutes: That is how much Corsair time Steve Hinton had when John Stokes called him about working on Black Sheep. Hinton recalls the conversation, “John called me up and said ‘How you would like to fly the Corsair (FG-1D BuNo 92629) for an upcoming TV show?’ I said, ‘Well yeah, but I don’t have much Corsair time, but I do have time in Hellcats and Mustangs.’ He said, ‘Well why don’t you come pick this thing up.” Hinton went down to San Marcos, Texas and ferried the Corsair back to California via Fort Stockton, El Paso, Tucson and Chino. A few days later, Hinton flew the Corsair to Oxnard where he joined Tom Friedkin, John Schafhausen, Tom Mooney, and Glen Riley for nearly a week of flying.
Steve echoes the sentiments of the other pilots, that while movie flying seems glamorous and exciting, it often involves long hours of very challenging flying. A majority of the sorties were flown at slower than normal speeds in close formation, often at low altitude, with airplanes that were in less than ideal shape. Compared to today’s fully restored warbirds, most of the Black Sheep Corsairs were still leftover from the Navy and had received only enough maintenance to get them airworthy. There were some engine problems, hydraulic issues, bad radios, etc, but as worn out as the fighters were, they got the job done.
Steve still laughs at how the flying scenes were edited, “We would film for hours and days over the Channel Islands- flying low over a beach with the gear down, flying up and down canyons, peeling off, joining up, and various other maneuvers. We’d do all that filming and then they’d use the same scene twelve times! Back in those days we had to wait until the next day when we watched the dailies to see if we got what the director wanted. In today’s aerial film industry everything is better than in 1975- the airplanes, the communications, and with video overlap we can review a scene immediately.”
At the end of the interview, Steve offered some final thoughts on his Black Sheep days, “The flying was always fun, you always remember the flying, but I’d have to say the best memory is that I got to fly with Frank Tallman, Tom Friedkin, Jim Gavin, Art Scholl, and Bill Yoak. How cool is that? It seems like yesterday, but when I look at pictures and see the length of the sideburns, I realize it was a long time ago. It was a privilege. Things happened in my life that took me on a path. I’ve met a lot of great people and incredible pilots. It’s been really good and I’ve been really lucky. These airplanes are just a conduit, because they attract the same kind of spirited people…its cool.”
Steve Rosenberg met Bob Guilford at Van Nuys, California in 1964 and describes Bob as, “…a bright, wonderful guy and a real go-getter.” Bob heard about Baa Baa Black Sheep in late 1975 and asked Steve to fly the -7 in the series. In March 1976, Steve drove to the Indian Dunes airstrip where he met Pappy Boyington, Frank Tallman and a few of the other pilots. When Steve first flew the Corsair into Indian Dunes in August 1976, he made an electrifying arrival. He was not aware of the unmarked power lines that ran across the east end of the field and struck them on short final. Steve recalls, “…the entire cockpit lit up.” The wires briefly caused the aircraft to decelerate and when they finally broke Steve was in the flare, and ended up making a great landing. He taxied to the parking area with parts of the wire dragging behind the aircraft. The Corsair was largely unscathed, but the same could not be said for Steve’s ego. Although he did not know it until many years later, the cameras had filmed his arrival and the footage was used in Divine Wind, which aired on December 14th, 1977.
In the 2011 interview for this article, Steve described the August 19th, 1976 engine failure that ended his Black Sheep career after just three sorties, ‘I took off for a short flight out of Van Nuys. I pulled into a loop and simultaneously noticed a light inside the cockpit and smoke coming down the left side of the fuselage. I rolled the aircraft upright, checked his gauges. The oil pressure was down to 25psi and temperature rising through 128 C. The prop was free-wheeling, but I had no power. Luckily I was at about 7,000 feet which was enough for me to make a straight-in approach to Van Nuys’ 16R. I wheeled it on and coasted off one of the high-speed turn offs just as the R-2800 seized.’ Although this seems like a dramatic incident, Steve’s logbook entry for this flight simply reads VAN NUYS LOCAL 0.6HRS- ENGINE FAILURE. The engine change that followed turned into a full-fledged restoration from which the Corsair did not emerge until 1979- a year after Black Sheep was cancelled.
Steve made the first post-restoration flight in Bare Metal Max in April 1979, and continued flying his aerobatic displays until the Corsair was destroyed on that tragic day in 1987. Steve has not flown a Corsair since, but his 350 hours in Blue Max left a lasting impression on him, “The Corsair was a great airplane in which to do air shows. It rolls better than a Mustang, and is simply a wonderful, Cadillac of an airplane.”
Bill Yoak says he became involved with Baa Baa Black Sheep because he was in the right place at the right time, and more importantly, he knew Tom Friedkin. Tom told director Jim Gavin, “Yoak is a good stick with great credentials.” However, Bill was severely injured in a motorcycle accident and was not able to fly on the Flying Misfits pilot.
Although Bill would eventually fly every Corsair variant except the F2G, in 1976 he’d never even sat in a Corsair. This made for a memorable first flight. Just days after he got out of the back brace, Gavin called him up for his first job, which partnered him with Tom Mooney. Tom asked Bill if he’d ever flown a Corsair. Bill said no. So Tom, a legendary Marine Corps Corsair pilot, gave Bill a brief on flying the Corsair and the duo blasted out of Indian Dunes. During the 40-minute flight they made several low passes, formation rolls, and individual victory rolls over the field and just like that Bill’s checkout was complete, all in front of the cameras.
Bill experienced several in-flight emergencies during filming, one of which caused serious injury. Bill and several others were about to begin filming a scene about 15 miles off the coast when he noticed a very acidic odor followed by a sudden jolt. Bill quickly ascertained that the battery had exploded when the cockpit suddenly filled with a fog of acidic battery fumes. The fumes quickly began to burn Bill’s throat, eyes, and exposed skin and opening the canopy made the situation worse. By the time Bill communicated his dilemma, his throat was so scorched his voice was nearly unreadable. Eventually Bill was able to open the canopy for some fresh air but the damage was already done. Through blurred vision Bill set the Corsair down at Oxnard and was treated by a nurse on the set. However, he refused further treatment at a medical facility and was back in the cockpit a week later.
Aside from this Bill said he thoroughly enjoyed the flying and the people he met on Black Sheep. The valuable friendships and tremendous experience gained in movie flying and special effects including designing camera mounts and explode plates on the Corsairs and Zeros lead to two decades of work in the movie industry. In our final conversation, Bill summed up his Black Sheep days in one sentence, “I got to fly with some of best pilots in the world.”
The author would like to thank the photographers who graciously provided photos for this article. Thanks also goes to the following individuals- Mark Carlson, Dan & Tom Friedkin, Craig Fuller, Jeff Givan, Steve Guilford, Steve Hinton, Frank Kimmel, Doug Matthews, Rob Mears, Mark Morris, Phil Rogers, Steve Rosenberg, Darin Strobel, Paul Redlich, and the late-Bill Yoak who regaled the author with many hilarious stories that can never be printed. Thanks Yoak Dog.
Some additional images from the set…
WarbirdsNews wishes to thank Stephen Chapis for his remarkable article and to each of the many people who helped in creating it!
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