John Macready–Aviation Pioneer: At the Earth’s Ceiling, by Sally Macready Wallace, Sunflower University Press, Manhattan, Kan., 1998, $19.99.
John A. Macready was among those Army Air Service pilots who won their wings during World War I. He remained in the service until 1926 and left to become a pilot for Shell Oil Company, but returned to active duty during World War II. His name is little-known outside today’s Air Force except for one exceptional achievement–the first nonstop transcontinental flight he made with fellow pilot Lieutenant Oakley G. Kelly in 1923.
Sally Wallace, Macready’s daughter and also a pilot, thought her father deserved to have his biography written so the world would know the story behind that epic flight and the others he made during his test-pilot years that went into the history books as aviation firsts. These included setting a high-altitude record in 1921, being the first crop-duster, setting two world-record endurance flights, making the first night parachute jump, and being the first to conduct high-altitude photography. For these achievements, he was awarded the Mackay Trophy three times–the only person to claim that honor.
Macready was born in Searchlight, Nev., a lawless mining town, in 1887. He worked in the mines, went to Stanford University and became a justice of the peace in Searchlight until World War I. He joined the Army Air Service in 1917 and, after graduation as a pilot, was assigned as an instructor before a transfer to McCook Field, the Air Service’s primary aircraft testing facility at Dayton, Ohio. He would do his part over the next five years to investigate the effects of high-altitude and prolonged flying on planes as well as the human body.
Macready had his share of mishaps and close calls, many before test pilots were required to wear parachutes. On one night flight between Dayton and Columbus, Macready was especially glad he wore one. The engine of his DH-4B quit cold, and he could not see any suitable landing spot. When he jumped to safety, he became the second member of the McCook test pilots to join the Caterpillar Club (Lieutenant Harold R. Harris was the first).
The book contains a great description of the nonstop cross-country flight by Macready and Kelly. Many will be surprised to learn that the successful flight, made east to west, was preceded by two unsuccessful west-to-east attempts from San Diego. Although the Army withdrew all support except the use of the Fokker T-2, the determined officers decided that the plane would be light enough to clear the mountains if they flew from New York to San Diego. They departed Roosevelt Field, N.Y., on May 2, 1923, and landed at San Diego 26 hours and 50 minutes later to establish a new aviation milestone.
The ungainly Fokker T-2 now resides at the National Air & Space Museum, where visitors can see just how close to the huge, deafening engine the pilot sat. The relief pilot sat in the mid-fuselage with another set of controls he operated briefly while the other abandoned the cockpit to change seats.
This work about a true aviation pioneer and his family fills a gap that only a family member could fill. It’s worth a place on any aviation buff’s bookshelf.