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His name was synonymous with speed, his flamboyant persona as carefully crafted as that of a Hollywood star. Born in Corinth, Mississippi, in 1895, Joe Turner was an aerial showman, an audacious risk taker, and a tireless self-promoter who focused America's attention well into the 1960s on the potential of aviation for the common good.
With complete access to Turner's personal papers, photographs, and memorabilia, biographer Carroll V. Glines presents the first full account of the life of this American daredevil aviator. Turner determined as a young man to make his way in the world at the forefront of the new, exciting, and risky technologies of speed in the air. After serving as a balloon pilot during World War I, Turner found his future in the 1920s as a stuntman, creator of his own flying circus, and a pilot in Howard Hughes's World War I feature, Hell's Angels, Hollywood's most expensive movie before Gone With the Wind. Turner glided smoothly into movie society, becoming good friends with fellow pilot and actor Wallace Beery and taking movie stars Clark Gable and Fred MacMurray for their first airplane rides.
Turner knew how to attract attention. To create a consistent image in the public's mind - of himself and of aviation - he always dressed in a military-type uniform of blue tunic, cavalry twill riding britches, polished boots, and a pin of diamond-studded wings. He was perhaps best known as the pilot who flew with the lion cub Gilmore as an oil company promotion. His place in flight history rests on his skill as a racing pilot - he is the only person ever to win the Thompson Trophy three times and, along with Jimmy Doolittle, to win both the Thompson and Bendix trophies. In 1934 he and his two-man crew were the only Americans to finish the grueling London-to-Melbourne race.
After his retirement from racing in 1939, he stayed close to aviation technology - as a pilot, founder of a regional airline, director of a school for pilots and mechanics, operator of an aircraft servicing company, and as a persuasive voice for public support of military and commercial aviation.
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Carroll V. Glines is the resident scholar at the Doolittle Library at the University of Texas, Dallas.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
To continue playing the air fair circuit, Roscoe needed a new stuntman to replace (Arthur) Starnes. He formed a partnership with J.W. "Bugs" Fisher, who advertised himself as a World War I ace who had served with the French Army and told reporters that his name was spelled "Fisheur." Roscoe tells what happened on their first flight together at Athens, Alabama, on August 7, 1925: Among the stunting equipment was a rope approximately 20 feet long which my former stunt man used to tie around his ankle and then hang down around the landing gear to make people think he had fallen off the airplane. We called this "The Dive of Death." The occasion was a Merchant Trade Day performance, which we had promoted around to all the merchants getting small contributions to put it on over the town's square. There were no specific acts but my man used to walk on the wings of the airplane and make a parachute jump. However, Bugs decided he wanted to put on "The Dive of Death." I told him to be sure not to get down at the end of that rope unless he was positive he could get back up to the airplane. I had no desire to be tried for manslaughter or crack up the only airplane I had, as a man hanging at the end of that rope acted just like an anchor. He would strike the ground first and slow the airplane in flight and change its direction. Bugs assured me he could perform the stunt so we got over town and after Bugs had done his walking on the wings this was his next feat. He got down on the landing gear, tied the rope around his ankle and turned loose. I flew around and around waiting for him to get back into the airplane. He climbed up on the wing and slipped back to the end of the rope. The next time I looked he got halfway up the rope and then fell back again. Then he screamed he couldn't make it. Fortunately, I had a considerable amount of gasoline in the tank and immediately thought of a river about 15 to 20 miles away as I knew of performers being dropped into the river when they couldn't make the grade back up the rope. The river, however, was to do me no good as Bugs had nothing to cut himself loose with. I flew around trying to decide what to do with this guy. Then I remembered there was some plowed ground right on the edge of the field that we were flying from. I decided it would be possible, perhaps, to save his life but I didn't expect to save my airplane. Without waiting around longer I flew the airplane very low and just at the edge of the field I dropped Bugs onto the plowed ground and started dragging him, just getting the wheels of the airplane over on the landing field and pulling Bugs behind in the plowed ground. The plane turned sideways but fortunately both wheels were on the hard ground and though we skidded along for a couple hundred feet, the only damage was a blown tire and breaking the leading edge of the wings where the rope that was dragging Bugs was tied to a strut. After getting on the ground without cracking up, my next thought was to get back to the end of the rope to see how Bugs was. He was completely out and I didn't know whether I had killed him or not. I threw all the drinking water we had on the field into his face and he began to snap out of it. The show was not over as the most important act---the parachute jump---was yet to come. I felt I was up against it because I thought Bugs would be through with stunting for good but as soon as he came to sufficiently enough to realize the situation he said that he would make the parachute drop. So I took him up once more and he got out in an old crude balloon parachute and it opened all right but he landed on top of a house. Just all in a day's work in the old barnstorming days.
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