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I'm looking for information and photographs of pilot Kelly and his airplane to include on this page. If you have some you'd like to share, please click this FORM to contact me.

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Thanks to Guest Editor Bob Woodling for help researching this page.

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JAMES HENRY KELLY

James Kelly was born August 20, 1905 at Mansfield, TX. When he was four years old, the 1910 U.S. Census, his first, listed him as living with his parents, Robert L. (age 29), Mary A. (25), sisters Willie L. (8), Pearl P (6) and Erma (2). The Census form did not specify their father's occupation.

The 1920 Census lists only his parents and siblings (three sisters; two brothers) living together in Justice Precinct 6, Stephens County, TX. For some reason, at age 15, he was not living with his parents. His father was a rancher. If you have information as to why he wasn't at home, please let me KNOW.

In 1929, Kelly was employed by Texas Air Transport and was responsible for initiating airmail and passenger services for the company between Brownsville and San Antonio, TX. The article, below, from the Brownsville Herald (TX) March 5, 1929, describes his work.

FIELD MANAGER T.A.T. HERE TO OPEN LINES

Jimmie Kelly, field manager for the Texas Air Transport company arrived in Brownsville Tuesday morning from Fort Worth to arrange for the handling of the first air mail which is to come in March 8 and the opening of the passenger service, which is scheduled for March 9. The Texas Air Transport company is to operate the line between San Antonio find Brownsville Mr. Kelly expects to be here until the mail and passenger schedules are instituted, when he will be succeeded by a permanent manager.

 

J.H. Kelly, June, 1928 (Source: Adams via Cooper)
J.H. Kelly, June, 1928 (Source: Cooper)

 

The 1930 U.S. Census placed Kelly at age 24 living at 3107 4th Street, Fort Worth, TX. He lived with his wife of just one year, Murah, age 19. His occupation was listed as "Aviator" in the "Transport" business. Interestingly and coincidentally, according to the Census form, he lived next door to another pilot, Fred S. Wimberly (not a Register pilot).

Just before the April Census enumeration, James Kelly landed and signed the Parks Airport Register on Tuesday February 18, 1930 at 5:00PM. He flew the Lockheed Vega he identified as NC194E, S/N 25.

Kelly identified his home base as Fort Worth, but entered no point of origin, destination, departure time or passenger information. We know what he was doing in East St. Louis, though, because the Lockheed was operated at the time by the Texas Worth Tool Company owned by oil entrepreneur Guy W. Mennis. Kelly flew for Mennis (see below).

J.H. Kelly, May 26, 1929 (Source: Adams via Cooper)

 

 

About seven months earlier, Kelly had his 15 minutes of fame. He set a short-lived men's landplane endurance record. Beginning on May 19 and extending to May 26, 1929, he and his pilot, Reg Robbins, flew a Ryan Brougham, NR1766, named "Fort Worth," to a men's landplane endurance record of 172 hours 32 minutes 1 second. They performed this feat over Meacham Field, Fort Worth's municipal field. 

The Lubbock Sunday Avalanche Journal, May 26, 1929 (Source: Woodling)

 

 

Their record was documented in Air Transportation magazine, June 8, 1929 in an article by B.D. Adams. You can download a PDF (3.7mB; 7pp.) of the article at the link. Photograph, above right, is from that article. Photograph, left, is courtesy of the Charles Cooper Photograph & Document Collection over on the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register Web site at the link. Take a flight with your browser out to the desert southwest and visit that Collection and the others available there.

Texas Air Transport Poster, Ca. 1929 (Source: Woodling)

 

Robbins' and Kelly's endurance record was a big deal at the time. It was reported in newspapers and magazines around the country. The Lubbock Sunday Avalanche Journal (TX) of May 26, 1929 published over 50 column inches, including the biographical vignette of Kelly, right. His earlier employer, Texas Air Transport, was advertised with a poster, left.

Not only was it a big deal for aviation in general, it was a harrowing flight for the pilots. From the Adams article, you'll learn that lubrication of the engine rocker arms was performed by Kelly climbing out the left hand window of the ship and edging his way along outriggers welded like a catwalk to the fuselage. To see what this was like, please direct your browser to the Hunter Brothers link.

Kelly used a safety belt to hold himself to the airplane, rather than a parachute, in case he became separated. We can only imagine the flailing he would take in the slipstream had he lost his footing, or the difficulty Robbins would have controlling the airplane in such an aerodynamically unstable state, or the beating Kelly would take on the ground if he couldn't re-establish himself on the catwalk and the airplane had to be landed with him suspended by his safety belt.

Further, Adams said of the belt, "In flipping this belt around one of the rocker arms the early part of the week, the buckle on the end struck the [wooden] propeller, causing it to sustain a gash probably 1 1/2 inches long by 1 inch wide." We learn two things from this. First, it was because of this gash that rain water seeped into the wood and caused the crack to proliferate to the point where the flight had to be terminated later in the week. Second, imagine getting close enough aloft that your looped safety belt buckle damages your whirling propeller. Don't try this at home.

And thus we come to Kelly's landing at Parks Airport on February 18, 1930. He couldn't have known it then, but he had about 70 more days to live. Kelly died in a plane crash, April 26, 1930 at Alvord, TX. The airplane was Mennis' Lockheed, NC194E. The Wilkes Barre Record of April 28, 1930 documented the accident, below.

Wilkes Barre Record (PA) April 28, 1930 (Source: Web)

THREE KILLED WHEN PLANE FALLS IN TEXAS.

Alvord, Tex., April 27 (AP) - An airplane crash during a storm five miles northwest of here cost the lives of JAMES H. KELLY, 25, of endurance flight fame, and two companions last night. KELLY and G. W. MENNIS, SR., 50, an oil operator, both of Fort Worth, Texas, were killed almost instantly and C. F. WILLIAMS, 49, of Tonkawa, Okla., died in a Fort Worth Hospital today.

G. C. ROSS, Oklahoma City oil operator, the fourth occupant of the plane, was injured seriously.

With R. L. "Reg" Robbins, KELLY set a new world's endurance flight record at Fort Worth in May, 1929, by keeping aloft their Monoplane "Fort Worth" more than 172 hours. The mark since has been bettered.

KELLY and his three companions were en route from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth when the plane ran into the storm and crashed from a low altitude.

William G. Fuller, manager of the municipal airport at Fort Worth, visited the scene of the crash today and inspected the wreckage. He expressed the belief that the motor of the plane had "gone dead" and that KELLY, who was at the controls, was attempting a dead-stick landing.

"A heavy thunder shower struck the ship," ROSS said. "There was a great deal of lightning and the rain poured down in sheets. Suddenly the motor began to sputter. Then came a blinding rain and the motor quit. The ship seemed to lurch and dive, toward the ground."

After the crash ROSS walked to a farm house and summoned aid.

Kelly also appeared in the Parks Airport Register as a passenger with Reg Robbins flying Ryan NC7735 on Wednesday, May 29, 1929, just three days after they completed their record flight. Kelly is buried in Fort Worth, TX.

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