'Musketeers of Aviation' once performed stunts, formations
The Three Musketeers of the Air took flight 83 years ago in Los Angeles.
The Army Air Corps’ precision flying team began in late 1927, composed of Lt. J.J. Williams of Utah, Lt. William Lewers Cornelius of Antlers, and Lt. Irvin A. “Bert” Woodring of Enid. The three young aviators were at the top of their game, performing stunts and battle formations for the national air races.
On Sept. 11, 1928, Williams crashed while performing an inverted formation.
The races were to continue through Sept. 16. Famed aviator Col. Charles A. Lindbergh, who flew across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927 and had flown with the pilots of the Musketeers, filled in, so as not to disappoint the crowds.
On Sept. 25, 1928, while flying in a battle formation known as the Lufbery Circle with a new member, pilot Lt. Roger Williams, Cornelius, known as “Wick,” crashed when their planes collided. Both planes fell to the ground.
As Woodring was accompanying Cornelius’ remains to his hometown of Antlers and then on to the Fort Smith National Cemetery, he was interviewed by The Oklahoman.
He described the crash for the Sept. 26, 1927, edition:
“The planes dropped together like bullets, and Wick didn’t have a chance to jump from the wreckage. We found him lying the length of his parachute strings from his ship. The other end of the parachute was caught in the plane.
“Roger Williams escaped death by a narrow margin. We thought he was gone, too. He fell and his parachute didn’t open. They were 1,200 feet up. Just before Williams’ feet touched the ground his parachute opened: another second and it would have been too late. As it was he was deeply bruised and received a number of deep cuts.”
This was the end of The Three Musketeers, but Woodring continued to fly as an early-day test pilot.
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