By Jack Hackley
In 1950, Oak Grove had the most pilots per capita of any city in the United States. We had a population of 761 and 45 pilots. The pilots were the result of a flying club put together by myself and nine others. We had an airstrip on 40 Highway east of where Wal-Mart is today, an office building, gas pumps and several planes. We produced a colonel in the Air Force who flew fighter planes in Korea and Viet Nam, and a Marine captain who would later fly for TWA and be its 747 instructor for new pilots.
The best pilot Oak Grove ever produced had nothing to do with the flying club. His name was Lawrence Robinson. If there were an Aviator Hall of Fame, he would have been inducted 60 years ago.
He personally knew Lt. Gen. Claire Chennault, and flew both the China Hump during the war and Chennaults’ CAT airline (Civil Air Transport) after the war. In the late 1940s and early 50s, Lawrence was chief pilot for Trans American Airlines owned by Kirk Kerkorian. After Kerkorian sold the airline for $104 million, Lawrence and Kirk were lifelong friends. Kerkorian used the 100 million to buy 80 acres on the Las Vegas strip and wound up being one of the richest men in the world, building the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino.
Lawrence lived in Los Angeles and did not have a car in Kansas City, so when he flew in, he would call this 16-year-old single engine pilot to haul him around and take him back to the airport
One time he was flying from Chicago to Kansas City in the middle of the night with a full load of passengers when he encountered the roughest storm in his career. Lightening struck the plane and all the instruments including his radio went out.
The flight was so rough, the flight attendants and passengers all became sick. He managed to land in the middle of the night at the old Municipal airport with no instruments or radio. I idolized Lawrence and wanted to follow in his footsteps, but because of an eye defect I could never become a commercial pilot.
If your town produced a well-known pilot, let me know.
Jack can be reached at PO Box 40, Oak Grove, MO 64075 or jack...@aol.com Visit www.jackremembers.com