Flying Tiger Line
Pilots Association

John Max Davidson

John Max Davidson

February 3, 1918 Waynoka Oklahoma

April 13, 1992 Palmdale California

John lived in Oklahoma and Texas as a youth. In April 1937 he joined the U.S. Navy and served until April 1941. Most of his duty was spent on the USS Pensacola with the Pacific Fleet. The "Pensy" participated in the search for Amelia Earhart and other peacetime chores.

By the time World War II started for the United States he was working for Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank California. His job of training B-17 crews on aircraft operation kept him from being recalled to active duty for the duration.

Shortly after the war he left Lockheed and went to work for Flying Tiger Line at its Burbank facility, sometime in 1946. Except for a brief period of layoff, he worked for Flying Tiger until 1954. Our main home during this was Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley. During his time with Flying Tiger, John participated in a variety of company endeavors.

Premier of these for him was the part he played in the Berlin Airlift. Sometime after the airlift started in 1948, Flying Tiger got a contract to supply cargo aircraft for the effort. John was crewchief on the plane he accompanied. (I always understood this to be a C-47.) They were, of course, required to fly the airplane to Europe. After stopping in Gander Newfoundland, they flew non-stop to Shannon Ireland. Those of you familiar with the range of the C-47 will realize this was no easy, nor safe, task. Barrels of additional aviation gasoline were carried in the cargo compartment for use in the flight. To keep gas in the airplane’s tank, the gasoline had to be hand pumped into the fuel system from within the cargo compartment. Mom didn’t realize how risky this was at the time. It was during my Dad’s reminiscing in later years that she finally understood how dangerous it was to make the crossing.

Other memories of the airlift were the landings at Templehof Aerodrome in Berlin. The landing pattern required that they come down between rows of apartment buildings on final approach. Dad recalled looking out of the airplane and seeing people in their apartments looking back at them. He told us about the devastation Berlin was still in at that time from the war.

Late in 1950 we moved to Monahans Texas. Dad was on the crew to recover C-46’s from "storage" in Pyote. I realize the company history on your website places the Pyote operation in the late 1940’s. However, I was five (or almost five) years old when we lived there and that means it was around November 1950. We lived in a small apartment building owned by Mrs. Oats. One of the other Tiger families in the apartments was Ed Tisch’s. That is the only other name I remember from this time.

Right after (or during) the Pyote days Dad was part of an aircrew, again as crewchief, sent to Brownsville Texas on another Tiger contract. It was with the federal government to fly illegals back into Mexico. The locals were none too happy with us and we were not well received on the street and in restaurants. Seems we were taking away their cheap slave labor. The immigration service rounded them up from the outlying farms or wherever. Mexico provided Army guards. And Tiger flew them to Guadalajara. Mom and I went on one of the trips. We rode in the cockpit and I remember looking out at the rows of men on each side, interspersed with guards. On the way back I got a flying lesson on the C-47 perched on the pilot’s lap.

In 1952 Dad was stationed in Honolulu to work on Flying Tiger’s contract for moving men and cargo to Japan for the Korean War. At one point he spent several months at the way station on Wake Island. We were in Hawaii until mid to late 1953. My bother Rod was born there in March of that year.

Sometime in 1954 Dad left Tiger and went to work for Northrop. We moved to Palmdale in the Antelope Valley. After working for them, and later North American he was hired in 1959/1960 or so, by General Electric for their flight test facility at Edwards AFB. There, he was on numerous development projects involving different engine prototypes, airframes, and even satellite maneuverability systems, until his retirement in 1982.

Dad died in April 1992 a week short of his 51st wedding anniversary, after a brief bout with pneumonia. He is survived by my Mother, Frances, his sons, Roderick and I, our families, a sister in Texas, and numerous nieces and nephews. His fondest memories were always of his time with Flying Tiger and the many people he knew, lived and worked with. It was the only aircraft company we were associated with where the work and the social life of the men and families were so totally intertwined.

John Michael Davidson

November 2001

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