Flying Tiger Line
Pilots Association

Roy McLain

royFlying Tiger Line Pilots Association

In Memoriam...

Roy McLain

As told by the widow LaVerne McLain and daughter Cheryl Baldwin

Roy was born on a large farm in Ekelson, ND in 1913. The family doctor had a WWI pilot fly him from farm to farm to attend to his patients when the weather was cooperative. When the doctor came to the farm to remove Roy's tonsils he told him if he was a good boy, he would let his pilot take him for an airplane ride. Well of course he was so when he returned from the flight Roy informed his mother (Mary), at age 8, he was going to be a pilot when he grew up.

roy2When the family moved to California and settled in the San Francisco area Roy earned his pilot's license (on his 16th birthday on July 3rd 1929) at the Oakland Airport. When he soloed, he had long yellow strips tied to the wings, to warn the more experienced pilots in the area there was a new kid on the block. Later the same day he went with his father to get his driver's license. His first job as a pilot was flying airmail. Roy also flew sight seeing tours, around Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay, during the World's Fair around 1939.

During WWII, Roy was a member of the Civil Air Patrol with the rank of Major. He worked at Hamilton Field training pilots. Roy often laughed that he had more hours than the General.

McLainDuring the early 1940's Roy married a widow, Alice, who already had two sons. Their daughter was born a while later. He went back to school and received his high school diploma and went on to earn a Masters degree in Mathematics from Berkley. He knew he wanted to fly for a living but being the practical man he was he also wanted something he could fall back on if the need arose.

Roy's first commercial flying position was with Transocean Airline. He later went to work for Flying Tiger Line in 1955 while they were still at Burbank Airport. When he first came to work at Tiger's it was as the Chief Flight Engineer. He missed flying so much he later became a crew member as a flight engineer. During this time Roy was contracted out to El Al and Japan Air Lines (JAL) for short durations. His expertise as a flight engineer landed him the opportunity to go to Japan and be the flight engineer instructor for the instructors for JAL. He took his wife and daughter with him and spent a month in Japan. He did the rest of the training state side. Roy's career with Tigers lasted until he was forced to retire at age 60.

As most pilots will tell you they have had a few near misses, Roy had his share of them. He always said: "The Good Lord is watching over me." One instance in particular stands out to me. He related he was on a flight from Japan to Alaska (I believe it was Anchorage). They had bad weather most all the way. When they finally reached Alaska their fuel reserves were low. The tower explained to the crew the airport was socked in solid with no flights going in or out and all the other airports except Seattle were in the same condition. The crew knew they didn't have enough fuel to last to Seattle and discussed ditching in the cold Alaskan waters. While circling the airport Roy said, "It was like two big hands reaching down and parting the clouds and right below them was the airport and the landing lights." The plane and crew landed safely. The clouds moved back in and they couldn't leave for several days. Truly the Good Lord was watching over him. If you remember the book/film "Fate is the Hunter" you will remember this is the story of the last flight of a doomed aircraft. Many of the things which happened on the flight had happened to Roy at various times (not all at once). Roy and the author were friends so Ernie used the information for his story line.

C195Roy was so proud (as we all are) of his flying record. When he was finally forced to give up flying altogether he had over 36,000 hours in the air and had never damaged a aircraft or injured a passenger. Dad was also an FAA crash inspector after leaving Tigers. As a family we spent many happy hours in "Old Big Nose" which was his Cessna 195. We have a special memory of flying over Yosemite national Park before it became restricted. During his flying career he has been on every continent except the Antarctic. He loved flying so much. His career touched many lives.

From Cheryl:

My dad and I spent many wonderful hours in the air together. I had over 500 hours in a light plane before I was five years old. He also gave me his love of flying and airplanes. One of the games we used to play is to sit and watch movies to see how many different aircraft they would use in one movie and pretend it was all the same aircraft. I am sure a lot of his fellow pilots do the same. He taught me about clouds (to know the types) and how majestic and/or beautiful they are and yet how destructive they can be. We would also go out in the back yard at night and lay on a blanket and watch the stars. He would see how many I could name. My love of nature and the world I received from him. I passed this love onto my children. He was a great dad/father and grandfather and he is greatly missed.

From LaVerne:

Roy was a member of the Air Pioneers Quiet Birdman and we saw the beginning of the Air Historian Group. This was done to keep the Air Pioneers from becoming a last man's group and becoming extinct. After our marriage we traveled to many of the reunions together, both Tigers and the Pioneers. I loved him very dearly and the years I had with him were too few, but very wonderful. Roy had a good number of near misses and when he would tell me about some of them, I would always say. "That was the Lord saving you for me". I tell people now Roy is in Heaven he is teaching the angels to do new tricks with their wings, or it might be the other way around. I have many wonderful memories I will always cherish.

Back To Memorials