Charles F. Blair, Jr.

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Charles F. Blair, Jr.
Born (1909-07-19)July 19, 1909
Buffalo, New York, United States
Died September 2, 1978(1978-09-02) (aged 69)
St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy Seal United States Navy
 United States Air Force
Years of service 1932–1960
Rank Captain (USN)
Brigadier General (USAF)
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Harmon Trophy
Relations Maureen O'Hara (wife)
Other work Pan American World Airways
Antilles Air Boats

Charles F. Blair, Jr. (July 19, 1909 – September 2, 1978) was a United States Air Force Brigadier General, United States Navy aviator Captain, a test pilot, an airline pilot, and airline owner. He died in a Grumman Goose seaplane crash in the Caribbean.

Life and career[edit]

Charles Blair learned to fly in San Diego and made his first solo at the age of 19. In 1931, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Vermont, and the following year was commissioned an Ensign as a naval aviator. He served with the Naval Reserves at the same time as flying for United Airlines for seven years. In 1940, Blair became a chief pilot at American Export Airlines, later renamed American Overseas Airlines, where he trained the pilots.

In World War II Blair flew with the Naval Air Transport Service and the Air Transport Command as well as being a test pilot for Grumman Aircraft, testing the F6F Hellcat, F7F Tigercat, F8F Bearcat and the Martin Mars flying boat.

Following the war, Blair commanded testing and the first scheduled flights of the Lockheed Constellation and Boeing Stratocruiser airliners of American Overseas Airlines as well as owning and operating Associated Air Transport, Inc. American Overseas Airlines merged with Pan American World Airways in 1950, with Blair becoming a Pan Am pilot.

Charles Blair's Excalibur III at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (NASM)

Blair had purchased the P-51 Mustang "Stormy Petrel" that Paul Mantz had flown to wins in the Bendix Trophy air races in 1946 and 1947. Rechristened "Excalibur III", Blair began setting records. On 31 January 1951 Blair flew non stop from New York to London to test the jet stream, traveling 3,478 miles (5,597 km) at an average speed of 446 miles per hour (718 km/h) in seven hours and 48 minutes setting a record for a piston engine plane.[1] On 29 May of the same year he flew from Bardufoss, Norway to Fairbanks, Alaska flying 3260 non stop miles across the North Pole. Captain Blair was awarded the Harmon Trophy from President Truman and the Gold Medal of the Norwegian Aero Club. The Excalibur III is now on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Blair resigned his naval commission in 1952 and was later commissioned a Colonel in the United States Air Force Reserves while still flying for Pan Am. He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1959. In the same year he led two F-100 Super Sabres in a nonstop flight from England to Alaska in the first jet fighter flight over the North Pole. Blair earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (United States) for the flight.

Brigadier General Blair became a consultant to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1962. He retired from Pan Am in 1969, having founded Antilles Air Boats based in St Croix in 1963 with the idea of having a flying boat service from New York to and throughout the Caribbean. In 1974 Blair purchased two Sandringham flying boats from Ansett Airlines that had serviced the Sydney to Lord Howe Island route. In 1967 he also acquired the last Sikorsky VS-44 "Excambian" that Antilles operated until it was damaged in 1969.

He co-wrote a novel with A.J Wallis in 1956, Thunder Above, which was filmed as Beyond the Curtain in 1960 and wrote his autobiography Red Ball in the Sky in 1970.

Personal life[edit]

Charles Blair's brother was Robert Noel Blair (1912-2003) acclaimed itinerant painter and art teacher noted for his Battle of the Bulge paintings, painted during the action as a soldier. His sister-in-law Jeannette Blair and nephew Bruce Blair are also noted painters in the Buffalo area, where Charles Blair was born. On March 11, 1968, Blair married for the fourth time the actress Maureen O'Hara, whom he had first met on a flight to Ireland in 1947.[2]


On September 2, 1978, Blair was piloting a Grumman Goose for Antilles Air Boats from St. Croix to St. Thomas when the plane crashed into the ocean due to engine failure. He and three passengers were killed, seven passengers were severely injured.[3]

He is survived by his wife and four children from two previous marriages: Suzanne, Christopher, Charles Lee and Stephen. His remains are interred in Arlington National Cemetery.[4]


In 2006, O'Hara attended the Grand Reopening and Expansion of the Flying Boats Museum in Foynes, Limerick, Ireland, as a patron of the museum. A significant portion of the museum is dedicated to her late husband Charles.

O'Hara donated her late husband's flying boat (Sikorsky VS-44A) "The Queen of the Skies" to the New England Air Museum. The restoration of the plane took 8 years and time was donated by former pilots and mechanics in honour of Charles Blair.

A reproduction of Blair's red P-51 used to be displayed on the roof of the Queen's Building at Heathrow airport.

Charles Blair's Sandringham Flying boat VP-LVE "Southern Cross" has been the center piece of the Southampton Hall of Aviation since 1984. Although it has been repainted in its Ansett colours and registration number VH-BRC "Beachcomber"


"The sky is full of new frontiers." [5]

See also[edit]