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Frank Gifford Tallman III (April 17, 1919 in East Orange, New Jersey – April 15, 1978 in Santiago Peak, Trabuco Canyon, California) was a stunt pilot who worked in Hollywood during the 1960s and 1970s. He was the son of Frank Gifford Tallman, Jr. (1894 – 1952) and Inez Evelyn Foster (1894 – 1982).
Growing up, he had twin who was named Elizabeth. When Elizabeth was about 7, she died of a combination of pneumonia and measles. That same year Frank's sister Prudence was born. He also had one brother, Foster. Frank Tallman's father had been a military pilot during World War I. Tallman took his first plane ride in his father's lap at age five. As a teenager he took flying lessons and became a pilot. When World War II started, Tallman tried to enter the military as a pilot, but his application was declined due to his lack of the required two years of college. He worked for a time as a civilian pilot instructor and later in the war was able to join the U.S. Navy when they relaxed their education requirements. Tallman remained stateside until the end of the war.
Tallman remained in the Navy Reserves after the war and started a business in Illinois. He had the opportunity to acquire a collection of pre-1920 aircraft and supplemented the collection with surplus World War II aircraft and more pre-war aircraft as he was able.
In 1961, Tallman formed Tallmantz Aviation with stunt pilot Paul Mantz. Based at Orange County Airport (now John Wayne Airport) in Southern California, they provided pilots, camera planes, and a small fleet of antique and historic aircraft (along with background models of aircraft and ships) for movie and television productions. Mantz was killed in 1965 while flying a cobbled-together aircraft, the Tallmantz Phoenix P-1, designed with the assistance of Otto Timm, representing the fictional type built by oil explorers of pieces of their crashed Fairchild C-82 Packet downed in the North African desert in The Flight of the Phoenix.
Tallman injured his leg in a go-cart accident with his small son in the driveway of their home (which meant Mantz had to fly the Phoenix). Tallman was hospitalized. Infection set in and most of the leg was amputated. Tallman taught himself to fly with one leg, reportedly preferring to fly some planes without the prosthetic he used for walking. As an amputee he eventually won back his FAA certificates and ratings in prop (multi and single-engine), jet, and rotary aircraft.
Tallman performed the stunt flying in the 1963 chase movie It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, including the flight in a Beech 18 through a Coca-Cola billboard. He also contributed to The Carpetbaggers (1964), The Wrecking Crew (1969), and The Thousand Plane Raid (also 1969).
He served as the flying supervisor for Catch-22 in 1970 and was personally involved in locating and acquiring the 18 or so flyable film unit B-25s appearing in the film. Tallman flew the dramatic night shots of the Milo Minderbinder Air Force B-25 bombing its own base just over the heads of actors Jon Voight and Martin Sheen.
In 1971, Tallman flew a Grumman J2F-6 Duck amphibian he restored in Murphy's War. In 1973 he flew in Ace Eli and Rodger of the Skies and piloted a Stearman cropduster in Charley Varrick along with the television pilot films Death Race and San Francisco International Airport. He was aerial supervisor for The Great Waldo Pepper in which he performed barnstorming stunts. When the controls failed in his WWI aircraft replica, the plane went out of control and struck power lines. Tallman suffered a head injury. He also flew in Lucky Lady, both in 1975. Tallman also served as aerial coordinator and pilot for the television series Baa Baa Black Sheep (1976–1979). He also flew in the six-episode TV series Spencer's Pilots, starring Gene Evans, and the television film, Amelia Earhart, both in 1976.
In 1973, Tallman recounted his experiences rebuilding and flying vintage aircraft in the book Flying the Old Planes.
On Saturday 15 April 1978, Tallman was making a routine ferry flight in a twin engine Piper Aztec from Santa Monica Airport, California, to Phoenix, Arizona under visual flight rules when he continued the flight into deteriorating weather, a lowering ceiling and rain. He struck the side of Santiago Peak in the Santa Ana Mountains near Trabuco Canyon at cruise altitude, dying in the ensuing crash.
Following his death, Tallman's historic collection of movie warplanes and camera planes was sold off. Many were purchased by entrepreneur Kermit Weeks and went on display at his Fantasy of Flight museum in Polk City, Florida. A Silver Line ship's model was donated to the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.
Notes and references
- Tallman biography at Aerovintage.com
- Air Trails: 15. Winter 1971.
- Tallman Family papers relating to the Tallman family including Frank Gifford Tallman, Sr. (1860-1938) and Annie Dickie Tallman, the grandparents of Frank Gifford Tallman III (1919-1978), at Hagley Museum and Library