Charles F. Blair Jr.
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|Charles F. Blair Jr.|
July 19, 1909|
Buffalo, New York, United States
September 2, 1978 (aged 69)|
St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
|Place of burial||Arlington National Cemetery|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
United States Navy|
United States Air Force
|Years of service||1932–1960|
Brigadier General (USAF)
|Battles/wars||World War II|
|Relations||Maureen O'Hara (wife)|
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
Blair was born in Buffalo, New York. He learned to fly in San Diego and made his first solo flight 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 Grumman F6F Hellcat, Grumman F7F Tigercat, Grumman 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.
Blair had purchased the P-51 Mustang that Paul Mantz had flown to win the Bendix Trophy air races in 1946 and 1947. Rechristening the plane "Stormy Petrel" and then "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. 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 which was published in several, later expanded editions in 1952, 1957, 1969 and in 1970.
Blair's brother Robert Noel Blair (1912-2003), was a painter and art teacher, in Buffalo, NY, noted for his Battle of the Bulge paintings, executed during combat. His sister-in-law Jeannette Blair and nephew Bruce Blair are also painters in the Buffalo area. On March 11, 1968, Charles Blair was married for the fourth time, to the actress Maureen O'Hara, whom he had first met on a flight to Ireland in 1947.
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, following the failure of the left un-airworthy engine. Blair and three passengers were killed, seven passengers were severely injured.
NTSB findings in the investigation of the accident
After its investigation, the NTSB concluded that pre-flight planning was improper because the maintenance release was falsified by a licensed mechanic. The mechanic had certified the aircraft as airworthy when, in fact, it was not. The plane was flown 22 hrs beyond the scheduled inspection time with the knowledge of certain key managers, supervisors, and licensed personnel.
The total times in the aircraft logbook had been falsified with the full knowledge of management, supervisors, and licensed personnel. Company policy and decisions were made by Blair, who violated or condoned violation of the regulations in the interest of company objectives.
The left engine failed when the No. 5 cylinder and piston separated from the engine, causing the engine cowl to separate. That engine was not airworthy because it had been in storage for 10 years before it was installed on the accident plane. The added drag caused by the loss of the cowling, combined with the decreased efficiency of the improperly maintained right propeller, combined with the over-weight condition of the aircraft—which resulted from a deficient FAA supplemental type certificate—made it impossible to maintain level single-engine flight.
"The probable cause of the accident was the inability of the aircraft to sustain single-engine flight and the captain's decision to attempt to fly the aircraft in ground effect [which was not an approved procedure] rather than attempt an open sea emergency landing."
"Contributing to the accident were the company's inadequate maintenance program, the management influence which resulted in the disregard of Federal Aviation Regulations and FAA-approved company maintenance policies, inadequate FAA surveillance of the airline, and deficient enforcement procedures."
"Contributing to the fatalities in this survivable accident was the captain's failure to brief passengers properly on emergency procedures."
After the engine failed, the captain did not warn or brief the passengers concerning life vests, emergency exits, or the developing situation. Consequently, no passengers made use of the life vests stored under each seat. Additionally, the captain failed to extend the flaps and failed to turn the plane into the wind. Those failures resulted in the plane impacting the ocean with almost twice the kinetic energy that would have been otherwise generated, causing the plane to break up and rapidly sink.
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.
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 Seaplane terminal located at The Charlotte Amalie Harbor Seaplane Base was dedicated in his honor.
"The sky is full of new frontiers." 
- "Charles F. Blair, Jr., Brigadier General, United States Air Force". Arlingtoncemetery.net.
- "CNN Transcript". CNN.
- O'Hara, Maureen (1997). "Blair". Archived from the original on May 9, 2008. Retrieved February 23, 2009.
- "Aviation Accident Report AAR-79-09 (id DCA78AA021)". National Transportation Safety Board. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
- A Biography of Charles Blair