Since mankind first turned our eyes skyward, through endless, tireless and persistent dedication to reach our lofty goals, we have successfully topped the windswept heights with easy grace, and flung ourselves through the footless halls of air. However, there has been a less inspiring aeronautical quest that for some reason, has called out to so many fellow aviators through out the proud and distinguished history of aviation.
We have grown from a short flight on Kill Devil Hills, to distances that circumnavigate the globe. Speeds that literally melt the atmosphere, and altitudes that reached the surface of our Moon. but, for some reason, the bridge seemed to always call out to aviators in the same way a mountain calls out to a climber…because it was there. Far less impressive than climbing a mountain, but it still calls...
Lincoln Beachey (March 3, 1887 – March 14, 1915) was a pioneer American aviator and barnstormer. Beachey became well known flying exhibitions, stunt flying, and as a pioneer of aerobatics. June 1911, the organizers of the U. S.-Canadian Carnival offered $1,000 to the first person to fly an aeroplane over Niagara Falls. Beachey accepted the offer, and soon arrived in his Curtiss D biplane. In less than ideal weather conditions, Beachey took off into a drizzle and flew over the lower falls of Niagara Falls, then above American Falls, before an estimated 150,000 spectators, thus fulfilling the goal of being the first to fly over the falls. After circling the specators several times, Beachy pushed his stick forward, and dove down straight into the mists of the falls, pulling out less than 20 feet over the surface of the Niagara River. Beachy then continued straight down the Niagara Gorge, and shot undrneath the Honeymoon Bridge in front of astonished onlookers.
On October 19th, 1941: Royal Air Force P/O George Rogers of 400 Squadron, was flying in a Curtiss Tomahawk when he decided to fly under the Winnal bridge in Winchester. Due to unfortunate timing, had to take evasive action after meeting head on with an oncoming truck. Rogers clipped the bridge with his P-40 during his evasive maneuver, and lost 3ft of his wing to it. A short, regretful flight back to Odiham Base, where Roger’s crashed on landing, and the aircraft was destroyed. Rogers walked away with only minor injuries. No reports on the condition of the startled truck driver. For some reason, the locals thought it was a Spitfire that flew under the bridge, and much like the way the Spitfire took credit for the Battle of Britain, she once again stole the show…from that day forward, it became known as Spitfire Bridge.
Richard Ira Bong was a United States Army Air Forces Major and Medal of Honor recipient, and one of the most decorated American fighter pilots and top flying ace during the second world war. Bong was credited with shooting down 40 Japanese aircraft, all with his trusty Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter named “Marge”. On June 12, 1942, a good friend of Bong’s was getting married. To help celebrate, Bong took his P-38 to rooftop height and flew directly over the lovebirds home, then directly down Market street, where according to the story, Bong was so low that clothing was blown off an Oakland woman clothesline. According to reports made, Bong also looped his Lightning around the Golden Gate bridge. Bong admitted to buzzing his buddies house, and Market street, but denied looping the bridge. Bong was grounded. According to the story, he was forced to work on the woman's yard to make up for his mischievous actions. Soon he was returned to flying status, and returned to the Pacific war to help thin out enemy aircraft numbers.
On October 22nd, 1943, Lancaster Mk I Q ‘Queenie VI’ under the command of Flight Lieutenant Peter Isaacson was transiting from RAAF Richmond in Sydney’s west to Mascot. As the bomber overflew Sydney, Isaacson turned the mammoth bomber towards the Harbour Bridge, pushed the nose forward, and continued straight underneath. Amazingly someone captured the pass on camera.
On 5 April 1968, Flight Lieutenant Alan Pollock, a flight commander in No. 1 (Fighter) Squadron RAF, was displeased with a shifting emphasis from manned aircraft towards guided missiles and the fact that that no aerial displays had been planned to mark the RAF's 50th anniversary. Pollock decided on his own initiative to mark the occasion of the RAF anniversary with an unauthorized display.
His flight left the soon-to-be-closed RAF Tangmere in Sussex to return to RAF West Raynham in Norfolk; a route that took them over London. Immediately after takeoff, Pollock left the flight and flew low level. Having "beaten up" Dunsfold Aerodrome (Hawker's home airfield), he then took his Hawker Hunter FGA.9, over London at low level, circled the Houses of Parliament three times as a demonstration against Prime Minister Harold Wilson's government, dipped his wings over the Royal Air Force Memorial on the Embankment, and finally flew under the top span of Tower Bridge. Flight Lieutenant Alan Pollock later wrote of the decision to fly through Tower Bridge: "Until this very instant I'd had absolutely no idea that, of course, Tower Bridge would be there. It was easy enough to fly over it, but the idea of flying through the spans suddenly struck me. I had just ten seconds to grapple with the seductive proposition which few ground attack pilots of any nationality could have resisted. My brain started racing to reach a decision. Years of fast low-level strike flying made the decision simple . . ."
Knowing that he was likely to be stripped of his flying status as a result of this display, he proceeded to "beat up" several airfields (Wattisham, Lakenheath and Marham) in inverted flight at an altitude of about 200 feet en route to his base at RAF West Raychem, where, within the hour, he was formally arrested.
Captain Robert Moriarty was an American Marine F-4B fighter pilot who holds the record as the youngest naval aviator (age 20) in the Vietnam war, achieving the rank of captain. Moriarty recorded 824 combat missions by the time he had left the war. In 1984, Robert Moriarty was part of a team that entered into the Paris to Libreville air race, but sadly, an engine failure south of Portugal forced them to drop out. After successfully repairing the Beechcraft Bonanza , they turned their attention to a new goal….the Eiffel Tower.
At 11:20am, Robert Moriarty and passengers lined up with the tower along the two-mile-long garden, aimed for the arch, and flew squarely in between the pillars of the Eiffel tower in their V-tail Bonanza.
On April 24th, 1959; U.S. Air Force Captain John S. Lappo, a WW2, Korean War and Vietnam Veteran was flying a USAF RB-47E 6 engine bomber aircraft, along with his five-man crew as they were returning to Lockbourne Air Force base near Columbus, Ohio.
As the Mackinac Bridge came into view, Capt Lappo succumbed to a temptation that has flashed through the mind of almost every pilot since the birth of powered flight... called to his crew "I'm taking her under" and pushed the nose of the massive 230,000 pound Strategic Air Command nuclear bomber forward, towards the waters of Lake Michigan and directly at "Mighty Mac" at a speed of over 400 miles per hour.
The RB-47 Stratojet screaming just over the whitecaps of the lake, streaked cleanly through the 150-foot clearance underneath the Mackinack Bridge, then pulling her nose up allowing her to climb like a homesick angel.
Unfortunately, not all crew members aboard were pleased with the Captains decision, namely a new navigator who at the time was not known to be the Generals son...a fact that would have some implications after the somewhat historical flight. That flight was the last flight for Captain Lappo.
Shortly after he pleaded guilty to violating the air force regulation that prohibited flying an aircraft less than 500 feet above the ground or water. Capt. Lappo was put on suspended pay for six months, as well as receiving a formal reprimand, Captain Lappo was forced to surrender his wings.
Caps. John S. Lappo remained in the air force, as an aircraft maintenance officer, and after thirty years of service, he retired with honors as a lieutenant colonel.
Not all the accused are guilty…in some cases, a pilot has no intention to fly under a bridge, but circumstances force him into it.
Allegedly on an unknown date in the spring of 1944, Bruce “Bill" Overstreet Jr. was flying his P-51B Mustang, the 'Berlin Express,’ near Paris while escorting a US Bomber group when they were jumped by German Messerschmitt Bf 109s.
After most of the German fighters had broken off their attack, Overstreet was left in a one on one dogfight with a 109. The Bf 109 pilot was attempting to escape, and flew over Paris in hopes that the heavy German triple A batteries surrounding the city would get the American off his tail. Overstreet pressed on, and managed to get a few hits on his target, damaging the Messerschmitt 's engine. Overstreet stayed on his tail while dodging the intense enemy ground fire from below.
In a last act of utter desperation to shake the American fighter, the German pilot turned his aircraft directly at the Eiffel Tower and, flew straight through. Overstreet was not about to let his prey get away, and followed right behind him, scoring several more hits as he passed underneath the steel structure. The German aircraft crashed into the ground, and Overstreet turned tail and escaped the heavy flak by flying at rooftop level and full throttle down the Seine until he had cleared the heavily defended city.
According the the story, the amazing spectacle of Overstreet’s Mustang chasing the enemy though the tower helped raise moral, and inspired the French citizens and the Resistance. He was awarded the France's highest military award, Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur by the French Ambassador to the United States Pierre Vimont at a ceremony held at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia.on June 6, 2009
On the 19th of October, 1962, the USS Ranger (CVA-61) was helping to film a documentary about carrier pilots. The ship was entering San Francisco Bay, and two VF-96 Phantoms were being readied for launch. The film shot was supposed to capture a Phantom being launched off the deck , then climbing away over the Golden Gate, however something occurred that delayed the launch enough that when the Phantom left the carrier, the pilot was faced with a whole lot of Golden Gate in front of him. Without any time to waste, the F-4 pilot flew directly, and through no fault of his own, underneath the Golden Gate bridge.
On September 15, 1952, Robinson “ Robbie” Risner was escorting F-84 Thunderjets who’s target was a chemical plant on the Yalu River near the East China Sea. During their defense of the bombers, Risner's flight overflew a MiG base at Antung Airfield, China. As the MiGs came up to greet the bombers, Robbie broke off to take them on. Chasing one MiG at nearly supersonic speeds down to, and at surface level, Risner pursued it down a dry riverbed, under a bridge, across low hills to an airfield 35 miles inside China. Shooting off its canopy, setting it on fire, and finally the fight concluded after flying in between hangars of the Communist airbase, where he shot down the MiG into parked enemy fighters.