Who Case: 62
I am John Wright’s daughter. Let me clarify a few facts. Dad was Stanford Mechanical Engineer graduate and graduate of Stanford Business School, an air force trained pilot, a Pan Am check pilot, and later Chief Pilot in LA for Pan Am. He saw the P51 in a hanger in Manila, Philippines while on a Pan Am trip. Through a bit of research he was able to find out it was owned by Enrique Zobel (from an affluent Filipino family). Dad was able to make contact with him. Dad wanted to buy the plane but it was expensive even then and he was also unsure about how to get the plane back to the US. Enrique wanted some US military style helicopters. If Dad could secure the helicopters for Enrique and arrange their shipment to Manila he would sell the 51 at a material discount to Dad. (I remember test flying with Dad in one of the helicopters.) Dad was successful securing the acquisition of the helicopters and when the negotiations were complete Dad spent a fair amount of time securing P51 parts and arranging for 2 months off from Pan Am. He moved to Manila to rebuild the engine. He was a natural, easy, and trained mechanic having grown up on a cattle ranch in Northern Nevada were you repaired your own rig or walked tens of miles back to headquarters. He hired one local mechanic assistant and spent the next six weeks rebuilding the engine and putting drop tanks on the wings. My mother back at home with us three kids would arrange for the shipment of parts from the US and Europe. He also was arranging for his flight route back across the Pacific from the Philippines, to Japan, across the Bering Sea, along the Aleutians, and along the Pacific coast of North America landing in Reno, Nevada. I have very vivid memories of him landing at Stead at dusk. Though we have audio tapes of the trip I do not remember the number of days it took. I believe his longest leg was eight hours. He did not run out of fuel when the 51 crashed in Elko, but he did on that trip. The visibility had gone to almost zero and his radio was not working. While working on the radio and distracted he forget to switch the fuel to the other drop tank. The engine died and it took him a painfully long time in the fog, dropping in altitude over the Bering Sea to get the engine restated. Another clarification, though he flew in the Air Force and later the Air Guard he was too young to have flown in WWII. He was born in 1932 and was in the Air Force and Guard in between Korea and Vietnam. Also, he competed in the Reno Air Races several times and was more than a Bronze medalist. He had several silver, bronzes and a gold metal (which sits in my shelf). Dad was known as an outstanding pilot who often out flew others in his stock P51 against modified planes with clipped wings, modified propellers, etc.. He was often his own mechanic which maybe why he so rarely had a mechanical problem during the races. He was not flying the day the P51 buzzed the highway out near Pyramid Lake and scared two girls who drove off the rode. His friend Carl Barlow was flying. I do not remember all the specifics but I suspect dad may have taken responsibility. On the fateful day he and Mom crashed he had been asked to come be a sort of Master of Ceremonies at a mini air show in Elko the week before the races. Having grown up on an Elko area ranch he was a local boy and an award winning Air Race Pilot. A lot of the planes ferry across the US to Reno for the races and the Elko Chamber of Commerce wanted to take advantage of that and host a mini show. At the time Mom and Dad were not living in Nevada but the 51 was hangered in Carson City. He had not flown the plane in months. He and Mom flew into Reno commercially that morning. They saw my sister and they looked great (they were both very attractive and exceptional youthful 48 and 49). So my sister knew Mom was with him. The reason others were not sure at first was because when we were young Dad generally would not fly in a single engine plane with Mom out of caution and protection of us. But we were all in college by then. They took off and it was a clear, pretty day. It takes about an hour to fly from Reno to Elko and the plane seemed to be flying well. Dad decided (I believe spontaneously) to do some acrobatics before landing. His brother and nephews were in the audience. My understanding is he was doing an eight point role and the FAA concluded the engine failed while he was inverted which they attributed to sediment in the fuel. Though he apparently was able to get the plane right side up, my uncle believes based on what he saw that Dad was avoiding the populated area and that caused him to steer toward an area where the terrain was climbing (a knoll) which he was unable to climb over. I could be wrong about a few of the crash details. We have not discussed it in years. I would have to check with my siblings but I believe Dad may have sold a part interest in the P51 to Ted Conti. I do recall we sold Ted Dad’s extra engine and several parts after his death. I remember flying with Dad to London to search through an old WWII warehouse that had a container full of wax and Vaseline packed 51 parts. I carried a small wax covered red cardboard box for years that held a small part from that trip. All of this should clarify a few of the details. The part I cannot be held to without checking with my uncle are the crash details. We were devastated in the aftermath. He loved that plane. I only rode in it once and the noise, maneuverability, and bubble canopy made it a powerful experience, second only to standing at a pylon and seeing your dad’s silhouette as he banked and roared by during a race. The Mustang and my father we’re well suited and my mother and father were even better suited given how they both embraced life. Mom probably insisted on going with him. She was game for any adventure and adored him. The bent and twisted propeller now stands mounted high above the headquarters at my father’s family ranch.