Memories of Malden

Do you have a story to share from your time at Malden Army Airfield or Malden Air Base? We'd love to hear from you! Meanwhile, here are some memories of Malden that have been generously shared with us and may sound somewhat familiar to you.

J. Larrison, Class 59-H

T-6 Gear Check via a Control Tower Fly-By

by Lt. Col. (then Captain) John Larrison (USAF Ret)

It is not uncommon for an aircraft to request a Control Tower fly-by to have the tower provide a “visual” check of their landing gear position when the pilot questions the cockpit indicators.

The following story took place in the early 1950s at Malden Air Base, Malden MO, when it was a Civilian Primary Pilot Training base flying the T-6.  This was the original T-6, not the current Turbo-prop T-6.  The T-6 had visual indicator to backup the electronic Landing Gear position indicators.  This was done by showing a simple “Down Locking Pin,” in the leading edge of the Wing.  The pin could be seen from the cockpit and provided a positive visual indication to the pilot. 

This story was told by our Primary Pilot training Flight Commander during my Class 59-H training at Malden AB.  He and one of the other instructors had been assigned control tower duty and were monitoring overall flight operations. 

It was a clear day and everything was normal.  That’s when they got the call from a solo aircraft.  They knew he was solo because of the call sign used.  Solo students used their call signs while Dual (student with an instructor) aircraft used the instructor’s call sign.  Tower personnel naturally gave solo aircraft more attention than a dual aircraft.

The solo student, on the radio, told them he could not see the Down and Locked indicators on his aircraft.  A condition which is not totally uncommon with a T-6 aircraft. 

But, with a solo student, it called for a visual inspection to confirm the students reported condition. 

A tower fly-by would permit that visual check.  The Student was instructed to bring the aircraft by the tower so they could look check the landing gear position.  After several minutes they had not seen the aircraft fly by.  They called him, “when would he come by.”  He informed them that he had been by. How could they have missed him?  He was asked to come by again.  This time they monitored the horizon with the field glasses watching for him.  After a suitable period of time, he was called and asked when he was coming by.  Once again they were told that he had been by.

Things now had become very weird.  Two passes and they had not been able to see him.  New instructions, “Rev” the engine rpm as he comes by so they can hear him.   Both instructors picked up their field glasses and went out on the tower walkway, which ran around the control tower.  With their field glass scanning the complete 360 degrees, it was only a few minutes when they heard an engine revving.  But, no aircraft in sight.  But, the sound was coming from below.  Looking down, they saw a T-6, which had been taxiing back and forth on the ramp taxi way just below the Tower.  Moral of the story, don’t make assumptions.  The student had been doing his “Pre-Start - cockpit checks” when he noted he could not see the aircraft’s Gear Down & Locked pins and called the Tower. The Flight Commander had assumed he was in-flight.

J. Larrison Class 59-H

J. Larrison, Class 59-H

I was at Malden in 1944 for C-47 Transition Training and while there met my wife...She was from Kennett.  We married Oct 16 1944...Still married...I returned to Malden as a Ground School Instructor in 1951 and left in 1959.  I also owned and operated Polly's Jewelry, next door to Willy Millers Men's Store...Bill Norrid bought my house when I left...MEMORIES!

    --J. Contino

J. Contino, 1944 and 1951-1959

My father, Maj. Joe Valles, was a young Air Force Lt. and instructor at Malden in the early 50s, and my mother, Annette, was well known on the base for her vivaciousness and practical joking (as well as her long hair and Southern accent).  She often recalled how she dressed up one Halloween in a flight suit and visored helmet, then visited all the married cadet's homes where she pawed all the cadet's wives!  After the initial shock, there were laughs all around when she took off the helmet!
I came along later, but I remember we often returned to Malden in the early 60's to visit the base cafeteria's chief, Giz Blanton and his wife Sophie, who were old neighbors.

My father later was a command pilot flying B47s at Schilling with the 40th Bomb Wing and then flew MATS missions to Vietnam and finally ran Base Ops at Yokota AFB, where he sometimes encountered his old Malden cadets as they passed through on their way to Vietnam.  He passed away in 1982, and my mother in 2005.  I hope they are not forgotten.

   -- Joseph Valles, Son of Maj. Joe R. Valles, USAF

Joseph Valles, Son of Maj. Joe R. Valles

When I first started working at MAB I was l8 years old and started on the flight line - recording air time and also taking minutes on aircraft accidents.  I worked for Major Voss and he conducted all of the investigations.  I worked there until it closed and then I went to the commissary and worked until the end of December in l945. 

I did all of the shorthand (verbatim) no machines, nothing but a pen or pencil and Major Voss told me if they got too fast on their explanations of what happened that I should kick his shins lightly.  One Monday morning I was having a bad day (remember I was a teenager then and catting around a lot at night) so I just kept kicking his shins.  About l0:30 he asked for a break and called me aside and wanted to know "what in the hell is wrong with you today", I shaped up after that.  I have a lot of fond memories of that base and it was certainly a new experience for a little old country girl that had made a few trips over Riddle Hill into Malden and that was about the extent of my traveling 

I distinctly remember one of the cadets crashing in a woods west of Malden (near Riddle Hill) and I had to go out with the aircraft accident investigator and we talked to farmers and I put my old typewriter on the top of a hay trailer and I took statements and typed them up in the barnlot and the people signed them and we went on our way and held our investigation later.

I worked on the flight line again after Mr. Anderson came there.  I worked for the Director of Flying and the Aircraft Investigations Officer until I left there in 1953.

     -- L.K.

L.K., 1945-1953


Thank you so very much for the picture.  Mom and I both had a lot of fun at the two Malden reunions that she and I attended. Also allow me to tell you about two links that I have had with Mom's duty stay at Malden.  At first Mom lived with the nurses stationed at Malden while she flew and tested the BT-13 trainers known to the pilots as the Vultee Vibrator.  Many nights the girls would combine their efforts and make supper for the group.  They had a large common room where they could eat, and some nights the male medical staff would come over and all of the medical staff and other guests would eat and party.  One of the nurses was from New Jersey and had an Italian background.  This woman's mom would periodically send her a care package with most of the ingredients for spaghetti and meatballs.  She would buy whatever could not be sent in the mail and make a supper for the girls and their guests.  She taught my Mom the recipe and that is the spaghetti and meatballs that I grew up eating and enjoying.  

A second link to Malden for me was also part of this common room and the parties that took place there.  The nurses had a piano in that common area and my Mother had a radio / phonograph.  So the men and women of the medical section, and other guests, could listen to music and dance while they ate and visited.  Well, while I was a child I also listened to that same radio and phonograph.  It had a large wooden case with dials and a speaker on the front.  The top opened up to get to the record turntable.  I remember listening to children's records on it.  Recently I ran across a picture of a Christmas tree and presents with me playing on a new trike, and in the corner of the room was a table with that radio and phonograph on the table. 

After about six weeks, the Vultee trainers moved out and the base was converted to the C-47 transports.  Apparently housing was tight and Mom and a WAC officer who worked in the PX were assigned to one of the married officer's quarters.  She has several stories about learning to live there that I will give you in another letter.

Again, thanks for the picture,

Paul Chapman  October 2014

Mary Helen (Crane) Foster went through basic training at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, TX. After her graduation, she was assigned to Malden. When she arrived, she was given the task of checking out planes that needed maintenance or that had completed maintenance. Her log book shows mostly that she flew Vultee BT-13A’s, but some other planes also. She shared this task with a male pilot and they would typically fly each plane solo. They would sometimes fly a plane to check out a student pilot’s complaint and sometimes to see if the repairs had been made properly and that the plane was again ready for service. In July of 1944, the base changed over from instruction in the BT-13A to instruction for Troop Carrier Command pilots flying the C-47A. Her log book shows her first flight in the C-47 to have been on July 13, 1944. She flew the C-47’s for maintenance until December 20, 1944. She had gotten permission to ferry planes over the Atlantic to England and had plenty of volunteers at Malden to fly with her as crew, but the end of the war with Germany intervened. At that time, the surplus of male pilots released from Europe caused the Army Air Corps to dismiss the Wasps. 

An article in The Dallas Morning News stated that Mrs. Foster flew BT-13s and C-47s and DC-3s at Malden Army Airfield, MO. She was the only female pilot on the base. “I reported in, and the commanding officer said, “I didn’t ask for a woman pilot”.” And I said, “Sir, I didn’t ask to come to Missouri”. The following picture shows Mary Helen Crane on the wing of a BT-13A. This photo was taken on her first day assigned to Malden Army Airfield.

Contributed on behalf of Mary Helen (Crane) Foster by Paul Chapman

C-47 Aircraft towing CG-4 Troop-Carrying Gliders
Malden August 1944—March 1945

In World War II, during the European war efforts, movements of troops often were made via C-47 aircraft (commercial DC-3 at the time) carrying and dropping paratroopers into a battle area and/or towing CG-4 troop-carrying gliders, loaded with troops, which were towed to the designated battle area where the gliders would disconnect from the tow cable and land in open areas to disgorge their troops.

Huge numbers of troops were transported and effectively dropped or landed in order to meet a specific need or opportunity on the battlefront. Flights were usually in several formations of three planes flying at a very low elevation in order to avoid radar. When the drop or landing sites were sited, the aircraft would elevate to appropriate levels for paratroops to jump and for glider disconnect. Such flights were designed to surprise local enemy troops since the planes/gliders were coming in so low that they were vulnerable to ground fire; obviously, the situation could be very dangerous to planes and troops. Many times paratroopers were dropped into areas where foreign troops had been forewarned which meant encountering heavy ground fire but were often confronted with obstacles placed in the designated landing areas and, with no power other than batteries for landing lights at night, they of course were committed to land…often with dire results. Obviously, many men could be and were lost in such situations.

In August, 1944, in the Battle of the Bulge in Europe, the US lost a great number of crews and planes needed for the foregoing efforts so to meet the desperate need for flight crews to man the C-47’s, the Air Corps opened two fields for training Troop Carrier tactics—Malden was one of the fields. At that time, at Bergstrom Air Field in Austin, Texas, there existed many troop carrier crews, through with their training and preparing to depart for overseas so the first pilots of those crews were rerouted to these two new Troop Carrier training fields. I and many of my friends were thus sent to Malden and were immediately established as instructors.

The need for new crews was so desperate that many pilots who had just finished fighter-pilot training were sent to Malden to be trained as C-47 pilots and to be trained in Troop Carrier tactics. Obviously none of the trainees were too happy about being rerouted to twin engine training and dropping paratroopers or towing gliders but, of course, they had no choice in the matter.

Shortly after arriving at Malden, I married Johnie Sue, a girl from Austin and we lived off-base in a four-apartment building alongside the highway into town. It was an interesting time for a couple of newly-wed, nineteen-year olds. We had an upstairs apartment with one bedroom and a space heater, which burned coal from a small pile in the backyard. Johnie Sue had to learn to cook on a kerosene cook stove and no eating utensils could be found anywhere (plastic utensils weren’t invented yet and metal was totally restricted to tools of war) so we had to check-out utensils from the base. In spite of such minor problems, we and our friends thoroughly enjoyed our sojourn in Malden.

Jack B. Hanks, Malden Army Airfield Instructor

LOOPING THE BRIDGE AT CAIRO — There seems to be much interest in the stories about someone looping the bridge at Cairo, Illinois.  Here are a few stories (with no names mentioned) and presented herein as memories only (some are conflicting):

“When we arrived in Dec. '56 there was still much talk about the student who looped the bridge at Cairo in a T-28.  He might have gotten away with it if he had not hit the water and peeled back the skin on the flaps.”

“This story just may fall into the urban legend category; although I do vaguely recall our AAA flight commander mentioning, in a safety briefing, that someone had been seen flying under the Cairo bridge.  I recall his saying that the aircraft number was not gotten, so they could not identify the pilot.”

“It is not an Urban Legend.  The instructor of the student who pulled off this caper lived across the street from me in the housing area between the main gate and the highway.  He told me about the event.  The bulletin board in the flight line briefing room had pictures of the T-28 showing some of the skin on the flaps peeled back and the outline of the ribs in the hollow prop blades visible where they went in the water.
This is the way I recall the instructor’s version of the story.  The student was a very good pilot given his experience level or else he would have killed himself in this crazy exercise.  From the time he first arrived at Malden, he became obsessed with the thought of looping the Cairo Bridge.  He drove over it in his car and flew over it during solo flights in the local area.
One day he was flying a T-28 solo and decided that “this was the day.”  He circled the bridge to look for barge traffic then backed off a long distance to gain airspeed –too much airspeed as it turned out.
He passed under the bridge just fine and started pulling up into the loop – well beyond the bridge.  By the time he got inverted and started down the backside of the loop, he had not gone back beyond the entry side of the bridge very far and he was almost looking straight down at the bridge.  He was now in a horrible dilemma.  If he did not pull enough back elevator pressure, he would go into the water almost straight down.  If he applied too much, he might either hit the bridge or enter a high speed stall.  As it turned out, he completed the loop, passed back under the bridge, just skimmed the water with the belly of the aircraft and ran a foot or so of the prop in the water for some short distance.  Amazingly, he recovered and flew the aircraft back to Malden undoubtedly a terrified young man.
After landing, he parked the aircraft on the maintenance line and wrote up the engine as “running rough.”  No doubt.  Other than the skin and prop damage, I do not know if there was indeed engine damage but I suspect that there was.
In spite of intense questioning by the administration at Malden, the student denied any wrongdoing.  Finally, I understand he was flown to an Air Force facility and given some other “help” which “improved his memory” sufficiently for the story to be revealed.  I do not know what punishment was given other than early termination of his flight training.
I do not wish to embarrass any individual.  I do not want any names.  I just think it is an interesting flying story and I would like to know more about it.  My recollection of the story was second or third hand and may be pretty fuzzy after 49 years.”

“I remember the student pilot and the bridge incident.  While stationed in Hawaii, one day my wife went to the commissary and ran into an 'ole high school friend from Malden that met and married a student pilot from the Malden Base.  We visited many times since they lived only a block away.  One night we were talking and I mentioned to him about how he met and married the lady from Malden.  He told me that he washed out as a student.  I asked if he was there when that “dummy” flew under the bridge, he replied "Yes" I was that “dummy” that did it and he told about the "Welcome Party" that was waiting for him when he finally got the plane back to base.”

“I heard the same story when I was there in the mid-fifties flying T-6s.  I have no doubt it was done as we buzzed lakes and fishing boats trying to tip them over and one guy tried for an altitude record.  On the record I would deny it happened or that anyone in my class did anything that could be construed as a violation.”

“I cannot recall whether we were in the T-28s, or were still in the T-34s at the time.  I would suspect that it was probably a T-6, flown by one of our upper class members.  I say this because I don't think that anyone in my class had enough flying time to be that daring/foolish at the time.”

I can verify that story as the young cadet was a "table mate" in the spring of '56. It was a T-28 and he did deny any wrong doing, but the condition of his "valiant steed" belied that premise. He was considered a very good pilot and we were sorry to see him go.

     -- J.R. 

Worked midnight/8 AM shift, July 1955.  The T-28 with peeled belly skin, deformed landing gear doors and split prop tips sitting over a wet outline of the plane is fact.  The Preflight crews could not understand this.  The write up in the 781 form stated " Rough running engine " The system probably washed the student out of the program.  This could have been the best of combat fighter pilots.


Looping the Bridge at Cairo by J.R. and A.K.L.

"During my stay at the base I recall Missouri had free grazing laws which meant that cattle could freely cross the highway and if hit, had to be paid for by the driver. On numerous occasions students during their night time weekend driving would hit a cow. The following Saturday at the weekly meeting of all the students in the base theatre, that student would be called to the mike to explain to the group why and how he hit the cow!"

          - H.D., Class 56-B, 1954-55

H.D., Class 56-B

"I was a student in Class 54 Quebec. We were at Malden from September 1953 through March of 1954. I went from there to Webb AFB, Texas, and wound up flying fighter-interceptors for most of my career. I retired in 1972.

I have many fond memories of Malden. I recall a pretty young girl who I dated while I was in training there. I recall that W.S. lived on a small farm near Dexter. Nostalgia demands that I know if she is still around and what may have happened to her. Like everybody whom I met in Malden, she was a fine person." (Note to W.S. - contact MAAPS and we'll try and get you and J.C. together to catch up on old times!)

          -- J.C., Class 54-Q, 1953-54

J.C., Class 54-Q