Last September, at the Cleveland show, we were in the company two, very famous icons of aviation – – Whitey Feightner and Gene Detrick. Since the weather was beautiful and we had a fueled jet ready to go, why not give these famous aviators a ride in the jet? Joe Anderson, MGen USMC (ret) stepped up to the plate to do the honors and fly both of them.
“Whitey” Feightner was given his nickname by Butch O’Hare himself, at a beach call on Hawaii in January, 1942. It stuck with him since then. He went on to be credited with NINE victories in the south Pacific (he claims his real number is 33, but witnesses were not present). He was an early jet test pilot, a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, and was TWICE a member of the USN Blue Angels flight demonstration team. He was their first jet solo. He’s flown everything you can imagine and made indelible marks on all USN fighter designs, post WWII. A test pilot’s pilot, a fighter pilot’s pilot, to be sure. Joe and he flew some aerobatics and a few touch and go’s just to make sure he can still walk-the-walk at 95.
Not to be outdone, next up was Gene Detrick, Col USAF(ret). Gene was just a youngster during the war, graduating from West Point in only 3 years, just after the war ended. When the USAF was created, he traded his ‘pinks’ for ‘blues’ and was a plank-holder for the US Air Force. He went on to be in the first class of the US Air Force Aerospace Research School (later the USAF Test Pilot School) and was eventually the Commandant of the course. He is also a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. He spent most of his career in bombers, but also flew other aircraft as well. During a combat mission in Viet Nam, flying AD-1 “Skyraiders,” he spotted a person standing on a small sandbar in a stream waving a white rag. After closer examination, a rescue flight was ordered and that unknown person was rescued. That turned out to be Lt. Detter Dengler, a Navy pilot who had been shot down months earlier and presumed dead. Lt. Dengler orchestrated an escape from their POW camp and managed to evade and survive for weeks, before the rescue. There have been two movies produced about Lt. Dengler over the years. One of those movies is “Rescue Dawn.” Gene was the one who found him and coordinated the rescue. They became life-long friends. Gene was 92, but he also handled the L39 controls like he never missed a beat.
Since Admiral Feightner is the senior member of the group, Nalls Aviation honors his service with his name on the rear canopy rail of the L39, accompanied by 9 Japanese flags.