Monday, November 20, 2023

When pigs fly...

This image is the result of the author's first attempt to use ChatGPT.

In the annals of aviation, little is mentioned about the first American pig to FLY. 

In February 1919, in the wake of World War I, Bluford Callaway Baxter of Placentia – a farmer of sweet potatoes, Valencia oranges and pigs – extended a strange offer. If an Army aviator would land at his ranch on E. Orangethorpe Ave., pick up a pig, and fly said pig to San Diego, then "the boys at [U.S. Army] Camp Kearny" could KEEP that pig. Strangely enough, the boys at Camp Kearny were interested. However, the land around Baxter’s ranch was so heavily planted that no plane could safely land there.

But Baxter REALLY wanted to see a pig fly. So he waited for the 5th Victory Loan Campaign's “flying circus” air show in Orange County that April and repeated his pitch. The show was a way to advertise and sell war bonds, travelling the land with a team of pilots and crew totaling around fifty. Six planes were to perform aerial stunt shows over Anaheim, Orange and Santa Ana on April 24th, with the pilots selling war bonds at each venue after each performance. 

Baxter made the terms of his deal less onerous this time. He would bring one of his prize Poland China pigs to the pilots at McFadden’s Field in Santa Ana and they would fly it around for a while (not all the way to San Diego), at which point the pig would then be given to the “the boys” at March Field—an Army Air Service flight training base in Moreno Valley.  

The flying circus welcomed the idea and on April 24, 1919, Bluford’s dream came true: A pig flew! (Presumably, this was one of his more adventurous pigs.) 
Soaring over Orange County (Pig courtesy Larry Wentzel via CC 2.0)
Late that afternoon, Lieut. Fred Hoyt (flying instructor and flight commander of the squadron) put the pig in a box, strapped the box into his airplane, and took off toward Anaheim. (Hoyt didn’t even have to claim the need for an “emotional support pig” to get clearance!) The plan was for a quick round-trip. But mechanical trouble required an emergency landing in Orange and a quick repair before taking off again for Santa Ana around 6:30 p.m. 

All through the flight, Hoyt executed a series of tailspins, loops and other aerobatic feats to wow the locals. The pig was not harmed but suffered from a remarkable bout of air sickness that lasted for some time after the flight had concluded. 

Fred Day Hoyt, circa 1919 (Courtesy Library of Congress)

The pilots gave the pig a nickname and made him their mascot at March Field. Baxter was so pleased with the day's events that he also offered to send a large pork meal (presumably a different pig) to the fliers' barracks once they returned home.  

Meanwhile, the aerial show over Orange sold $12,500 in bonds, the show over Santa Ana raised almost as much, and Anaheimers bought $40,000 in bonds that day. The planes also made passes over Fullerton and Huntington Beach, but it's unknown if those fly-bys resulted in any patriotic investment.

But back to the flying pig…

To be clear, this was not the first pig ever to fly. The first was a piglet named Icarus II, who was a passenger on a 3.5-mile roundtrip over the Thames Estuary in England aboard the Short Brothers Biplane on Nov. 4, 1909. However, the pig over Orange County was the first porker to fly in the United States.

Four months later, on Aug. 20, 1919, another pig, a Duroc-Jersey named Florrie, was a passenger aboard a plane in La Grange, Georgia where the local press proclaimed her the "first flying pig." But Orange County had already established American porcine air supremacy.

A similar pig (perhaps a distant cousin) in San Juan Capistrano.

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