air show

After making a move from Casper, Wyoming to Cheyenne, Wyoming on June 5th, my nephew, Jason Sawdon is settling into his new job and promotion, and great hours for a family man, with the Wyoming Highway Patrol. Jason has had a long and successful career with the WHP, and this promotion to Sergeant of Equipment and Technology, is the next step in his decorated career. Jason’s job is to coordinate and test the equipment to make sure it is safe and effective for use in the WHP. He is so well respected and such a help to all who need him, which is no surprise considering his helpful nature. With the promotion comes a great schedule for a family man, with a wife who works from home. Jason now has evenings, weekends, and holidays off, so he and his girls…my niece, Jessi and their daughter, Adelaide, as well as, their dog, Daisy, have been busy exploring the Cheyenne area when they aren’t doing some DIY projects on their home.

Having weekends and holidays off has given the family lots of time for trips, so this summer, they have visited Laramie, Michigan, Denver, Casper, the Snowy Range, Medicine Bow National Forest, and Guernsey State Park. It has also been fun for them to explore their new area and Jason has had a blast doing it. The summer has flown by, and they have been so busy that they didn’t get to go camping as much as they would have liked, but they are going camping this weekend, so that will be fun.

My niece, Kellie Hadlock, Jessi’s sister tells me that Jason is the most helpful person on the planet! He can fix anything. It’s always nice to have a handyman around the house. Jason is a good cook too, even if he made the hottest tacos on the planet…totally by accident, of course, the last time Kellie visited them. Hot is a relative concept, because there are those of us who believe that it isn’t hot enough, unless it makes your lips numb and your nose run…me included. I suppose there could be a level called “too hot,” but I really can’t say I have found that yet, but then I haven’t tried every pepper. Maybe someday.

Jason is a very hands on dad, often helping daughter, Addi build things and learn new things. Addi just adores her daddy. Recently, the Sawdon and Hadlock families got the chance to go to an air show at the Cheyenne Regional Airport, and then they got to tour the vintage World War II planes there, as well as the more modern helicopters. They had a wonderful time going through them since my dad, Jessi’s grandpa, Al Spencer served as top turret gunner on a B-17, based in Great Ashfield, Suffolk, England during the war. Going through those planes is always a sentimental journey for our family. Now, the next generation will get to love it too. Today is Jason’s birthday. Happy birthday Jason!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Whenever disaster strikes, the inevitable souvenir hunters seem to come out of the woodwork. It doesn’t matter that someone, or maybe many someones have died in the tragedy. Souvenir hunters think only of themselves, and the stories they can tell, complete with their “precious” souvenir to back up their story. The whole thing makes decent people nauseous.

On November 17, 1910, famous aviator and stunt pilot, Ralph Johnstone was performing in an air show in Denver, Colorado, when tragedy struck. Johnstone knew the risks of his occupation, and I suppose that he knew that one day, his “number” would come up. Still, you never really believe that it will happen to you, do you? Johnstone was the holder of the World Altitude Record, and the crowds were never disappointed with the show he gave them. That day, at Overland Park would be no exception.

Johnstone flew a Wright Biplane, and he was knows for his many spiral glides, which had made the Wright aviators famous. Johnstone had won many prizes, and on two occasions had expressed the belief that he would be the first to do real fancy work in the sky…and become in a word, the aviating gymnast and loop an imaginary loop. In the day’s first flight, when he was in the air with his friends, Walter Brookins and Archibald Hoxsey. Johnstone had gone through his usual program of dips and glides, and the plane had perfect control, with no indication of structural problems.

On his second flight, Johnstone rose again, and after a few circuits of the course to gain height headed toward the foothills. “Still ascending, he swept back in a big circle, and as he reached the north end of the enclosure, he started his spiral glide. He was then at an altitude of about 800 feet. With his plane tilted at an angle of almost 90 degrees, he swooped down in a narrow circle, the airplane seeming to turn almost in its own length. As he started the second circle, the middle spur, which braces the left side of the lower plane, gave way, and the wing tips of both upper and lower planes folded up as though they had been hinged. For a second, Johnstone attempted to right the plane by warping the other wing up. Then the horrified spectators saw the plane swerve like a wounded bird and plunged straight toward the earth.”

Witnesses said that “Johnstone was thrown from his seat as the nose of the plane swung downward. He caught on one of the wire stays between the plane and grasped one of the wooden braces of the upper plane with both hands. Then, working with hands and feet, he fought by main strength to warp the planes so that their surfaces might catch the air and check his descent. For a second it seemed that he might succeed, for the football helmet the wore blew off and fell much more rapidly than the plane.”

With one wing of his machine crumbled like a piece of paper, Ralph Johnstone, dropped like a rock from a height of 500 feet into the enclosure at Overland Park aviation field and was instantly killed…nearly every bone in his body was broken. That was when the spectators turned “souvenir hunters.” Scarcely had Johnstone hit the ground before morbid men and women swarmed over the wreckage, fighting with each other for souvenirs. One of the broken wooden stays had gone almost through Johnstone’s body. Before doctors or police could reach the scene, one man had torn this splinter from the body and run away, carrying his “trophy” with Johnstone’s blood still dripping from it. The crowd tore away the canvas from over the body, and even fought for the gloves that had protected his hands from the cold. The scene was utterly disgusting.

Johnstone had attempted to cheat death once too often, but “he played the game to the end, fighting coolly and grimly to the last second to regain control of his broken machine.” Fresh from his triumphs at Belmont Park, where he had broken the world’s record for altitude with a flight of 9,714 feet, Johnstone attempted to give the thousands of spectators an extra thrill with his most daring feat, the spiral glide, which had made the Wright aviators famous. The spectators got their thrill, but it cost Johnstone his life.

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