06 February 2007

The Mystery of the "Mystery Ship" #5

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So, owing to a personal debt, Pancho lost her "Mystery Ship" to her friend and one-time colleague, Paul Mantz. The "king of the stunt pilots" used the plane extensively in the 30's. We've even found some motion picture footage of it flying in the 1934 Los Angeles Air Races, presumably with Mantz at the controls. In 1939, Mantz rebuilt the plane in an attempt to break Tex Rankin's outside loop record. According to aviation writer Don Dwiggins, Mantz doubled the number of ground wires and added a 330-hp Wright Whirlwind specially equipped to allow inverted flight. Mantz never made the attempt, and the plane ended up sitting in a lonely corner, unused and in disrepair. Eventually the plane became part of the "Movieland of the Air Museum" which Mantz formed with another famous stunter and friend of Pancho's, Frank Tallman.

In 1965, Mantz came out of retirement to film stunts for the epic film "The Flight of the Phoenix". After performing a successful low level pass in front of the cameras, Mantz came around for a second pass. His kitbashed airplane hit a small hillock, went out of control and crashed, and Mantz was killed. It was an unexpected, awful turn of events.

In the aftermath of Mantz' death, Tallman decided to sell off many of the historic aircraft in the Museum, including the Mystery Ship, a P-40E Kittyhawk, a Sopwith Camel, a Curtiss 1A Gulfhawk, and a replica Ryan B-1. The auction got considerable attention worldwide, since it was filled with special planes. One of the most desireable, of course, was the Mystery Ship. By now, however, the plane was a shadow of its former self. A dusty, faded aircraft, it needed a lot of work before it would ever be flight worthy (see photo).