The Lost Aviators of Pearl Harbor Project

P-19832 - Miss Cornelia Fort of Nashville, TN, is one of the original group of women pilots to be accepted by the Army Air Forces for ferrying lighter type military aircraft. Miss Fort is 23 years of age and has been flying for three years. (U.S. Air Force Photo)

Interstate Cadet Serial number 109_Registration NC372662

by Lyle Jansma

Before sunrise on the morning of December 7th 1941, eight general aviation pilots pre-flighted their aircraft, preparing to take advantage of what should have been an excellent day of flying above Oahu, Hawaii. One of those pilots was Cornelia Fort, a 22 year old Nashville native who had passed on the world of Debutants and High Society back home to follower her dreams of flight. As circumstance would have it, Cornelia Fort and the other seven pilots were the first American aviators to face the Japanese war planes commencing their attacks on the American military bases on Oahu that morning. In those first few minutes of the attack, enemy airmen shot three Piper J-3 Cubs from the sky and fired upon several Aeronca TC-65’s; forcing them down.

Cornelia Fort's flying license. (photo via Lyle Jansma)
Cornelia Fort’s flying license. (photo via Lyle Jansma)

Above John Rodgers airport, a lone Interstate Cadet S-4A was doing pattern work. Cornelia Fort was giving her student a few final points before his intended solo later in the morning when something caught her eye. Inbound from the Pacific Ocean Fort saw several aircraft which she thought at first were P-40 Tomahawks. Just then, she noticed her student was on a collision course with another aircraft headed straight towards Pearl Harbor. Fort instinctively pulled back on the stick and banked to avoid the aircraft. As the plane passed beneath them, she clearly saw the red roundel of the Imperial Japanese Navy on it’s wings. Cornelia Fort instinctively understood what this implied, and the explosions now rippling below confirmed as much. Taking control of the diminutive Cadet, Cornelia pushed its nose over and headed straight for John Rodgers airfield. In the seconds it took to get the Cadet on the ground she was strafed in the air by one Zero and then again by another while landing; narrowly escaping death in the process. Fortunately, Cornelia Fort and the Interstate Cadet would both become Pearl Harbor Survivors.

Photo by Lyle Jansma
Cornelia Fort’s Interstate Cadet and one of the Tora Tora ‘Zeros’ replicating the moment on December 7th, 1941 when she came under attack from the Imperial Japanese Navy. The replica Zeke was based until recently with the CAF Dixie Wing near Atlanta, Georgia, but has recently been purchased by Greg Anders. It is expected to fly with Fort’s Cadet at air shows across the USA. (Photo by Lyle Jansma)

What followed that morning, on that Day of Infamy, and the terrible losses inflicted upon America is well understood by those who know their history. What became of the those eight general aviation pilots and their aircraft has become somewhat clouded; a victim of folklore and inaccurate Hollywood depictions. Today, the actual Interstate Cadet S-4A (NC37266) that Cornelia Fort flew on that morning has been found and restored to it’s original airworthy condition. In a project conceived by Lt.Col. Greg Anders USAF (Ret.), NC37266 flies as part of the Lost Aviators of Pearl Harbor. This project’s goal is to cast a clearer light upon what those early-morning American aviators experienced during the Pearl Harbor raid, and re-introduce their story to the public. Throughout the next year leading up to the 75th anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor, Anders and his Lost Aviators of Pearl Harbor plan to accomplish this by attending air shows and local events starting in Chino and culminating in Honolulu on December 7th, 2016.

Interstate Cadet Serial number 109_Registration NC3726617
Photo by Lyle Jansma

While diminutive in it’s appearance, it can be rightfully stated that Cadet NC37266 holds a provenance on par with those of the Memphis Belle and Enola Gay. The historical significance of being the only currently airworthy aircraft to be fired upon during the Pearl Harbor attack, as well as a candidate to fly above that same battlefield 75 years later to the minute, is a rare distinction indeed. In summing up Cornelia Fort and Cadet NC37266, Anders notes that “she departed as a flight instructor and landed a veteran.” This simple statement truly embodies the important story that Anders will reveal with the Lost Aviators of Pearl Harbor project in 2016.

For more information on the project or to reach out with support, please visit their website at www.lostaviaitorsofpearlharbor.org.

As a breaking news addendum to this story, Greg Anders has purchased Tora Tora Tora Zero replica N7757 which will have an active role participating in his museum’s Lost Aviators of Pearl Harbor project, helping tell the story of Cornelia Fort and NC 37266 – ‘The Pearl’.

Greg Anders with Cadet NC37266 (The Pearl) on location at the Heritage Flight Museum.
Greg Anders with Cadet NC37266 (The Pearl) on location at the Heritage Flight Museum.

For more information on the project or to reach out with support, please visit their website at www.lostaviaitorsofpearlharbor.org.

 

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3 Comments

  1. Hi, I’m a French TV documentaries director, intending to shoot a discovery doc in Hawaii next January. As I’m a private pilote, found of aviation (and owner of a 1961 PA22-108 Colt TW), I was looking for a sequence to shoot about planes and Pearl Harbour. I’d like to get in touch with Greg Anders to assess what we could do… My e-mail : vincentnguyen@me.com

  2. My Dad was part owner of an Interstate Cadet in Honolulu in Dec 1941. He was a civilian working on underground fuel tanks & joined the Navy after the attack. He never knew what happened to the plane. I would love to find out if he was part of the “:underground Flying Club”. Do you have info on its members?

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