Niskayuna man recalls flight with American war hero and former GE pilot

Incredible encounters sometimes come with little warning. One of these events happened over 40 years ago, but I still remember it well to this day. At the start of my engineering career at General Electric, I was also pursuing my personal aspirations in the field of aviation. Like most student pilots, training in tiny two-seater planes, I dreamed of flying contemporary jets. In one of the lucky twist of fate, I not only got to live this dream, but I did it with an incredible WWII aviation hero.

In the late 1970s, I managed to secure a seat on a business jet on a day trip from Schenectady to our gas turbine facility in Greenville, South Carolina. One cool fall morning, I excitedly arrived at the Schenectady County Airport, where I was doing my pilot training by chance.

I approached the captain, explaining to him that I was a student pilot and asked his permission to visit the cockpit during our flight. To my surprise, the captain, who I quickly discovered was GE’s chief corporate pilot, Captain James J. Farrell, invited me into the booster seat in the cockpit for the whole time. the flight. I quickly recovered from my momentary disbelief to immediately accept this most gracious offer.

As we buckled into the elegant seven-passenger Dassault Falcon jet, the co-pilot handed me a communication headset. Once plugged into the aircraft‘s intercom system, I could communicate directly with both pilots, and was aware of all live communications between our flight controllers and on the ground. My booster seat was located between and just behind the two pilots directly on the center line of the plane. From there, all cockpit instruments and center console controls were clearly visible, not to mention a spectacular view from the front window. I felt I had become the third crew member.

After an impressive take-off and routine communications from the ground controllers, the autopilot was engaged for the remainder of the climb and cruise of the two-hour outbound flight. As the cockpit workload decreased, both pilots took the time to explain and demonstrate some of the aircraft’s avionics. I imagined life just couldn’t get better than this. But it did.

At one point the first officer started explaining exactly who our captain was.

During World War II, then a young Lieutenant James “Boss” Farrell was the aircraft commander of a twin-engine B-26 Marauder bomber. He said Farrell’s plane flew more operational missions than any other plane in the entire war, including D-Day support. Farrell nicknamed his plane “Flak Bait” because of its tendency to attract more than its share of German anti-aircraft fire, which caused considerable damage to the aircraft during its many missions. I later learned that the name came from the brother of a dog in the Farrell family called “Flea Bait”.

The B-26 was a notoriously difficult aircraft to fly, but Farrell mastered it brilliantly. Other MacDill AFB interns in Tampa weren’t so lucky, prompting Airmen to scoff at “one a day in Tampa Bay”. Repeatedly during his staggering 72 combat missions, Farrell managed to safely land a heavily damaged “Flak Bait” on a single engine only to return to the fray again. In recognition of his courageous service, Farrell won the Distinguished Flying Cross, four air bronze medals, a Purple Heart and several other distinguished decorations.

In honor of over 200 “Flak Bait” combat missions and over 400 air / ground crew members, the nose section of the aircraft was on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington. , DC

As if the privilege of flying in the cockpit of a business jet wasn’t enough, I was amazed to be in the presence of a humble and great American hero who so graciously granted me the privilege of flying at side. So moving was my four hour round trip flight experience that day, I have included a full account of the episode in my book “PrivileGEd – Unusual Career Experiences with One of the Most Iconic Companies from America. “

No words can express my gratitude to Captain Farrell, both for his service to our country and for allowing me to fly with him. I greet him and continue to thank him by remembering and sharing this story.

Fast forward to December 2020 when, literally out of the blue, I received an email from Thomas Farrell. Tom explained that he was the son of Captain James Farrell and that he wanted to thank me for recognizing his father in my book. Apparently Tom found a reference to my book while searching the internet for his father.

It was as if a voice from that remarkable flight of so many years ago had reached out to me again. Following Tom’s email, I called him and we had a great conversation. Tom shared the following excerpt from a personal letter to his father, from former GE CEO Reginald Jones:

“I will never forget our many hours in the air – especially one day in Cincinnati where a small plane hit the runway just as you were coming in for a landing. You put on all the power and just pulled our plane up to a certain altitude in a split second. Your reflexes were remarkable !!! As we traveled a few thousand kilometers together, you have always been such a cheerful and helpful companion. I have treasured our many hours together and always look forward to being in your capable hands… We will be thinking of you often.

Like always,

Reg

With only a handful of B-26 bombers remaining, the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Museum Annex in Dulles decided to completely restore “Flak Bait”. Tom invited me to attend the rededication ceremony when the renovation is complete. I look forward to attending this event and meeting Tom in person to build on our new friendship. It sounds like a very fitting and honorable postscript to this story.

Michael A. Davi resides in Niskayuna and is a member of the city’s historical committee. He would like to thank Thomas J. Farrell for sharing the information and photos used in this article.

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