WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued his famous call for 50,000 airplanes in 1940. A Kansas veteran said some thought that was an impossible feat.
Jay McLeod just celebrated his 100th birthday so he remembers when the President asked Congress to pay for 50,000 planes.
He said the country pulled together and just a few years later, 90,000 planes had been built.
McLeod was still in high school when he snapped his first photo from the backseat of an airplane.
“I said I am going to take this picture because no one will ever believe I did this,” Navy veteran Jay McLeod said.
McLeod said he was only 17 when he went to Naval Reserve Squadron, and they told him to go away because he was too young.
He said he went to the other end of that same field where there was an Army Air Corp table, and representatives there told him the same. He ended up in the Army Air Corps once he was old enough to sign up.
Years later, he was part of an institute.
“It was a pretty big deal that most people don’t know anything about,” McLeod said.
He said his son has found him several books that talk about the period of history, he lived.
“I was there almost 90 years ago,” McLeod said.
McLeod helped train pilots.
“We were asked to do things as we look back on them were almost impossible,” McLeod said.
He worked for TWA then, and the company was tasked along with other airlines to put together a flight school.
“We have 50,000 airplanes that were all land based airplanes that we had to get into this war,” McLeod said. “We were asked to give them a fighting chance.”
They made up the Airline War Training Institute.
“They were asked to put those young men in the left seat or the command seat in the most sophisticated airplanes in the Air Force’s inventory,” McLeod said. “Right out of flight school which was almost an impossible thing.”
He said he often thinks about the young men they were sending to war.
“Flying it across the ocean, then flying it in combat, once they got there,” McLeod said.
They trained 1,100 pilots before McLeod said the military took over the institute.
“We asked them to do some pretty terrific things,” McLeod said. “To think they did as well as they did.”
He said the training had its costs.
“They were people I knew, and I flew with,” McLeod said.
On one trip from the factory in Kansas City his beloved friend “Blackie” was flying a B-24.
There were seven men on board.
“Those people were all in parachutes, when they found them, so they were expecting the worst,” McLeod said.
Just before that tragedy, McLeod had been on the same trip and remembers a very close call due to a snow storm.
“I stuck the gas tanks in this big four engine bomber with a stick because I used it to measure fuel, I could not measure any fuel,” McLeod said. “If we had run that airplane out of gas, we would have all been lost, of course.”
He said many of the pilots didn’t have the instrument training he did. In addition to his pilot’s license, McLeod had his mechanic’s license.
“In my earlier years, I was interested in the technical side of it,” McLeod said.
McLeod said it was very expensive to learn to fly, so he became a mechanic, then used that employment to build up his flying time.
He said that also made an “old” cadet. He said that was alright since he already had a pilot’s license, and some of the guys had never even been around an airplane.
McLeod went on to earn his Gold Navy wings.
“The fact that I was able to become a Naval aviator was something that was completely beyond my wildest dream,” McLeod said.
He flew Catalinas, low, looking for Nazi submarines.
“We patrolled the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico and the seafront there,” McLeod said.
He doesn’t have to flip through the pages of history, he lived it.
“It was a life changing experience for the whole country,” McLeod said.
McLeod stayed in far beyond the war and retired on his 60th birthday.
Every hour, he flew in the service, his wife was along for the ride. He always carried a picture of his beloved Trudy in his shirt pocket.
McLeod said he did more flying with Cessna than he ever did in the Navy. He worked for the company for the last 25 years of his aviation career.