A bomber pilot made an emergency landing on Route 66 in Springfield, Illinois, in 1942, then took off from the same highway after his aircraft was repaired.
Reader Dave Todd forwarded me the brief story that was recounted in the Illinois State Journal newspaper on Dec. 30, 1942.
The pilot, Lt. John W. Graybill, 25, made an emergency landing of his Douglas A-20 Havoc bomber on the Route 66 Belt Line (now Dirksen Parkway) and Clear Lake Avenue on the city’s east side a few days before.
After a few days of maintenance, Graybill and his plane took off from the highway and, according to Army and civilian witnesses, steered it with only nine inches of clearance between the telephone poles on both sides of the road. An image of the bomber heading down the highway was printed in the newspaper.
An Associated Press story from that time archived on Newspapers.com also mentioned that Graybill cleared trees and powerlines “by only a few feet.”
Graybill returned the plane to an unspecified bombardment squadron in Missouri.
I found an obituary for a 2nd Lt. John W. Graybill of Elmhurst, Illinois, who died during a plane crash in Mississippi in 1944. However, the age and date of enlistment don’t match up with the fellow who landed the plane in Springfield.
Todd said he uses the Springfield State Journal-Register image of the plane taking off as a background on his desktop computer.
Stories about planes making emergency landings on highways and interstates pop up from time to time, including one that landed during the 1950s on Route 66 near the Painted Desert Trading Post in Arizona.
A longstanding old wives’ tale is the interstates were designed so every fifth mile was a straightaway to allow warplanes to land on them. Earl Swift wrote in his seminal book “The Big Roads” (Amazon link) that the possibility was studied but deemed unworkable.
(Image of the Douglas A-20 Havoc bomber taking off from Route 66 Belt Line and Clear Lake Avenue courtesy of Dave Todd)