The Flaw, Resolution and Flaw Source Hypotheses
The Flaw in the Dates
While having Interstate 37345 in Hawaii is nearly impossible, given the paucity of records covering the period, it is still not completely impossible. What is impossible is the flaw in the dates associated with Cornelia’s first entry of her flight in Interstate 37345 in her logbook. Cornelia first logged a flight in Interstate 37345 on 29 September, 1941. Interstate 37345 did not even leave the factory in El Segundo California until 16 days later but somehow it appeared as being flown by Cornelia 14 times before it was produced. And although it is not a highly definitive element, an additional clue to the mystery is that 37266 was built with a Continental 65 HP engine as is reflected in Cornelia’s logbook and 37345 was delivered with a Franklin 65 HP engine, a seemingly minor point to the layman, but a significant point to a pilot.
NC37345 called out in text as being in background of photo taken in LA . Ironically, the photo was taken 7 Dec, 1941 before California had heard Pearl Harbor was attacked.
More significantly, 37345 was photographed in LA on 7 December, 1941. 37345 was one of the aircraft behind the California Air National Guard doing a publicity photo prior to being aware that Pearl Harbor would be under attack that very day.
A Reasonable Resolution of the Flaws in Primary Data
On 29 September 1941, Cornelia could not have flown N37345 because the aircraft had not been built. And it was not on Hawaii at all on 7 December. So which aircraft was she flying? It is not disputed that she was flying an Interstate Cadet. But Andrew Flying Service owned Several Interstate Cadets. It seems Olen Andrew felt it was a great aircraft for his training school. Some of the records of these old aircraft have not been uploaded into the FAA electronic database so full review of all of the aircraft is still being accomplished. Of those records available, a review of the paperwork associated with bringing them back to airwothiness reflects damage commensurate with being shot in the air and on the ground on only one aircraft, and that aircraft is 37266. (See Appendix __???: Report on Interstate Cadets with indication of being at Pearl Harbor 7 December, 1941). The other records specifically site an airframe that is “Good” and make no mention of damage that needed to be repaired. Therefore it is reasonable to believe that the aircraft that needed damage repaired, and carried the verbal legend with it, was the aircraft Cornelia was flying.
While it is not proven in the FAA records that 37266 was the aircraft Cornelia was flying, it is proven that 37345 is not the aircraft Cornelia was flying. Of the aircraft that she could have been flying, it is the most likely conclusion, given the current information, that the verbal legend of Interstate 37266 being flown by Cornelia on 7 December, 1941, is more accurate than the logbook of the pilot.
Hypothesis on Flaw Sources
What could have led to the discrepancy in Cornelia’s logbook? While no definitive piece of history has been found to prove it, there is a reasonable hypothesis that can be validated as “most likely true” beyond a reasonable doubt. Cornelia’s final logbook, and the logbook in which she logs her Pearl Harbor sortie is numbered “Logbook #3” on the inside front cover. Logbook #3 has its first entry on 1 July, 1941. At the time, Cornelia claims just over 400 hours of flying time logged in the previous two logbooks.
Pilot logbooks are not single tomes like ship logs. They tend to be small and cover only a certain period. Pilots do not want to carry large books around so it is common practice for pilots to have several logbooks covering different periods. According to the note in her logbook, Cornelia had 3. Logbook number 3 is kept in the Special Collections of Texas Women’s University. The only other known collection of papers associated with Cornelia Fort is the Nashville Public Library. Neither collection of Cornelia’s papers (Nashville Public Library and Texas Women’s University) has logbooks number 1 & 2. They have been apparently lost to time with no record of them ever having been in a collection and only rumors, which are probably based on discussions of her logbook #3 that is in collection, that they existed after Cornelia’s death. The only other record kept by her of her sorties that has been preserved are several of her Army Air Corps flight orders tasking her to move a plane, and a small, spiral bound, notebook with notes on distance and heading between towns/airports on some of the routes she flew. This notebook is in the Nashville Public Library Special Collections.
It is my hypothesis that Cornelia left her logbooks covering her early flying at Fortland with her diaries where they all burned in the fire that consumed Fortland. It is not disputed that her diaries burned in that fire. She mentions that fact in a few of her correspondences. Regarding her logbook, she understood that her logbook would be critical in getting an airline job as a pilot after the war. And she knew she would have enough of a struggle getting that job as a woman. Compound that with being a woman that “lost her logbook” in an era where it was “common knowledge” by a significant sector of our society that blacks and women were essentially not capable of flying, and a lost logbook becomes the final nail in the coffin of woman’s dream to fly professionally.
I believe that when the logbook burned up, Cornelia used her incredible memory, her Army Air Corps flight orders, her spiral bound notebooks with sortie planning notes, and her other scrap books and papers; and she made the most reasonable attempt possible to construct a replacement logbook. And there was apparently no notes about the registration number of the Interstate Cadet she was flying on 7 December, 1941. The replacement logbook had to have authenticity to it so she used her flight orders and whatever notes and pictures she had to find the registration numbers of the aircraft she flew along the way, or baring pictures or notes, she used the registration number of a like aircraft she saw in her travels. During the three month period between Fortland burning to the ground, and the time she perished in her aircraft, she flew through, and stayed overnight in Tucson where Interstate 37345 was based. And without any records of the Interstate Cadets she had flown in Hawaii, she put in her logbook the registration number of the Cadet she crossed paths with.
Cornelia didn’t think to look into the manufacturing date issue relative to her first sortie in Hawaii. Who would? Certainly not the airlines who would be reviewing her logbook when she applied to be an airline pilot, and certainly not the Pearl Harbor historians that have made a recent point to publish their claim to know Interstate 37345 was the Interstate being flown by Cornelia, and disclaim 37266, because 37345 is what her logbook said. And these Historians mistakenly stood on the assumption that primary data is always right. And while that is usually a very valid assumption, sometimes deeper research proves that assumption wrong as is the case of the history surrounding Interstate Cadet 37266.
Flying was the first thing in Cornelia’s life that gave her a sense of purpose. She knew from the first moment in the air that she had found her calling. She risked it all, and paid the ultimate price, to pursue that passion. While she was pursuing the dream of flying for an airline after the war, a logbook consumed in a fire at her family home would cause her a great amount of frustration, but certainly would not be something she allowed to stand in her way. She did what any pioneering young woman and pilot would do, she kept her mouth shut about it and recreated what she needed to realize her dream. So her logbook may have been written by her own hand, but beyond a reasonable doubt, we can conclude that each entry was not put in at the time of that flight, it was probably “best guessed” over a year later.
Given all of these pieces of information, it is my belief that the only reasonable conclusion is that the moniker of “The Pearl” is earned by only one Interstate Cadet and that is not the aircraft lost to history and cited in Cornelia’s logbook, but the aircraft tied to the verbal legend that was passed down in Hawaii. That aircraft is Interstate 37266.