Sept. 16, 1947: Stanley Beltz, Colorful Lockheed Test Pilot

L.A. Times, 1947

Note: This is an encore post from 2005 and originally appeared on the 1947project.

Stanley BeltzLow flying charges have been filed by the Civil Aeronautics Administration against Stanley Beltz, Lockheed test pilot, who reportedly took a four-engined Constellation down to 200 feet or less over a Playa Del Rey residential district last Friday.

The complaint, turned over to the CAA, declares Beltz violated minimum altitudes (1,000 feet), endangering lives and property.

Beltz denied being as low as householders reported. He explained he descended toward the coast to test a radio altimeter offshore.

This little brief appears to be nothing more than yet another of the many Times stories about pilots buzzing Los Angeles after the war, which seems to have occurred nearly every day. But in fact it leads to heartache and death.

Stanley A. Beltz was a prominent test pilot and after joining Lockheed in 1943 flew almost every type of plane the company made, except the F-90 and F-104 Starfighter. He piloted the first test flight of the C-130 transport from Burbank to Edwards Air Force Base in 1954.

Less than a year later, he was dead at the age of 44. Beltz was testing a F-94B Starfire, the first jet fighter with an afterburner, when he crashed 15 minutes after taking off from Palmdale. The Times news story on his death speculated that he was testing a plane that had been modified to fire air-to-air missiles. Neighbors in the remote desert area called Beltz a hero for guiding the disabled plane away from houses all the way to the ground instead of bailing out with the ejection seat.

Ten days later, his fiancee, Phyllis Ann Pratt, 27, lay down on the bed of her home at 18257 Rosita St. in Tarzana, held Beltz’s picture to heart and shot herself in the head. She wrote: “I tried but I have no courage to go on. I never was anything until I fell in love with him. He was a great man. I loved and respected him with all my being and soul. There are a million things locked in my heart that tell how wonderful he was.”

She asked that she be cremated, “Just me, and the ring and the watch he gave me and his QB (Quiet Birdmen) pin.”

Pratt, who was divorced, left an 8-year-old daughter, Valerie Gale Pratt, who was the subject of a bitter custody dispute between Pratt’s ex-husband, Verne, and Pratt’s aunt Anna McDiarmid. While the weeping child said she wanted to live with her great-aunt, the court awarded custody to her father.

Then there was Beltz’s widow, Josephine, who argued that because he died before their divorce became final, she was entitled to his $100,000 estate, despite his will, which said that “under no circumstances” was she to share it, having already received their home at 8061 Mulholland Drive, $5,000 in cash ($34,523.84 USD 2005) and $60 a week for three months.

Her claim was rejected by Judge Fletcher Bowron, who returned to the bench after being defeated in the 1953 mayoral race by Norris Poulson.

Half a century later, the C-130 remains in service. Beltz, who got the plane airborne in 855 feet on its maiden voyage, reportedly said: “She’s a real flying machine. I could land it crossways on the runway if I had to.”

Bonus factoid: The Ancient Order of Quiet Birdmen is a secret society founded by World War I fliers with “hangars” in various cities. The group includes some of aviation’s most distinguished pilots and membership is quite exclusive, by invitation only.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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