Four Fateful Fictional Flights of
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Described by Alan Hanson
“The Ups and Downs of
Lt. Harold Percy Smith-Oldwick”: (“Tarzan the Untamed”)
June 1916, Lt. Smith-Oldwick flew out of British headquarters in German
East Africa to check on a report that the Germans were planning an attack
from the west. He chased the sun well into the afternoon before turning
back toward his base. At that moment, his engine stalled, and he was forced
to bring his ship down in open country.
Once on the ground, Smith-Oldwick quickly made adjustments
and got the plane’s engine running again. However, subsequent events dictated
that it would be nearly two weeks before the plane would fly again.
In the interim, he was captured by natives, nearly burned
at the stake beside Tarzan, and rescued by a woman (Bertha Kircher) leading
a band of apes. He returned to his plane, but before he could fly away,
he was captured again, this time by a band of renegade native German soldiers.
Their leader, Usanga, forced Smith-Oldwick to teach him to fly the plane.
Tarzan arrived just in time to foil Usanga’s plan to fly away with Bertha,
who landed the plane after plowing it through the remaining natives soldiers.
With Smith-Oldwick at the controls and Bertha in the backseat,
the plane took off for British headquarters. It soon came down again, however,
after a collision with a vulture damaged the propeller. The pilot landed
the plane on the sandy bottom of a narrow gorge. The plane suffered considerable
damage, and two days of work by Smith-Oldwick could not restore her to
The pilot and his passenger walked away to experience
ground-based adventures elsewhere. Although the plane was not seen again,
its wreckage probably still sits there, well preserved by the dry desert
air and providing temporary shelter from the heat of the day for a passing
lion or two.
“A Battle in the Primeval
Sky”: (“The Land That Time Forgot”)
the summer of 1917, Tom Billings had the crated the disassembled parts
of a “hydro-aeroplane” lowered into the hold of his yacht, the “Torredor,”
and sailed from California on a rescue mission to the far South Pacific.
When he found the lost island he was looking for, Billings had the crates
taken ashore on a lonely beach at the base of towering cliffs. It took
two weeks to assemble the plane there and tune the craft for flight.
His plan was to fly the plane over the forbidding cliffs
of Caspak, find his marooned friend Bowen Tyler, and rescue him. Volunteers
asked to accompany him, but, refusing to endanger others, Billings was
quite alone that morning when his plane skimmed along the sea and gently
rose into the air outside Caspak. After clearing the barrier wall, the
pilot began scanning the ground below for a suitable landing spot.
His attention, however, was soon diverted elsewhere when
a pterodactyl attacked his craft. A dogfight ensued until bullets from
the machine-gun mounted in front of the pilot’s seat sent the creature
turning over on its way to the ground. When other pterodactyls attacked
the plane, Billings climbed into the higher, cooler air into which his
attackers could not venture.
Billings spotted a meadow where he could land his plane,
but when another flying reptile attacked from above, he was forced into
a desperate and dangerous maneuver to escape. He dove his plane quickly,
but in dodging his attacker, he allowed one wing of his plane to strike
the top of a tall tree. The entire plane swung around and crashed out of
control into the tree branches, where it came to rest some 40 feet above
the ground. Tom Billings made his way to ground and walked away. Behind
him in the tree he left the useless wreckage of his airplane.
“The Savior’s Chariot”:
(“Tarzan and the Ant Men”)
returning to his parents’ African estate after his service in World War
I, Tarzan’s son Jack directed the Waziri in laying out a landing strip
on the level plain northwest of the Greystoke bungalow in West Africa.
Jack had learned to fly, perhaps in the military, and brought a biplane
in to fly in and out of the Greystoke estate. After Jack trained two Waziri
warriors to fly the plane, Tarzan, as the Waziri chief, insisted he learn
to fly it as well.
When it came time for his first solo flight, Tarzan, supremely
confident in his ability to handle any adverse situation, refused to take
along one of the Waziri mechanics. Tarzan climbed into the cockpit, the
propeller was turned over, and the plane rumbled across the veldt and rose
in smooth, graceful slight. Heading in a straight line to the northwest,
Tarzan, enthralled by the sights below, gave little thought to the distance
he was covering or the fuel he was consuming. Over 100 miles from home,
below he cognized the Great Thorn Forest, for years familiar to him as
an impenetrable thicket covering a vast area. From the air, though, he
saw for the first time that the thicket was only a narrow border enclosing
a series of basins surrounded by wooded hills. Determined to get a close
look at this land of mystery, Tarzan circled low over the great forest.
His enthrallment with this new country and his inexperience
in the cockpit resulted in his plane clipping the leafy top of a tree,
and his craft, veering to the side and losing lift, turned completely around
and crashed straight downward into the jungle maze. After a moment of splintering
branches and rendering fuselage, supreme silence again reigned over the
forest. An Alalus woman found Tarzan unconscious on the ground and carried
him to her village. There Tarzan met “the son of The First Woman” and taught
him how he and the other males could reverse Nature’s mistake and give
the Alalus men domination over their women. Future male Alalus leaders
would gather the tribe’s young boys and lead them to the holy spot where
Tarzan was first found and teach them to worship with heads up instead
of bowed. For was that not the Savior’s Chariot in the tree above them?
“Jason Gridley’s Flight
Jason Gridley slept uneasily, the 0-220’s scout plane was removed from
the keel cabin and lowered to the ground. His rescue mission to Pellucidar
had turned disastrous. He came to rescue David Innes, but now his shipmates,
Tarzan, Von Horst, and Muviro, along with his nine Waziri warriors, had
all disappeared. Jason would allow no one else to fly the plane in search
After a final handshake from Captain Zuppner, Jason climbed
into the cockpit. Two mechanics spun the propeller, the aircraft taxied
out across the plain on which stood the 0-220 and made a smooth takeoff.
Jason circled the area twice and then roared off, passing over forest,
plain, and rolling hills. He flew a straight line for almost two hours.
It was frustrating knowing he could be flying directly over the heads of
those he sought without knowing it. And, in fact, such was the case. Tarzan
saw the plane, but the pilot did not see the arm-waving ape-man.
At an altitude of 3,000 feet, Jason banked his craft to
begin his return journey. It was then that a meeting of the civilized and
the primitive occurred with disastrous results for both. A huge pteranodon
swooped down from above and full upon the propeller. As the plane turned
over, Jason jumped and pulled his ripcord. Almost simultaneously, a fragment
of broken propeller struck his head a glancing blow, and Jason Gridley
floated peacefully to the ground.
After Jason awoke, he rescued Jana from the men pursuing
her. Jason and Jana searched for the wrecked scout plane so he could retrieve
his rifle and ammunition. The aircraft had apparently glided to the ground,
for it had not burned. There was enough damage, though, to make it obvious
that the plane would never fly again.
After recovering his rifle, Jason stoically turned his
back on the wreckage and began his new life in the inner world. Although
he had added his name to the list of men missing from the 0-220, Jason
Gridley would not have his called his flight “ill-fated.” How else could
he have found the Red Flower of Zoram had he not fallen from the stark
Pellucidarian sky and landed so near her?
— The End —