Pomona pilot founded low-cost, no-frills airline – San Bernardino Sun

Your summer vacation limited by high prices for both gas and airfares?

How about $60 for two people to fly to San Francisco, or maybe Las Vegas for $40, or Phoenix for $50?

Those were long-gone deals offered by pilot Ray W. Murrell to passengers in his “Speedwing Travelair” biplane in 1934 and 1935, flying out of Pomona Airport.

To be honest, it probably wasn’t very comfortable in his open-cockpit plane with no peanuts or restrooms. But you avoided any kind of security check for your luggage – there wasn’t much room for them anyway.

There’s no more Pomona Airport today, and those fares he charged in those Great Depression years soon disappeared. These deals were worked up by Murrell during the time he spent locally hustling for whatever money he could make as a pilot.

This early-day aviator did a lot of stunt work for the motion picture industry and spent his winters in Pomona after touring the Midwest and West putting on air shows the rest of the year.

Born in Missouri, he joined the Navy and spent some time after the end of World War I as a seaman on the USS Saturn, a collier (coal carrier) along the West Coast. About 1927, he was a police officer in Colorado.

A biography put together in 2015 by his nephew Ralph Murrell talks little about the rest of his early life or how he got involved in flying and settling down in Pomona.

It’s possible he got the flying bug after meeting up with Harry McCollom, a Wyoming flier with whom he soon partnered. Because of their movie work, they were often called the “Hollywood Fliers,” when they moved into a town to put on an airshow. Also part of their team was Dorothy Barden, a veteran parachute jumper who amazed spectators at the air shows from 1934 to 1936.

The team performed in at least 15 air shows in 1936 from Marysville, California, to Rapid City, South Dakota to Parker, Arizona, bringing aerial thrills to rural towns. Before and after the shows, Murrell and his crew would take on passengers for short flights – for a price, of course.

The motion picture industry beckoned Murrell at least three times while he was in Pomona. He and other such pilots received no film credits for their flying so the extent of their work is hard to verify.

His nephew said Murrell’s first work on a movie was in the April 1933 film “Central Airport,” which involved several aircraft, and a couple of unplanned crashes for the pilots involved.

The only remarkable aspect of the film was the introduction of a young actor, John Wayne, who had an uncredited part in which he suffered his first on-screen death.

Murrell and his plane played a key role in the more popular February 1935 film, “Devil Dogs of the Air,” which starred James Cagney and Pat O’Brien.

In an interview while at an air show in Broken Bow, Nebraska, Murrell said he doubled for Cagney in the stunt-flying scenes. “In order to photograph better, the plane was covered with grease and then sprinkled with aluminum powder to give it a metallic finish,” he said in the Custer County Chief of June 27, 1935.

Murrell claimed his was only one of five planes suitable for stunt-flying for the movies. He said he earned $25 an hour during the film, getting as much as $700 during one picture, that’s almost equal to $15,000 today.

His third movie work was for “Sky Parade,” taken from the radio series “The Air Adventures of Jimmy Allen.” It debuted in April 1936.

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