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First Name: Charles

Last Name: Blair

Birthplace: Buffalo, NY, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Middle Name: F.

Date of Birth: 19 July 1909

Date of Death: 02 September 1978

Rank: Brigadier General

Years Served:
Charles F. Blair, Jr.

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Charles F. Blair, Jr.
Brigadier General, U.S. Air Force

Charles F. Blair, Jr. was born on 19 July 1909 in Buffalo, NY.

Blair learned to fly in San Diego, CA, and made his solo flight at the age of 19. In 1931, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Vermont. He was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy and designated a Naval Aviator in 1932. For seven years he served with the Naval Reserves at the same time he was flying for United Airlines. In 1940, Blair became Chief Pilot at American Export Airlines, later renamed American Overseas Airlines, where he trained the pilots.

During World War II, Blair flew with the Naval Air Transport Service and the Air Transport Command as well as being a test pilot for Grumman Aircraft, testing the F6F Hellcat, F7F Tigercat, F8F Bearcat and the Martin Mars Flying Boat.

Following the war, Blair commanded testing and the first scheduled flights of the Lockheed Constellation and Boeing Stratocruiser airliners of American Overseas Airlines as well as owning and operating Associated Air Transport, Inc. American Overseas Airlines merged with Pan American World Airways in 1950, with Blair becoming a Pan Am pilot.

Blair had purchased the P-51 Mustang "Blaze of Noon" that Paul Mantz had flown to wins in the Bendix Trophy air races in 1946 and 1947. Rechristened "Excalibur III," Blair began setting records. On 31 January 1951 Blair flew nonstop from New York to London to test the jet stream, traveling 3,478 miles at an average speed of 446 miles per hour in seven hours and 48 minutes setting a record for a piston engine plane. On 29 May of the same year he flew from Bardufoss, Norway to Fairbanks, AK, flying 3260 miles nonstop across the North Pole. Captain Blair was awarded the Harmon Trophy from President Truman and the Gold Medal of the Norwegian Aero Club. The Excalibur III is now on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Blair resigned his Navy commission in 1952 and was later commissioned a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves while still flying for Pan Am. He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1959. In the same year he led two F-100 Super Sabres in a nonstop flight from England to Alaska in the first jet-fighter flight over the North Pole. Blair earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for the flight. He retired from the Air Force in 1960.

In Retirement

In 1962, Blair became a consultant to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. He retired from Pan Am in 1969 and founded Antilles Air Boats, based in St Croix, with the idea of offering flying boat service from New York to, and throughout, the Caribbean. In 1974 Blair purchased two Sandringham flying boats from Ansett Airlines that had serviced the Sydney to Lord Howe Island route. In 1967, he also acquired the last Sikorsky VS-44 "Excambian" that Antilles operated until it was damaged in 1969.

On 2 September 1978, Blair was piloting a Grumman Goose from St. Croix to St. Thomas when the plane crashed into the ocean due to engine failure. He and three passengers were killed, seven passengers were severely injured.

As an Author

He co-wrote a novel with A.J Wallis in 1956, Thunder Above, which was filmed as Beyond the Curtain in 1960. He wrote his autobiography, Red Ball in the Sky, in 1970.


"The sky is full of new frontiers."


On 11 March 1968, Blair married the actress Maureen O'Hara, whom he had first met on a flight to Ireland in 1947.


In 2006, O'Hara attended the Grand Reopening and Expansion of the Flying Boats Museum in Foynes, Limerick, Ireland, as a patron of the museum. A significant portion of the museum is dedicated to her late husband Charles.

O'Hara donated her late husband's flying boat (Sikorsky VS-44A) "The Queen of the Skies" to the New England Air Museum. The restoration of the plane took 8 years and time was donated by former pilots and mechanics in honor of Charles Blair.

A reproduction of Blair's red P-51 used to be displayed on the roof of the Queen's Building at Heathrow airport.

Death and Burial

Charles F. Blair, Jr. died on 2 September 1978. His ashes are interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.

He was survived by his wife, Maureen, and four children from two previous marriages: Suzanne, Christopher, Charles Lee and Stephen.

Honoree ID: 2258   Created by: MHOH




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