Pan American Flight Medals, ca. 1926
It's my grandfather. He founded the Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base, which was the precursor for the Air Academy. And at the Air Academy, the academic building and library is named after him.
The gentleman's name is Muir Fairchild.
And if you are interested in United States Air Force history, you know the name Muir Fairchild because he had a very long and distinguished career. But how did he come to be interested in aviation?
It wasn't so much a question of getting interested in aviation as in getting uninterested in horses. He began chasing Pancho Villa as a young cavalry guy, I guess. And he volunteered for air service and became a test pilot and flew a number of different aircraft. And the one that he was probably most familiar with is the one that's pictured right there in that photograph. It looks like a boat Because it was flown in places where there'd never been airplanes before. Five of them took off and were meant to circumnavigate all of Central and South America. Of the ten pilots that took off, eight of them returned. The eight that returned were among the first recipients of the Distinguished Flying Cross.
In that giant career, this is the event that really stands out.
And the one that we have represented by the artifacts today. We lose track of how dangerous aviation was. This was all part of the Pan American Good Will Tour of 1926, which was a very significant moment in aviation history. They hit all these different South American countries on good will stops, promoting aviation. Aviation's in its infancy, and a lot of these military officials hadn't seen military aircraft at this point. So they're coming in with these flying boats, which are rather interesting aircraft. They have the engine mounted upside down so that the prop will clear the bottom of the fuselage for a water landing. You don't want your prop hitting the water. But it was a very dangerous exercise, and they did end up losing two fellows. One of the fellows had gone out on the wing to lower the landing gear because there was a problem. And they had a mid-air, at that point. He had taken his parachute off, and the pilot, rather than let him perish on his own and jump to safety himself, he tried to rescue him and it couldn't be done, and they both lost their lives as a result of that. But it was a very dangerous exercise, a very bold exercise that was done at that time. And at every stop they would have a reception, and they would get medals. The medal over here that is of particular interest to us is the Distinguished Flying Cross, and we can see on the back of this, it is engraved with his information and his name. This one is also indicative of this event. This is the Mackay Trophy medal. The Mackay Trophy is kind of like the Stanley Cup. It's the big aviation award from 1912 that was awarded for the most important flight of the year. There weren't that many individuals at this time who had received such a thing. The individual medals themselves--especially when we're talking about the South American awards--if you found them out in the world yourself as a medal collector, you wouldn't expect to pay a whole lot for them. They average between $100 and $300 apiece. But with what it means to aviation history and his significance to the United States Air Force, an auction estimate for the entire set would be between $15,000 and $20,000.
Wow. Well, it's our intention as a family to return all of these items to the Air Force at the Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base.
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