‘Flying Governor’ photo is worth a thousand questions

  • Published
  • By Maj Bryon M. Turner
  • 103rd Airlift Wing, Public Affairs
The late Governor John H. Trumbull was known as the "Flying Governor" of Connecticut due to his love of aviation and habit of flying his own aircraft to speaking engagements, according to his biography on file with the Connecticut State Library.

The biography also indicates that Trumbull served in the First Connecticut Infantry and rose to the rank of Colonel in the state guard. There is no mention of Trumbull serving in a military aviation role, but a photo on the library's website pictures Trumbull at the controls of a bi-plane with what appears to be the Flying Yankees patch emblazoned on the side.

The same photo was found in the 103rd Airlift Wing's historic archives with no label or caption and was published with an article in the Sept. issue of the Yankee Courier and later re-printed in the Guardian newspaper, with this caption, "An aviator from the Flying Yankees at the controls of an aircraft assigned to the 118th Observation Squadron."

We also added an editor's note asking for help in identifying the mystery "Airman" who almost seems to stare back at us through time in this unique photo.

Shortly after the image was published another copy was found in the archives with a caption that identified the "aviator" as the late governor. We were later contacted by a retired member of the unit who helpfully informed us of our error and confirmed what we suspected. The aviator was in fact Governor Trumbull. But it appears that we are not the only organization confused about this image.

The version of the photo posted on the Connecticut State Library website has a long caption associated with it, but it gives us more questions than answers regarding the nature of the photo.

The first part of the caption states, "Connecticut Governor John H. Trumbull (1925-1931) is shown seated in a biplane. A running caped messenger in colonial dress is painted on the side, possibly an early logo of Colonial Air Transport, which was awarded the New York/Boston airmail contract in 1926, and of which Trumbull was part owner..."
The caption makes no reference to the Flying Yankees, and alludes to a possible commercial past to the organization's famed icon. Is this a long-forgotten error, or does this reveal the little-known origin of the unit's patch?

This would certainly add a new twist to the legend of Capt. Joseph Wadsworth, who the patch portrays on the run as he rushes Connecticut's Colonial Charter to a hiding place safe inside the beloved Charter Oak to keep it from being seized by the British.
The second portion of the caption reads, "Former Governor John H. Trumbull, Connecticut's flying governor. Appointed the first state commissioner of aviation shortly after WWI. His solo flight in 1928..."

And apparently a note on the back of the photo reads, "Hartford Courant article dated October 24, 1927 - 'Governor Trumbull becomes first governor in the nation to qualify for a pilot's license and makes his first solo flight' in an Alexander Eaglerock plane."
The website states Trumbull developed an affinity for aviation in 1926, and received his pilot's license at the age of 53 which would have been on that same year, not in 1927. This also begs the question, why would Trumbull's first solo flight take place two years after he earned his pilot license? And what is an Alexander Eaglerock plane?

According to Wikipedia, an Alexander Eaglerock was a two-seated biplane that was, "especially popular with barnstormers... They were also used for carrying airmail, aerial photography, crop dusting, and air racing."

The page makes no direct reference to specific military use, but does note at least one version of the craft was powered by the Curtiss OX-5 engine, the same V-8 aircraft engine that powered the JN-4 "Jenny" flown by the Flying Yankees. Did the Flying Yankees ever fly an Alexander Eaglerock plane? Is the aircraft properly identified in the original Hartford Courant article referenced on the library's website?

This photo is surrounded by questions; some that may never get answered. But it seems likely this was in fact an aircraft assigned to the Connecticut Guard, and the commercial reference associated to the patch and the dubious aircraft identification were probably errors made at the time. Regardless, today's conventional wisdom states this was in fact the late Governor pictured at the controls of an aircraft.
While it appears Trumbull never served as a Flying Yankee, his efforts along with those of others from that period are credited with successfully securing the first air service unit for the state, according to the Flying Yankee's 50th Anniversary history book. Perhaps that accomplishment alone made his supposed flight in the unit's aircraft a well-deserved thank you.