A very readable volume about the Grand Central Air Terminal is this book:

Underwood, John. 1984. Madcaps, Millionaires and 'Mose'. Heritage Press, Glendale, CA. 144pp.


Thanks to Guest Editor Bob Woodling for help researching this page.


the register


I'm looking for information and photographs of pilot Hull and his airplanes to include on this page. If you have some you'd like to share, please click this FORM to contact me.






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Harlan Hull, U.S. Navy Portrait, Pensacola, FL, October, 1927 (Source: Woodling)
Harlan Hull, U.S. Navy Portrait, Pensacola, FL, October, 1927 (Source: Woodling)


Harlan Hull is another of the Grand Central Air Terminal (GCAT) pilots whose name was entered in the Register as simply "Hull" by tower Operator A.J. Lygum. So we are left guessing his first name. In his case, the guess is easy. His name was Harlan Hull, and he was a line pilot, and then the chief test pilot, for T.W.A.

Hull was born April 7, 1906 at Ada, KS. The 1930 U.S. Census lists him at age 24 living at 221 South Olive Avenue, Alhambra, CA with his wife of one year, Zalaine (25). Their home was rented for $52 per month. His occupation was listed as "Pilot" at an "Airport." Zalaine was employed as a "Librarian" at a "Circulating Library." Curiously, Hull was not listed as a veteran in this Census.

Harlan Hull, U.S. Marine Corps, Ca. 1920s (Source: findagrave)


However, he was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. He learned to fly in the Marine Corps at Pensacola, FL. He earned his wings in 1927. The photograph, left, is from FindaGrave.

A few years earlier, he was certified as a harbor coxwain on naval craft not to exceed 65 feet. His license to do so was exhibited at ancestry.com. It was issued March 25, 1929, and the certification indicated that he had apparently used that capacity since 1923, probably using it to fly and then maneuver naval seaplanes on the water after landing. An identical license, for a different purpose, was earned by fellow Register pilot H.H. Holloway. Holloway's certificate is exhibited and explained at his link.

Hull landed four times at GCAT. His first visit was Wednesday, January 7, 1931 at 9:30AM. He flew the Ford trimotor he identified as NC9686. He carried his copilot. At 10:00AM he departed for San Francisco, CA with an unspecified number of passengers. His airplane was a model 5-AT-B, S/N 5-AT-41. It went through several U.S. owners after Maddux and T.W.A., then to Guinea Airways on November 28, 1938. It was ultimately used to rebuild S/N 5-AT-60.

The aircraft owner was identified as "T.W.A. Incorporated." According to the airline schedule information at the link for the airplane, Hull was making a routine scheduled transport flight between Los Angeles and San Francisco. NC9686 had a frequent presence at GCAT, recorded in the Register at least 45 times during 1931 alone. It was flown by at least two other GCAT pilots, H.H. Holloway, linked above, and George Rice.

His second through fourth landings were significant in that they were flown in three of T.W.A.'s premier Northrop Alphas. They were NC961Y, NC942Y and NC999Y. All three landings were in April-May, 1931. His first landing in NC961Y (Alpha model 3, S/N 8) was notable, because in the remarks column of the Register, tower Operator Lygum wrote, "First airmail (24 hr) from N. Y." Hull's landing was made on Tuesday, April 21,1931 at 8:00AM. The flight originated in New York, but it is not clear if he had flown all night westbound from New York or just met the plane in Kansas City, MO, or somewhere along the route, and completed the flight west. Regardless, the Alpha's carrying capacity was 1,840 pounds including the pilot and fuel. We can bet the rest of that weight was made up of airmail, especially postal cachets, for this inaugural flight. After a cursory look on the Web, I was unable to find any cachets for this flight. If you find one, please let me KNOW.

As with many other GCAT pilots who flew the public around southern California, Hull made some trips to Mexico and back that were captured in U.S. Immigrations paperwork of the era. For example, the trip documented below took place September 7, 1929 from Agua Caliente, Mexico to San Diego, CA. His passenger, Ormond M. Gove was a GCAT pilot. Their airplane, NC455E, was a Fokker F-10A, S/N 1017. Note that Western Air Express (W.A.E.) was cited as the mode of transport. W.A.E. was a parent company to T.W.A., suggesting Hull survived the merger and continued his career.

U.S. Immigration Form, September 7, 1929 (Source: ancestry.com)

Another trip documented below took place August 25, 1931 and found Hull carrying six passengers, Mr. & Mrs. W.F. Brown and Mr. & Mrs. E.F Hafer and their two children. NC9644 was a T.W.A. Ford trimotor that was a workhorse used on the Los Angeles-San Francisco route. NC9644 appears at least 39 times in the GCAT Register from 1930-31.

U.S. Immigration Form, August 25, 1931 (Source: ancestry.com)

I don't count Delmar Wright and Walter Black in the passenger tally, because I have a hunch they might be GCAT employees or friends of Hull. I need to research them further. Wright was a "radio engineer," so might have been the "Wright" listed so many times in the tower Operator column of the Register.

Hull was a well-respected TWA employee. An article appeared in the T.W.A. house organ titled "Speed" in October, 1935, pages 9-10. I include it below, not only because of the nice right profile and warm words directed at Hull, but also the mention of fellow GCAT Register pilot Orie Coyle, and Clover Field Register pilot Hal Snead.

Harlan Hull in "Speed," 1935 (Source: Woodling)

Hull's military experience is nicely, if briefly, summarized. Below, page two of the article, devoted to the other two pilots.

Harlan Hull in "Speed," 1935 (Source: Woodling)

In an example of one of the bad things that happen to good people, Hull died in an airliner crash March 18, 1939 near Alder, WA. The headline in The New York Times of March 19th read, "Huge Stratoliner Wrecked in Test; 10 On Board Killed." You can read the entire story at the link (PDF 572 kB). At the time of his death, as cited in the article above, he was the Chief Test Pilot for TWA. Hull was in the cockpit only as an observer when the accident happened. The airplane he flew in was the new, fully-pressurized, high-altitude Boeing 307. For some reason one wing broke off from overstress. The aircraft had a stiff wing, and that was when designers learned a wing had to be able to flex in rough air. Hull's obituary from 1939 in an unsourced newspaper is below. A similar story appeared in the Reno Evening Gazette of March 20, 2015.

Harlan Hull Obituary, Ca. March, 1939 (Source: Woodling)
Harlan Hull Obituary, Ca. March, 1939 (Source: Woodling)

Note that fellow Register pilots and Naval officers W.G. Golien, Jack Frye, Paul Richter, D.W. Tomlinson, Larry Fritz and Frank E. Weld were pall bearers.

Seattle Daily TImes, March 29, 1939 (Source: Woodling)


The Seattle Times, April 11, 1942 (Source: Woodling)



Of course the ten aviators were celebrated and eulogized. The Seattle Daily Times of March 29, 1939 described the extent of the crowds (2,000+), their eulogies and final resting places for ten victims. According to findagrave.com, Hull was moved to Missouri, cremated and his ashes scattered.

An article in the same issue, left, dealt with the investigation into cause(s) for the crash and the clean up of the wreckage.

Several years later a suit brought by Hull's wife against Boeing resulted in a reward to her of $12,500. Note that in the decade between the 1930 U.S. Census and the crash, Hull was divorced, remarried and now had two children. His widow, Lon Eva Hull (1915-2009), cited in the article at right, was not the same person he married ca. 1929, Zalaine, who was logged in the 1930 Census, above. The Seattle Times of April 11, 1942, right, documented the suit and its result. I found no information about other suits. Note that "no one has been able to determine the cause or reason of the crash." This would change.

Two articles in the Seattle Daily Times, one in April, the other in June, 1939, pointed to pilot error and that the crash was caused by, "...the pilots' inadvertently getting the plane into a tail spin." Further, "... the disintegration of the 43,000-pound airplane resulted from the pilot's attempt to level the ship off too abruptly while diving at terrifc speed after terminating the tail spin." Beside the finding of pilot error as the proximate cause, the design of the airplane was changed to include a larger vertical stabilizer/rudder surface area. This gave the pilot higher rudder authority, enabling a more efficient recovery from a spin.