The Reaper Catches Up...
In Trabuco Canyon, California
April 15, 1978
The Legend Continues...
In 1961, Frank Tallman and
Paul Mantz, who were both accomplished aerial stunt pilots, or “precision
pilots” as Tallman preferred the job called, for the movie industry, joined
forces to establish Tallmantz Aviation, Inc. at the Orange County Airport
(now John Wayne Airport) in Southern California. The business partners would
provide pilots and camera planes, as well as maintained a small fleet of antique
and historic aircraft for use in movie and television productions.
Tallman and Mantz also combined their respective
collections of vintage and classic aircraft to create the popular “Movieland of
the Air” Museum located adjacent to Tallmantz Aviation headquarters in Santa
Ana. By 1965, the pair were doing great business, until a pair of twin disasters
During that summer, Tallmantz Aviation was
assisting in the production of the film “The Flight of the Phoenix”, starring
James Stewart and Richard Attenborough. Tallmantz constructed a custom airworthy
craft, the Tallmantz P-1, for use in the film.
Dodging a Bullet...
Tallman was originally scheduled to perform the
flying tasks for the film, but a mishap while playing with his young son in a
motorized go-kart resulted in a shattered kneecap and broken leg, grounding him.
But when infection set in, Tallman was hospitalized, and he would eventually
have to have most of his leg amputated.
Then, on July 8th,
1965, during filming of one of the final aerial sequences for “The Flight of the
the P-1 crashed – killing
Mantz, and seriously injuring a stunt man.
Undaunted, he taught
himself to fly with one leg and returned to stunting. Within a year he had
requalified as a pilot of aircraft ranging from helicopters to military fighter
planes. He became the first amputee to hold all FAA licenses. He continued
movie work, including such motion pictures as
Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,
The Wrecking Crew,
and The Great Waldo Pepper,
and TV series like “Baa Baa Black Sheep”.
Two days before his 59th birthday,
and after completing some of the most dangerous movie flying of his career, for
the film Capricorn One, Tallman took off from Santa Monica Municipal Airport in the Tallmantz'
twin-engine Piper PA-23 Aztec, which was painted white & yellow, and registered
as N5641Y, on a ferry flight to Phoenix, Arizona. In contact with air traffic
control, he last checked in with the control tower in Santa Barbara, even as the
weather deteriorated as the flight continued - the nearest weather
station to him was reporting a 600-foot overcast, one mile visibility, and heavy
Shortly after 3 in the afternoon, Tallman's plane
plowed into the top of the 3,500-foot Bell Ridge near Trabuco Canyon in the
Santa Ana Mountains of Orange County.
An extensive search had been initiated by Orange
County sheriff’s deputies, Orange County fire personnel, the Civil Air Patrol
and a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter after several ground stations in the region
had picked up an emergency radio signal. Deputies located the wreckage of the
plane near Santiago Peak in the Cleveland National Forest at about 7:00 in the
morning on the following day. The officials who climbed to the crash site found
Tallman, still strapped in the cockpit, dead, and the plane's ELT still
Joining the Ranks...
The National Transportation Safety Board found
that the probable cause of the accident was the
“continued VFR flight into adverse weather conditions”. The instrument-rated
pilot, who had over 20,000 flight hours, fell victim to one of the most common
categories of pilot error.