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The Marcoux-Bromberg Story "Test Pilot"

Credit: The New England's Air Museum. Bradley International Airport - Windsor Locks, Connecticut, USA

In 1938, M-G-M released a movie about flying, and it was perhaps one of the greatest air racing movies ever made. Directed by Victor Fleming, the movie starred Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy and Lionel Barrymore.

Clark Gable played the role of the cocky, flamboyant, dashing, "devil-may-care" attitude of the test/race pilot, in the mold of Roscoe Turner. Spencer Tracy played his side-kick, the steadying influence. Myrna Loy played the love interest. A farm girl who falls in love with Gable when he makes a forced landing on her farm. She marries him and then suffers through his exploits for the rest of the movie. Lionel Barrymore is the head of an aircraft manufacturing firm that befriends Gable.

The racing scenes were shot at Cleveland Airport with many Thompson racers actually flying the course. Naturally, Clark Gable wins the race at the expense of others and despite a smoking engine (with the help of a smoke generator hung below the wing of the Marcoux-Bromberg).

Many of the famous stunt pilots appeared in the movie, including Frank Tomick and Paul Mantz. Earl Ortman flew the Marcoux-Bromberg, although Clark Gable was seen sitting in the cockpit in a couple of scenes.

The final climactic scene was filmed at Langley Field, and featured Boeing's new YB-17. Gable, as test pilot, and Tracy, as co-pilot, attempt to get the fully loaded (with sand bags) Flying Fortress up to 30,000 feet. With an oxygen tube sticking out of his mouth, Gable struggles with the controls until the airplane finally reaches its goal. As soon as the airplane starts its descent, the restraining straps holding the sand bags in place, break and the sand bags start to slide forward, threatening to crush the pilots against the instrument panel. Heroically, Gable fights to keep the plane under control, while throwing sand bags out of an open window, to keep them from crushing Spencer Tracy.

Predictably, the last sand bag is gone and the airplane is leveled just in time to crash land. Then Gable drags Tracy from the burning plane before it explodes, only to have Tracy die in his arms.

A repentant Clark Gable returns to his wife, Myrna Loy, and Lionel Barrymore, pledging not to do any more test flying, although one is left with the feeling that if the opportunity arose...

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