April 26 2017 0comment

The Shortest Pilot in the Navy

Indiana native, Jim Graham, came to Terre Haute to speak to the crowd at the Aviation Indiana quarterly meeting. A sparkling storyteller, Mr. Graham self-deprecatingly refers to himself as the “Shortest Pilot in the Navy” – both as a way of introduction and as a hint at one of his best stories. His talk and slideshow generated many laughs and reverential nods of the head throughout.

Mr. Graham’s story has been told in many forums, including USA Today/ Indianapolis Star – this engaging piece by Greg Doyel is worth a look. His April 20th talk ranged from stories of dogged persistence to tales of near misses and friends lost in the pursuit of flying glory and dedication to country. The stories of persistence was led by the tale of the time he attached himself to a homemade stretcher ‘rack’ to add 1/64th of an inch to each gap in-between his 32 vertebrae in order to meet the required height for a Navy pilot. Many laughs.

The stories from the cockpit were numerous. Mr. Graham has flown almost anything you can think of – even piloting a blimp over Key West. His first lessons were at a grass field in Mulberry, Indiana – at $4.50 an hour! While much of his military duty was during peacetime, Graham flew into danger during reconnaissance and test missions, logging hundreds of hours of flight time in places far and wide.

He also had brushes with fame as a Purdue classmate of astronaut-legends Gene Cernan and Neil Armstrong. His family had local fame and some history with Aviation Indiana, too. Graham’s dad, a newsman with WIBC was an avid pilot and even broadcast a show on weekends fully dedicated to flying in Indiana. 60 years ago, Gordon Graham had been named Aviation Indiana’s “Pilot of the Year.”