Gunther, Carl L. 2009. Harold F. Pitcairn: Aviator, Inventor, and Developer of the Autogiro. Bryn Athyn College Press, Bryn Athyn, PA. 729 pp. ISBN 978-0-910557-75-7


the register


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Bill Shellington landed once at Pitcairn Field, on Sunday, December 31, 1941. He was solo in the Piper Cub "Cruiser," NC38398. Based at Easton, PA, he arrived at the airfield from Easton and cited his destination as Mercer Airport, Trenton, NJ. Notice the date of his landing. It was about three weeks after the beginning of WWII.

As a boy, age 9, he lived in Jeffersonville, PA. The 1930 U.S. Census places him at 32 Liberty Avenue living with his parents, two younger brothers and his mother's sister and mother. His father, a 1913 immigrant from Canada, was a salesman of wood working machines. Their home was valued at $7,500.

In 1940, according to the Census, Shellilngton was 19 years old and living in Norristown, PA with his parents and younger brothers. His father continued as salesman of wood working equipment; his mother a dress maker. They owned their own home, which was valued at $5,000. All three Shellington boys would be of military age before the end of WWII.

The following information and images come to us courtesy of Shellington's son and grandson who contacted me through the Pitcairn Field Web site. They state, "Bill, as a kid, was always fascinated by aviation. He owned an airplane before he owned a car." Shellington graduated from Norristown High School in 1939. His girlfriend (Irene Garber, eventually the mother and grandmother of our correspondents) met Bill in high school.

Irene later went to West Chester State Teachers College (West Chester, PA). Bill followed her and stayed in touch. While picnicking on an open field on the West Chester campus, they heard the announcement that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Shellington decided he would join the Navy. Being a new pilot, he was fast-tracked for naval aviation.

William Shellington, WWII Portrait (Source: Shellington Family)


Shellington's flight log book from June, 1941 to June, 1942 is instructive, He began flight training in a Piper Cub, NC35235, on June 23, 1941, some months before he and Irene heard the December 8th radio announcement. He enlisted in the Navy soon after.

He continued his flight training. He performed typical activities with a flight instructor: many takeoffs and landings, slow flight, turns around a point on the ground, etc. He soloed on August 6th having accumulated 10.25 flight hours. This is an extremely short period for a person to solo an airplane. Nowadays the times are generally 40-50 flight hours. It is not clear from his log when he acquired his civil pilot certification.

His first flight after the war announcement was on December 17th. From his log, we discover he landed at Pitcairn Field at least twenty other times during 1941-42. He only signed the Pitcairn Field Register once, however, on December 31, 1941. Through June, 1942, he logged 52.75 flight hours. Fast forward, Irene and he were married and he became an aircraft carrier fighter pilot in the South Pacific.

He saw much action. One anecdote shared by his family entails having the tail of his aircraft chopped off by his skipper - who followed him too closely in formation. Shellington immediately bailed out as trained. As soon as he hit the water he did as he had  been trained and immediately shed all the clothes he was wearing so as not to be encumbered while swimming.  An aircraft carrier passed by and a crew member shouted over the bullhorn, “We're on maneuvers and can't stop by to pick you up right now. We'll be back to get you.

His family relates they threw out a rope in case Bill could grab it to be pulled to safety. They recall Bill saying, “Like an idiot, I pulled the whole ¼ mile of line through my hands! The ship disappeared over the horizon and he was left floating naked with bleeding hands.  He thought to himself, “Those bastards – they left me!”. 

About two hours later, he saw a ship on the horizon and it was a U.S. Destroyer.  They pulled up next to him, stopped the ship and lowered a platform to pull him up to the ship's deck.  When they got him up, the ship's captain greeted him by saying, “Well, will you look at the uniforms they dress the Navy pilots in these days?” Bill said they put him in a stateroom down below and he then started shaking uncontrollably.  He had been operating on pure adrenaline and training. Now that the crisis was over, the gravity of the whole ordeal sank in.

Another anecdote of interest is that, during the war, all communication (including his letters to his wife) were censored to make sure no information would be released that might make it into Japanese hands. His spouse was dying to know where he was fighting and Bill was dying to tell her. He came up with an ingenious idea that managed to hide his message in a way that only he and she would know. In his daily letters to her for four days he changed the address in one simple way: As he addressed each letter to my her (Irene B. Garber):

  • Day 1, “Irene G. Garber;” 
  • Day 2, “Irene U. Garber;”
  • Day 3, “Irene A. Garber;”
  • And finally on
  • Day 4, “Irene M. Garber.”

At first, before his communication dawned on her, she thought he had lost his mind in the pressure of the war. He certainly knew her correct name. He was able to relay to her where he was without anyone else (including the military communications sensors) knowing.

With the surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945, Shellington was involved with the escort of Allied ships into Tokyo Bay. Below is a photograph of his return to his carrier after an escort mission.

Shellington Arrives Aboard, September 6, 1945 (Source: Shelllington Family)

His son says about these photos, "Someone left a badly bent edge on the carrier deck.  It caught Pop’s plane on landing and flipped him over! His head was sliced open. They were on maneuvers in the war and didn’t have time to waste. They rushed him to the infirmary where they stitched him up (143 stitches without anesthesia!)"

Shellington's Airplane "Aboard," September 6, 1945 (Source: Shelllington Family)
Shellington Arrives Aboard, September 6, 1945 (Source: Shelllington Family)

And, "Any planes that were badly damaged in the war were “disposed of” (overboard!)." Although the war was over when this photograph was taken, the ship was still on a mission and the deck had to be cleared.

Shellington's Airplane Goes Overboard, September 6, 1945 (Source: Shelllington Family)
Shellington's Airplane Goes Overboard, September 6, 1945 (Source: Shelllington Family)

After the war, Shellington joined his father in business at his father’s machine shop on Hunting Park Avenue in Philadelphia, PA. He enjoyed his new trade, but his heart remained with aviation. He remained in the Naval Reserve. He had the distinction of flying the first jet aircraft into the Willow Grove Naval Air Station (NAS) in Horsham, PA. Interestingly, during the war, the Naval Air Station was built on the site where the Pitcairn Field Register was housed for the previous decade. Shellington was in the reserves for many years and traveled extensively. He attained the rank of Commander in June 1, 1959 before retiring from the Navy. At one time he commanded the reserve squadron based at NAS Willow Grove. He retired from Navy as Commander in December, 1967.

As well, his son says, "Dad stopped by Philadelphia International Airport and was hired on the spot as a pilot for The FBO which later would become Atlantic Aviation.  “I couldn't believe it, I was flying and getting paid for it!” Pop advanced and soon became manager of the entire flight department for small aircraft at Philadelphia International Airport.

"In 1956, Dad started an aerial traffic reporting service.  It was a public service on the weekends reporting traffic from the Philadelphia area to the New Jersey “Seashore."  In these “early”  days, the Pocono Mountains were relatively unknown. The Jersey shore was THE vacation spot - people were very concerned and interested to know where the traffic jams were located to make their commute to the shore much easier. Pop’s service idea was a combination of [the] Keystone Automobile Club (before AAA) [who] donated the routing. WIP radio donated the radio airtime [and] Atlantic Aviation donated the aircraft & pilot.

"On these missions, Dad flew a high-wing Piper Tri-Pacer.  I wasn't big enough to see above the dashboard so I flew on the instruments and looked out the side windows while Dad was talking on the radio.  The service was very well received and followed closely. Eventually, the helicopters took over as they had lower minimums in the Philadelphia airspace.  Today, for the most part, the helicopters have been replaced largely by web “Traffic Cams” which are used in a very cost-effective way to send information to the traffic reporters.  It’s kind of interesting how it all evolved – but I'm proud to say my Dad started the whole thing.  As far as I can tell, this idea spread across the country thanks to an idea orchestrated by Bill Shellington in Philadelphia.

"From there, Dad was recruited by Campbell's Soup to fly their corporate jets all over the world.  He flew some mighty nice “Iron” -  the Grumman Gulfstream I, Gulfstream II, Saber Liner, etc.  I can remember Dad taking me in his G2 on a test flight from his home  base at ILG (Wilmington Delaware) to Syracuse, New York.  Dad was in the left seat, his copilot in the right seat and I was in the jump seat between them both. When he got permission from the tower to take off, he looked back at me with a grin and said, “Hang on, you never seen a climb like this before.”  He certainly wasn't kidding; when we reached VR and rotated, it felt like we were going straight up like a rocket. After a short 20 minutes of climbing, he started descending for landing at Syracuse. I had never experienced anything like that before flying with my Dad in piston airplanes. What an impressive machine indeed. At the time, Campbell obtained the G2, the only planes that flew higher and faster were the military interceptors and the SST."

Bill attended the first meeting of the formation of AOPA on May 15, 1939. His son, Barry joined AOPA in the mid-80s when Barry licensed His grandson, Tim joined AOPA when he started his pilot training in late 2014. Tim is on target to have his private pilot license before the end of the summer 2015.

Shellington's son says, "I’m not certain, but I believe we might be the first to have a third generation AOPA member. If not the first, I’m certain there are very few families that have attained this record. (When Tim gets his private pilot license, I will contact AOPA to see if my hunch is correct).

Bill Shellington, Jr. was born May 24, 1920 (alternately May 27, 1921?). He died March 16, 1999 at age 78.

For the pilots among you, here is a listing of his pilot ratings: ASEL/ASES/AMEL/CFI-MEI-Instrument/Commercial/ATR/ATP.

In addition, Shellington was Type Rated for: DC-3, DC-4, North American NA-265 (Sabreliner), Grumman G-159 (Gulfstream G-1), Grumman G-1159 (Gulfstream G-2), Lockheed-L-18 (Lodestar model 18). His grandson reports, "Total time after adding it up was 12,032.3 hours - don't know how many types but it was at least 25."