British Air Transport Auxiliary
Marvin "Alabam" Dunlavy
In 1937 Marvin "Alabam" Dunlavy first learned to fly in a 40-horse power piper cub. From 1937 -1940 he flew all the time to get flying experience. In 1940 he was a duster pilot for a season.
In October 1940 he heard the RAF was looking for pilots and sent a telegram to Errol Boyd at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. He recieved an answer the next day with a form which he filled out and returned. About three days later they sent him a ticket to come to NYC. During his physical the doctor turned him down because of his hearing and he returned to Birmingham, Alabama. After he was able to get his commercial pilots license, he returned once more to NYC to sign up with the Clayton Knight Committee.
He was sent up to Montreal and from there, down to the Royal Canadian Air Force base in Ottawa for a flight test. After passing that, Alabam returned to Montreal and than on to Toronto for his instrument training with Steve Wedge. There he met Ben Warne, Harold Price, Bob Fordyce, and Eugene O'halleron. They were sent up to Halifax where they boarded the SS Mercia. They sat on the ship for a week before finally starting out for a 14-day trip to England. On the first day out, it was so cold that the ship iced over and in doing so, broke open a carton containing a Hurricane fighter aircraft. They each took turns practicing and learning about that plane for the rest of the trip to England.
On arrival in Liverpool, they were met by an ATA representative who put them up for the night at the Adelphia Hotel. The next day they traveled to London where they stayed for three days before going on to Maidenhead. There they went through flight school with other waiting pilots, and all passed with no problems and began ferrying planes.
From Maidenhead, Alabam went on to Hamble where he flew Spitfires and light twin-engine aircraft. While posted at Hamble, he was flying a Curtis P-40 when he had some engine trouble and had to make an emergency landing in a field below. He missed the field and landed on top of a tractor while the driver who had seen him coming was running in the other direction. As soon as his plane landed, Alabam jumped out of the cockpit and ran as fast as he could away from the entangled machines. Afterwards, once they saw that there was no fire, they went back to retrieve his parachute from the aircraft.
After Hamble, Alabam was posted to Hawarden near Chester. During his stay there, he turned down a Curtis P-39 because the engine wasn't running well. Three days later, another pilot was killed in that same aircraft when it exploded after take off.
In 1941 Alabam was posted to Prestwick and had to fly as copilot on heavy twin-engine aircraft for several trips before qualifying as Captain. While copilot, he flew with Captain Ed Heering in a Lockheed Hudson from Prestwick to Speke, near Liverpool. There they were picked up by Hawarden Ferry Pool, where Ed Heering was given a Douglas Boston, and Alabam was given a Hamden twin engine bomber, both for delivery to Prestwick. Alabam had left his maps at Prestwick because he figured that they went up together, so he would follow Ed back through the barrage balloons. When they were ready to go, Ed said he would takeoff and circle until Alabam took off so that Alabam could follow him through the balloon corridor. By the time Alabam got up, all he could see was Ed disappearing! So he headed north for an hour and soon recognized the Troon Barrage balloons, which signified he was north of Prestwick. He turned around and made it safely back to Prestwick. He learned not to follow anyone from then on!
During the winter of 1944, Alabam was given a Halifax four-engine bomber to fly from Prestwick to Leeds, located on the East Coast of England. Aboard he had Flight Engineer Cyril Farrow, and a RAF officer. The weather was very poor, and after take off, they ran into clouds and heavy rain. Alabam got lost, and after an hour of flying they all put on their parachutes and got ready to jump out. Just prior to jumping he thought he saw some ground and asked the others to wait just another few seconds. He was able to find a hole in the clouds and circle down and successfully land the plane.
By the time the war ended, Alabam had flown 70 different types of aircraft
while with the ATA. He returned to Alabama and joined Capitol Airways
as a Captain, flying for many more years before retiring. He currently
resides in Pleasant Hill, California.
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