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Jimmie was born at the dawn of powered flight and lived through most of the twentieth century, where he participated in and witnessed many of aviation's astonishing firsts.

James Joseph Mattern was born March 8, 1905. Enthralled with the man’s newfound ability to fly from the earliest age, he learned to fly in 1926. He engaged in the Hollywood movie work and stunt flying of the era, as well as flying cargo in 1929. 


On October 22, 1929, Mattern was hired by Carl Cromwell, and his chief pilot Gordon Darnell, in San Angelo, TX to be a pilot of the line for the newly incorporated Cromwell Airlines, Inc. Cromwell was killed in an auto accident in 1931 and his airline went out of business in 1932.

Come 1932, Mattern mounted an effort to better the time of Wiley Post's recent (1931) round-the-world record. His airplane was Vega tail number NC869E. He had it rebuilt and fitted for the world flight and named it "Century of Progress” in honor of the impending World’s Fair in Chicago.

He took on a copilot named Bennett Griffin. Their first attempt started from New York to Newfoundland, then to Ireland and Berlin, beginning July 5, 1932.


They did not complete their next leg to Russia, crashing the Vega soon after leaving Berlin near Minsk, Belarus. There they were captured and held as spies in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Once it was confirmed they were not spies they were released and Mattern and Griffin returned to Berlin with the wreckage of their airplane and soon after returned to the U.S. 


They suffered injuries to head and hand during the landing. Bandages are evident in photos, as are their oil-stained clothes.


The following year, Mattern took off solo on June 3, 1933, and low on fuel, he landed just in time on a rocky beach In Jomfruland, Norway on June 4. After a quick fix of his ship, refuel, nap and refresh all assisted by the people of Jomfruland, he was off to Moscow.


Departing Moscow, he did not complete the flight. Rather, his airplane crashed again in the USSR due to bad oil. But his survival story is captivating and courageous.


From 1933-1938 Jimmie traveled the world appearing as a celebrity pilot regaling a curious and admiring fan base about his exploits as a pioneer aviator.  He had a regular appearance at the Sherman Hotel in Chicago where he met his future wife Dorothy Harvey, a dancer in the Sherman Floor Show.  At the time a newspaper did a survey and he was voted the most popular aviator of his time.


1939 found Jimmie working for the Lockheed Corporation in Burbank, California, as the engineering test flying the famed P-38 which involved flying the plane before many knew it could fly and then working with the design engineers to perfect the aircraft.


Once the fighter was ready for service, Lockheed lost many trainee pilots as it was a single-pilot plane and the pilots unfamiliar with the new technology could not adequately fly the planes, so Jimmie developed a piggyback training system.


This modified the P-38 so an experienced pilot could sit above the trainee in place of the radio to instruct and to take over if anything went wrong. This procedure substantially cut down on the number of training accidents. Jimmie also developed a modified fuel system for the P-38. While at Lockheed, he test flew many different types of aircraft.


His work with the Lockheed Corporation ended in 1946. Jimmie was tasked with being the personal pilot for the President of Lockheed, but he felt that something was wrong. He began having unusual spasms and shakes. His doctor concerned he had a brain tumor sent him to the Mayo Clinic where Jimmie was diagnosed with a ruptured blood vessel in his brain.


Apparently, the vessel had ruptured because of all the blackout stalls he had done while demonstrating the P-38. Jimmie was told that he could never fly again, for fear of aggravating the rupture. Perhaps a crowning tribute to Jimmie was that Neil Armstrong carried his pilot’s license was carried to the moon on Apollo XI. It is signed by Mattern, Orville Wright, Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin.


In 1937 he married Showgirl Dorothy Harvey Mattern and had two daughters, Pattie Mattern Scarbrough and Joy Mattern Garrison who each had 3 children. Those six grandchildren, collectively known in the book credits as “Garrison Scarbrough” published their grandfather’s autobiography hiring writer Thomas  William “Bill” Simpson to bring Jimmie back to life to new aviation and history buffs through the pages of Undaunted, The Extraordinary Story of the First Aviator to Attempt to Fly Solo Around the World.  

  • Personal Life
    Jimmie Mattern was born March 8, 1905, in Freeport, Illinois to Phillip and Caroline Mattern. He was the youngest of four children. His father died when he was only a teenager and he and his mother moved to Canada to live with his sister and her husband. As money was in short supply, he left school to work. Jimmie married Della in Los Angeles in 1928. They divorced nine years later, mainly because of Jimmie’s long periods of absence due to his flying career, which Della couldn’t tolerate. Jimmie married Dorothy Harvey in Berwyn, Illinois in 1937. They had two children, Joy and Pattie. Jimmie and Dorothy remained married until Jimmie’s death in 1988. Dorothy passed in 2002.
  • Before Aviation
    As a teenager, Jimmie held many jobs to support himself and his mother. He was a cowboy, limousine driver, window washer and busboy. He joined the army in 1922 when he was just sixteen years old and spent three years in the bugle corps in Hawaii. After his stint in the army, Jimmie joined a band and worked on ships as a musician for two years, traveling the world.
  • The Early Aviator
    Jimmie always wanted to learn to fly and he eventually made that dream a reality by attending flight school in San Diego. His first aviation job was as a stunt pilot in the Howard Hughs movie, Hell’s Angels. Over the next sixteen months, Jimmie spent hundreds of hours in the skies over Southern California flying Snipes, Scouts and Fokkers. Jimmie worked as a personal pilot for Levi Smith, a big wig at Big Lake Oil Company. He went on to become Cromwell Airlines’ of Texas' first pilot. However, the company didn’t survive the Great Depression and eventually closed its doors. Jimmie continued as Carl Cromwell’s personal pilot until he died in a car accident. Jimmie then joined the U.S. Air Force. The Corps commissioned Jimmie as second lieutenant and assigned him to Hensley Field in Dallas, Texas, where he met fellow pilot Bennett Griffin.
  • Aviation Achievements
    Jimmie and Benny were ready to attempt to break the aviation world speed record by flying around the world. They flew The Century of Progress, Jimmies cherished Lockheed Vega, from New York non-stop to Berlin - a world first and also a new speed record. But their dreams of breaking the around-the-world speed record were dashed when they crash-landed in a peat bog near Minsk, USSR, after the vertical stabilizer was damaged. They both survived the crash, only to be met by Soviet military police who arrested the aviators and took them to Moscow where they were held as spies for ten days. Later that same year, Jimmie attempted the first solo flight around the world. He established new records for every leg until a clogged oil line forced a crash landing on the Siberian tundra only 600 miles from Nome, Alaska. Injured, he survived for twenty-three days without food, until rescued by Siberian Eskimos. His 30,000 flight-hour career included more than 3,000 hours in Lockheed P-38s, more than any other pilot. He developed and carried out the piggyback method of instruction in the P-38 during WWII, which greatly reduced accidents, saved countless pilots’ lives, and established the P-38 as one of the premier fighting aircraft of World War II. This accomplishment earned him the U.S. Army Air Force Scroll of Appreciation. Jimmie was received at the White House by four U.S. presidents, and among the dozens of honors, accolades, and awards bestowed upon him during his illustrious career were decorations from six foreign governments. He was a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and was, as Jimmy Doolittle called him, “a pilot’s pilot” who earned the title of National Aeronautics Association Elder Statesman of Aviation.
  • Life After Flying
    Jimmie was already a legend when a burst blood vessel in his brain ended his flying career. He was a spokesperson for the Pure Oil Company, he had his own radio show for a while, and made an incredible contribution during the second world war as a lead test pilot. After the war, Jimmie worked from home and got to spend more time with his family and to be present as his two daughters grew up. His third act would not involve flying airplanes. Still, Jimmie would nevertheless live a full and active life, working, raising his children and spoiling his grandchildren, and as often as possible, circling the globe over and over again, now by ship.
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