As the years pass by, we have a tendency to forget those individuals and their achievements that helped shape our future. In a few of my past newspaper columns I displayed my interest in WWII aircraft and their pilots. My interest gravitated around the Curtis Wright P40 fighter and the Flying Tiger (AVG) squadron. Most of us recognize the name "Flying Tiger" which was founded by General Clair Lee Chennault. This American Volunteer Group (AVG) flew the Curtis Wright P40 Tomahawk fighter in Asia before WWII. On July 4, 1942 the 14th Aero Squadron and the Flying Tigers became part of the Army Air Force.
Retired Air Force pilot Vern Black, owner of Jones Store on Beasore Road above Bass Lake, flew with General Clair Lee Chennault's "Flying Tigers" after July 04, 1942. He flew one of the P40 Warhawk aircraft with the shark teeth painted on the cowing of his aircraft.
He joined the service just after war was declared on Dec. 7, 1941. After basic training he was sent to England and trained with the Army Air Force and the Royal Air Force. He flew the British Mark 1 Super Marine Spitfire and the twin engine B35 De Havilland Mosquito Fighters. But his favorite aircraft was the twin engine P38 Lockheed Lighting which he flew on reconnaissance missions in the European and Asian Theaters.
Black, 91, was sent to Asia and joined the Flying Tigers 14th Aero Squadron. Although his orders were flying reconnaissance missions in the P38 Lockheed Lighting, he always looked forward to sitting cockpit of the single engine Curtis Wright P40. He stated that the P40 was a light and nimble aircraft which was very responsive at elevations below 20,000 feet. Once the aircraft was mastered it became a useful aircraft in combat.
It wasn't difficult for Black to prefer the P38 Lockheed Lighting because its performance was superior to all enemy aircraft. Its twin engines and service sealing of 36,000 feet made flying a treat to fly over the Himalaya Mountains. At the lower elevations a pilot had to negotiate the cloud cover, storms and those rugged mountains reaching above 29,000 feet. Flying over Mount Everest which is the tallest mountain in the world at 29,029 feet was also in his flight missions.
During his Asian tour on one reconnaissance mission while flying a P38 aircraft, one of his engines was hit by anti-aircraft fire and stalled. He flew the aircraft over 400 miles on one engine before landing safely at his base in Kwaelin.
At six-foot-3, it was somewhat difficult for Black to sit in the cockpit of most fighter aircraft, with his head rub rubbing the top of the canapé. To rectify the problem, he replaced his American parachute with an adapted British parachute mounted on his back that had him sitting three inches lower in the cockpit.
After the war he was stationed in the states until his honorable discharge on May 15, 1948.
On May 16, 1948, one day after his honorable discharge he started his 32 plus year career with the California Highway Patrol. His badge was No. 83. He advanced to the position of State Field Commissioner before his retirement.
Black started operating the Jones Store during the summer season of 1980. Today he is still actively in charge of its operations. The Jones Store was previously owned by his mother, Helda Jones one of the original pioneers of Madera County.
The Jones Store is closed for the winter season. Normally the winter snow fall can reach 24 feet at Beasore Meadows. When Beasore Road opens next spring, make the drive to Jones Store and give your taste buds a treat by experiencing his wife's famous home-made pies. If you're lucky maybe Vern will share one of his personal historic WWII flight stories.