By Wilma Bradley
Tom Danaher trained in F4U Corsairs and Grumman F6F-5N Hellcats as a Marine Corps fighter pilot. He made history in August 1945, while stationed on Okinawa, he shot down the last Japanese bomber on the final night of World War II. In the eight nights before the cease-fire, Danaher, 21, downed three Japanese “Betty” bombers.
Following the war, Danaher was sent to Japan as part of the occupation force. There he met Yoshio Shiga, who had served Japan as the leader of the Zero fighters against Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941. He and Shiga corresponded regularly until Shiga’s death at 91 on Nov. 25, 2005.
After his discharge, Danaher began crop dusting in Navy N3N biplane trainers until he was recalled to active duty in 1951. The young, seasoned Marine flew the F3D SkyKnight, one of the earliest jets, in Korea.
After returning from Korea in 1953, he went to Utah with his older brother Jim, a WWII P-38 combat pilot, to prospect for uranium. After finding a lot of the mineral with the help of a J3 Cub, and after the Atomic Energy Commission withdrew guaranteed purchase of uranium oxide, Danaher decided to fly his 1948 185-hp Bonanza to England to visit his RAF friends he had met in Korea. He built a 109-gallon auxiliary fuel tank, flew to NAS Argentia, Newfoundland, refueled and flew straight across the Atlantic, via the great circle route, to Shannon, Ireland. He went from Shannon to England, visited his RAF friends and then flew on to Rome for an audience with Pope Pius XII.
In 1972, after selling his three successful Wichita Falls car dealerships, Danaher built his own airport, the Tom Danaher Airport, also known as Lake Wichita Airport (7TXO), in Texas. The airport has a 3,800-foot paved runway and a VOR-DME approach
The movie, “Air America” told the story about a U.S. secret mercenary operation in Laos, The script called for Danaher to land a Pilatus Porter on a very short strip, built into the side of a mountain.The CIA had given 10 Porters to the Thai army when Air America ceased operations. “The Thai army cannibalized one plane after another, until all they had left was a junkyard of corroding parts,” Danaher said.
At Lop Buri, Thailand, he found the junkyard and the Porters’ remains. Danaher and a small crew from the Thai army assembled a Porter from what remained of the aircraft, and two weeks later the assembled aircraft was christened Corrosion City. Danaher flew it from the construction site to the mountainside, flying well below power-off stall speed, in order to make the very short uphill landing. He then flew it off the mountainside.
Danaher has about 26,000 hours in many different types of aircraft. They range from an assortment he keeps in his hanger including a “Jenny” which he flys on weekends to the Jetstar he flew in “Cliffhanger.”
In addition to his military and movie flying, Tom has ferried more than 200 Air Tractors, solo across the atlantic. Danaher says, “If only, they had invented GPS 50 years ago, I wouldn’t have a gray hair on my head.” To meet and visit with Tom Danaher is a treasured memory I will never forget.
Wilma Bradley, 2006 Wilma is the mother of Airport Journals Publisher, Jerry Lips, she took her last flight west in 2011.