Air Museum of Minnesota Oral History Project: Interview with Thorvald Johnson
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Description BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Thorwald "Thunder" Johnson was born in 1903 in Norway. His parents homesteaded in Canada, North Dakota and moved to Minneapolis in 1910, then to what became Columbia Heights in 1912. He learned to fly in the early 1920s. He held various flying jobs as a mechanic and pilot for various companies and airlines. Then in 1936 he joined the Bureau of Air Commerce and worked there until his retirement in 1966. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Personal background, initial interest in aviation - Curtiss pusher; Fridley field in Columbia Heights; first airplane ride in 1919; Federated Fliers at Fridley field; second airplane ride - first intrastate passenger/mechanic; flying lessons - Harold Peterson of White Bear Lake; first solo flight in 1922 in Curtiss JN-4D; experiences as airport operator at field between White Bear Lake and Birch Lake - instruction, rides, carrying passengers. Barnstorming experiences - Travel Air - skipping meals to buy gas, some flying experiences; flying out of Wold-Chamberlain field; participation in eight-day endurance flight - refueling in the air; air to ground communication - dropped weighted notes, adding oil; freelance flying and charter work. Canadian-American Airlines - piloting, routes, types of airplanes; more barnstorming experiences throughout Midwestern states in Ford Tri-motor; experiences with another plane; Hanford Airlines - pilots, aircraft; Mid-Continent Airlines. Bureau of Air Commerce, which became Civil Aeronautics Administration and later Federal Aviation Administration - work as maintenance inspector, aircraft factory inspector, aeronautical inspector, division of federal airways - checking instruments, engineering inspections all in Eastern United States Region; problems encountered at work - celestial navigation, violations, accident investigations. Story of nickname. Close calls when began flying and endurance flight, navigation at night using light beacons, instrument flying - navigating around cone of silence; checking weather on way to Canada by telephone; how passengers on layovers accommodated; climbing above cloud cover; how located self if off-course with Rand McNally maps; reading names off railroad stations. First flying certificate in 1926 or 1927, Mechanic no. 110, Pilot no. 1629 - transport certificate, instrument test for airlines - Airline Transport Rating; flying on skis; barnstorming a school for Indian children in 1930s. Federated fliers - organizers, pilots, his roles, early days night landing without lights, types of flying - student instruction, charter work, cross-country flying, wing-walking balloonist and other wing-walkers, fixed-base operation; scheduled flights; air shows. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: During last thirty minutes of the interview, Walter R. Bullock and Lillian Bullock join "Thunder" Johnson and George Holey and they all talk about aviation experiences, which are not detailed above.
Quantity 2 hours sound cassette
Format Content Category: sound recordings
Measurements 120 minutes length
Creation Interviewee: Johnson, Thorvald
Interviewer: Holey, George
Dates Creation: 10/08/1967
Holding Type Oral History - Interview
Identifiers OH 101
Accession Number AV1992.88.27
More Info MHS Library Catalog
Related Collections Oral History - Project, MHS Collection, project: 'Air Museum of Minnesota Oral History Project'

User Comments

  • Joe Person on June 29, 2017 10:55:23 PM

    I have a picture of a Flight Card that recorded my Mother-in-law's flight with Thunder Johnson, in 1931, when she was 4 years old. Happy to email a copy of this photo if you folks would like this for your collection

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