Reginald Denny (1891-1967)

The '13 Black Cats'

The 13 Black Cats were a company of flamboyant Los Angeles-based stunt pilots who defied both superstition and the odds on survival at Burdette Airport, Los Angeles in the 1920's.


The '13 Black Cats', Burdette Airport, Los Angeles in the 1920's.

Photo: The Denny Archives

These daring fliers included Bon MacDougall (founder) Reginald Denny (standing second from the right), "Spider" Matlock, "Fronty" Nichols and Hollywood stunt pilot Art Gobel. Goebel later flew to fame as pilot of the "Travel Air" Monoplane the "Woolaroc", to win the 1927 Dole Race, Oakland, California, to Wheeler Field, Hawaii.


The 13 Black Cats


Another image taken around the same time (same day?) notes "The Original "13 Black Cats" From the left Standing: Sam Greenwald, Bon MacDonald, and Art Goebel. Kneeling from the left: Fronty Nichols and Al Johnson. Sitting from the left: Paul Richter, Herb McCelland, and Spider Matlock." Photo Source: Jerry Phillips


The 13 Black Cats Rudder Logo (detail)

Photo: The Denny Archives

The "13 Black Cats" - site no longer working

One of the more prominent movie pilot and stunt groups called themselves the "13 Black Cats." The group got started in 1924 more by accident than by design. Ronald "Bon" MacDougall, a partner in the Burdette Airport and School of Aviation on the outskirts of Los Angeles, and two free-lance pilots, Ken "Fronty" Nichols and William E. "Spider" Matlock, agreed to fill in for some stunt fliers who had failed to show up for a scheduled air meet.


The 13 Black Cats

Photo: The Denny Archives

MacDougall flew the plane while Nichols and Matlock did some wing walking. The threesome stayed together for five years, adding ten more members and occasionally an "honorary member", such as movie actor Reginald Denny, a former World War I combat pilot.


Reginald Denny joins the '13 Black Cats'

Photo: The Denny Archives

Deborah 'Debbie' Denny (McBride) also tells of the '13 Black Cats'....

"Dad became sort of an honorary member of the "13 Black Cats" when he had his [Curtis] Jenny. Reggie has a picture of that group with a Jenny, including Dad. Originally for his initiation Dad was to have climbed out onto the wing with a parachute and jumped. Dad told Reggie he climbed out onto the wing and froze to the strut. Reggie said he didn't blame him. Anyway the guy had to land the plane with Dad clinging onto the strut for dear life.

Thank God he didn't jump or we wouldn't be here. I didn't even know this, Reggie wrote this to me recently. Reggie also said that they gave him an easier initiation which was to stand out on the runway holding up a lit cigarette and allow a plane to swoop down and snuff the cigarette, which he did. These other guys were all dare devil pilots willing to do any hair raising stunt."

Reginald Denny Jr. comments...

So Debbie told you about our father's initiation into the "13 Black Cats". Yep, that's exactly how he explained it to me. He climbed onto the wing with every intention of opening the chute and allowing it to pull him off . But he froze to the wing strut. The pilot circled the airfield for some time attempting to coax dad into pulling the rip cord. He even tried to shake him off of the wing, but nothing doing. Dad hung on for dear life, until the pilot finally landed with dad still clinging to the wing strut.


The "13 Black Cats Club"

The Denny Archives


The "13 Black Cats Club"

The Denny Archives

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