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ISSUE 65 - May 2009
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where's my cobra?
Story Presented by David Rose

It’s 1968 and I’m the co-pilot on a 707 freighter. We have just departed San Francisco bound for New York city. It’s 11 o’clock at night and we’ll spend the night most likely talking airplanes, and boats, and cars, and finding out more about each others lives.

Tonight will be a little different. The flight engineer is a professional flight engineer;  hired into the third seat for his entire career, not to move up in the pilot progression to Captain. He would have something to tell us.

Fox was the mans name and it turned out he and a young, recently released from the Army Flying Corps Lt., Ken Knight, had taken a King Cobra, a P63A, to the Cleveland air races in 1947. Fox had been the crew chief and Knight the pilot. They hadn’t done much to the bird preparing for the races, other than installing a water injection system and painting the plane blue with yellow wings. This point would prove interesting to the story many years later.

The 3-day 1947 Cleveland  National Air Race's saw 104 competitors entered for the 16 races scheduled, 11 more than the previous year. The increase can be attributed to the prize money. $125,000 was offered to the pilots and they came in droves. It’s good money today, but it was a lot of money in 1947. Besides, WW2 fighters were available from the military for a thousand dollars or two and gas was cheap.

A interesting article about these amazing days was written by Bill Meixner of the Society of Air Racing and can be found at

Interesting, but my interest is not about the race, the interest here is about what ever happened to the Fox/Knight P63A King Cobra.

The night wore on at FL370, past Grand Junction, then Iowa City, all the while with Fox filling us in on the events of the 3 days they had spent racing at Cleveland. One event was specifically for the King Cobras and known for its sponsor The Tinnerman Company, producer of the “speed nuts” we all use. “The Tinnerman” that year saw 5 King Cobras competing with the Fox/Knight team emerging victorious.      

Great fun, but then came the question of what to do with their airplane. Fortunately,  Knight was acquainted with the operator of an airfield just outside Memphis and gained his permission to store the plane there indefinitely. This is the last we know of Ken Knight. It seems he was off adventuring and was not to be heard from again. Years would pass before the plane would need to be moved. High above Indianapolis now, Fox relates that the plane was actually flown out and landed not far away, across the Mississippi, on a dirt strip. The old dirt strip had a barn like hanger adjacent which accepted the little fighter with ease. There it was to reside unmolested and forgotten for decades.

Now, not long before New York Center clears us to cross Sandy Hook at 6000, Fox offers that should I care to retrieve the plane and get it flying, he would share it with me 40/60.

Who wouldn’t be intrigued?  In the late 60’s these fighters weren’t worth much. Nothing like the millions they bring today. Then they held interest for what they were; exciting; fun; interesting. Something that touched the being of pilots, especially to pilots with  fighter backgrounds. Owning such an airplane then was to just have it to fly, maybe to race, to share. I was hooked.

It’s 8 AM New York time now and the limo taking us to the hotel is caught up in rush hour traffic when Fox gives up the name of the little dirt strip, not far away across the Mississippi, where the plane waits.

The retrieval of the plane began with the search for Ken Knight. No internet then. No Google to track down 3,930,000 results for ken knight in (0.22 seconds). Phone calls; libraries; archives. That’s how one searched in those days. No Ken Knight. Next, the search for the airport outside Memphis. Found that in person. Totally abandoned. Then began the search for the little dirt strip, not far away, across the Mississippi.

The Sheriffs office, in a little town near where the dirt strip had reportedly been, was a fountain of knowledge relating to local history and citizenry. This is country. Beyond that, this is rural Arkansas in the late 60’s. Everything within ones geographical reach was known; and “Heck” the Deputy replies to my long distance inquiry, “You need to speak to Jimmy. He works at the xxxxxxx Texaco Station. He grew up there. Call him. He’d know where your plane is”

This is thrilling. The plane is as good as home. I call information and am not surprised to get a phone number for the xxxxxxx Texaco filling station. The next call is answered by Bart, who relates that Jimmy is working today, hold on. Jimmy comes on the line. It seems he knows all about the little dirt strip. “It’s all grown over now. It’s all cordwood” he says. “We played there all the time growing up” and yes there was a plane in the barn. “We used to play on it”.  “You’d have to cut a road to get it out though. The trees have overgrown everything”. Great.
“ Jimmy, do you remember what color it was?” “Sure!” he says, “Blue with yellow wings.”  Jackpot!

Three times volunteer groups were dispatched to coordinate the retrieval of that bird. Three groups never found it. Three groups never found Jimmy. Yet he knew the colors of the plane. Was it hearsay that he related to me on the phone? Maybe.

We determined to personally travel to that part of Arkansas and find the bird. We arrived in a snow storm, sensed the closed nature of ‘60s rural Arkansas society, accepted the well meaning cautions of locals about wandering around uninvited in the countryside, felt betrayed by circumstance and return to sunny California. Old fighters weren’t worth much in those days.

 I admit to often reflecting on this experience in later years; wondering whether “Old 51” might still be out there in a cordwood forest waiting for me. After all, “Jimmy” did know the colors of the bird. Had he seen it being dragged out of there years before? Had he heard stories? Why couldn’t the groups that went in there locate Jimmy? After all, the Sheriffs office certainly knew him. Or did my first group find the bird and spirit it away without telling me. But then the next groups would have heard about the plane being removed.

Long time ago.  If you know something of my story, email me at

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