WWII fighter pilot helped put on air show for Cotton Carnival

- Ricka Deaton Blackwell, special to My Life,
Memphis Commercial Appeal, November 19, 2008


Billy N. Blackwell, a 1941 graduate of Memphis Tech High School, became a Navy Fighter Carrier Pilot during World War II.

He later became known as one of the "Hellcat pilots" involved in what became known as "The Cotton Carnival Mission."

The Navy at Millington agreed to stage a mock battle with the Air Force, involving seven Navy fighter planes (three F6F Hellcats and four F4U Corsairs) on Riverside Drive. The pilots were members of Flight VF 792 at the Naval Air Stations and were also "Weekend Warriors."

In the Cotton Carnival Mission, believed to have been flown in 1951, the planes flew very low over the Mississippi River. They came into Downtown Memphis from the north and flew under the Harrahan and Frisco Bridges in formation of twos. Six Navy planes zoomed under the bridges and one decided to fly over the bridges instead, due to the turbulence.

The King and Queen of Cotton Carnival and their Court arrived at the foot of Beale Street on a barge that had come up river from the


south, amid a massive fireworks display. The air show preceded the barge landing and the exciting episode was witnessed by thousands of Memphians sitting on the bluffs above Riverside Drive.

The pilots included Billy Blackwell; John Marvin Carney, a graduate of Southside High; Jack Foster; Frank Flanigan, a Central High graduate; Benny Benson, an active duty reserve pilot who lived on the Millington base; William Bell for Arkadelphia, Ark. The name of seventh pilot, a Marine, can no longer be recalled.

Billy Blackwell, 85, now lives on a farm in Martin, Tenn., and still works daily in the window manufacturing company he owns in Martin.

Ricka Deaton Blackwell is the wife of Billy Blackwell




Billy Blackwell, Tech 1941






Thanks to David French, Tech 1969, for sending the article