Early air show led to record-setting day - x2!

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
His name gets mentioned every time there's an open house and air show at Selfridge Air National Guard Base. Fred C. Nelson, an Airman who served his nation through three wars, is remembered at every Selfridge air show as the man who broke two records in a single day. One in the air and one on the golf course.

Flying a P-26A Peashooter, Nelson clocked in at 216.832 miles per hour in a closed 89-mile course before a cheering crowd of 50,000 people at the Mitchell Trophy Race on Nov. 17, 1934, the headline event at the Selfridge Field air show that year. It was a new air speed record in a closed circuit course. Nelson, then a captain in the Army Air Corps, celebrated by setting a new record on the 9-hole golf course at Selfridge, shooting a 32. It may well stand as the only time a person set a record on both the land and in the air during a single business day.

Nelson, who was a captain at the time of the 1934 feat, would spend almost 34 years in uniform, spanning the closing days of World War I - when biplanes wobbled over the battlefield -- and the beginning of the Korean War - when the jet era firmly took hold.

Nelson enlisted in spring 1917, spending almost a year in enlisted service, before earning a commission as a lieutenant in the Air Service in January 1918. Already 23 years old when he first was sworn in, Nelson initially enlisted in the Army less than two weeks after the U.S. declared war on Germany, signaling American entry into World War I. Nelson was then trained as a pilot, earning his wings just a couple of months before the Great War ended.

After the War, Nelson remained in the military, flying in numerous aerial demonstrations for the Army's air arm. He was noted for his performance flying in a German-made WWI-era Fokker aircraft. In 1920, he wowed the crowd at an air show at Bolling Field near Washington D.C. by flying in from Middletown, Penn., in the Fokker, covering the 133 miles in 59 minutes.
Quickly promoted to captain during WWI, Nelson, like most officers, waited more than a decade for his next promotion. As the nation moved to another world war, promotions came more rapidly. At the start of World War II, Nelson was promoted to colonel and placed in command of the Advanced Flying School at Moody Field in Georgia, where he spent the much of the war.

After World War II, Nelson served as the first commander of the 62 Troop Carrier Wing, which is today's 62nd Airlift Wing. Nelson continued in that position through the opening months of the Korean War. His unit helped to ferry trips to the Far East for eventual service on the Korean Peninsula.

Nelson retired as a colonel in late 1950. He lived in San Diego in retirement and was buried there at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery after his death in 1991. Nelson's decorations included the legion of merit, distinguished flying cross and the Airman's medal.

Following World War II, the 9-hole golf course at Selfridge was expanded to its current 18-hole configuration.

The 2014 Selfridge Open House and Air Show is scheduled for Sept. 6-7. The U.S. Navy Blue Angels will be part of the aerial demonstration at the Open House.

127th Wing
Comprised of approximately 1,700 personnel and flying both the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the KC-135 Stratotanker, the 127th Wing supports Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command and Air Force Special Operation Command by providing highly-skilled Airmen to missions domestically and overseas. The 127th Wing is the host unit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which marks its 97th year of continuous military air operations in 2014.

Selfridge Air National Guard Base
Located on more than 3,500 acres along Lake St. Clair in Macomb County's Harrison Township, Selfridge Air National Guard Base is among the most diverse Air National Guard facilities in the nation. The base houses units of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection. Selfridge is the primary training site for more than 3,000 uniformed members of the military Reserve and National Guard components.