CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — A Niskayuna man’s chance encounter with a World War II hero impacted him so much, he published it in his memoir. The book made its way across the country to that hero’s son, in a story that now spans 75 years.
It was the late 1970s. Michael Davi, a young G.E. engineer and part-time student pilot, arranged a round-trip day flight on the G.E. corporate jet from Schenectady to their plant in Greenville, South Carolina. On a whim, Davi approached the captain and asked if he could visit the cockpit.
“He totally stunned me with his response and said, ‘you’re welcome to ride in the cockpit the entire flight,’” Davi recalled.
Davi collected his thoughts, quickly accepted the invitation of Captain Jim Farrell, and embarked on what he described as the ‘adventure of a lifetime.’
“I could speak not only to both pilots, but hear all the air-to-ground communications as well,” Davi explained, “which I was learning as part of my own flight training.”
Davi was up in the sky with two professional pilots in a sophisticated jet. He described it as being analogous to having your favorite sports hero invite you to sit on the bench during the game.
While in flight, Davi learned Captain Farrell was much more than G.E.’s Chief Corporate Pilot. During World War II, then Lt. James Farrell, known as “Boss,” flew a B26 bomber he nicknamed “Flak-Bait” because of its tendency to attract more than its share of anti-aircraft fire. It flew more combat missions than any other aircraft in World War II.
Davi visited Flak-Bait in 1980 at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and took a photo with it. The B26 is one of the few remaining planes of its kind in existence.
He included his incredible interaction with Captain Farrell in his memoir detailing his experiences at G.E., “PrivileGEd.”
The story got even more serendipitous when Davi recently heard from Captain Farrell’s son, Tom, who lives in Virginia.
“I was doing an internet search about Flak-Bait, the name of my father’s plane, and I came across an excerpt from Michael’s book,” Farrell told NEWS10 via video call, “so I sent him a note.”
The story of Davi meeting Captain Farrell didn’t surprise Tom Farrell in the least, and an invitation to the cockpit sounds like the kind of thing he’d do for any aspiring pilot.
“He was that kind of guy. He always said, particularly as he got older, that flying is a young man’s game,” Farrell said, “and he always encouraged younger pilots to take command.”
Farrell fully understood the thrill Davi had that day, and why it left him with such an impact.
“I’ve been in the cockpit with my father a few times in General Electric aircraft as well,” Farrell explained, “and it’s fun to watch how graceful, professional and intuitive they are about flying a multi-million dollar machine.”
Farrell and Davi formed a friendship over these experiences, and plan to visit Flak-Bait for its rededication that’ll be happen within a few years. The plane is currently undergoing a preservation process in the Udvar-Hazy Annex of the National Air & Space Museum.
“They’re going to keep it with all the scars and scratches and bullet holes, and everything else,” Farrell said, “so that it looks like it would at the end of World War II.”
Captain Jim Farrell died in 1997. For his heroism and superior aviation skills, he earned four Bronze Air Medals, the World War II Victory Medal, Purple Heart, and several other accolades.
His story will not be forgotten, thanks to his son Tom, and a memoir by his friend, Michael.