Excitement rippled through Tulare County when photos of Harrison Ford’s downed vintage airplane clearly showed “Sequoia Field Visalia, Calif.” stenciled on the side.
The Hollywood actor was flying a Ryan PT-22, a two-seat plane used to train pilots during World War II, when it crashed Thursday on a golf course near Santa Monica. He survived but was hospitalized with injuries.
Does the name Visalia on the side of the plane near the nose mean it graced the skies of Tulare County in the 1940s? Was it used at Sequoia Field, an airfield north of Visalia where hundreds of pilots trained during the war?
There’s no firm answer to those question, but Eric Coyne, Tulare County tourism manager and film commissioner, believes the evidence is in favor of Tulare County claiming a connection.
“I can’t imagine, knowing these aviation buffs, they would just randomly put a field” on the side of a restored vintage military plane, he said. “They track down the history of the plane.”
Antique airplane restorer Ty Sundstrom of Visalia said “it’s highly probable” that the plane was at Sequoia Field.
Restorers take the serial number of a plane and use military records to determine where it has been, he said.
But trainers like the PT-22 were routinely used at more than one airfield by cycling from the depot to an airfield and back again, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the airplane Ford used also had been assigned elsewhere, he said.
About 1,000 Ryan PT-22’s were built for the Army Air Corps, according to the National Museum for the U.S. Air Force.
They were commonly used at Sequoia Field, which still exists. The Tulare County Museum has an exhibit about Sequoia Field prominently featuring Ryan trainers in artwork renditions of the historic airfield.
In 1997, a reunion of Sequoia Field pilots was held at the airfield and about a dozen restored Ryan trainers were present, Coyne said. It’s unknown if the plane Ford was piloting was among them.