Right Place, Right Time: The Man on the Magazine
The cover of the October 20th, 1941 issue of LIFE magazine is a portrait of the famous Boeing 314 flying boat being serviced by a crew of Pan Am mechanics at LaGuardia Marine Terminal, New York. The photograph was intended to capture the aircraft in such a way to communicate its massive size. Pictured above are seven men performing routine maintenance to the aircraft. What’s interesting about this photograph is the man standing on the hub of the propeller. That man’s name was William “Red” Eberhart. A quiet, yet intelligent man, Bill was given the name “Red” by his co-workers for his auburn colored hair. Red was just 19 years old when he began working for Pan Am in 1939. He would remain with Pan Am for the next 42 years, until his death in 1981.
Red, and other mechanics of the B-314, had the opportunity to work on one of the most advanced pieces of aviation technology of their time. Mechanics of the 314 used to fly with the plane, performing maintenance and repairs when the plane traveled. This was due to the fact that no one else but Pan Am personnel had the know-how, facilities, or the tools to work on these planes. In addition to the exterior access hatches, there were two interior access doors on either side of the flight deck. If needed, the engineer could shut the trouble engine down and a mechanic could climb into the wing and proceed to work on the engine mid-flight.
On the morning these photos were taken, Red was performing a routine maintenance inspection on the engines of the Dixie Clipper. He was pulled away from his task by his foreman who informed him that there were photographers coming by to take pictures of the plane. He was told that in order to show the scale of the plane in the photo, the photographers wanted a tall man standing on the hub of the propeller, next to one of the 6ft long props.
Red, being 6ft tall, was asked to stand in. Red didnt care what the reason was; the only thing he was concerned about was the fact that if he slipped, it was a 25 foot drop before he hit the water. Reluctantly, Red agreed to stand in. Little did he know, this staged photo would be published on the cover of LIFE. It wasn’t until sometime in October of 1941, when Red was walking past a newsstand, did he recognize himself on the cover of the magazine. He promptly bought two copies; kept one at home, and the other at his desk for the next 40 years...
Written by Matt Eberhart, William "Red" Eberhart's grandson and Pan Am Museum valued volunteer