In September 1969, “Bud” and “Slim” were again determined to fly together, unfettered by traffic in the air or curious reporters on the ground. Typically, the plan included a last minute mechanical fix by Gurney.
Hilda, Bud, and son John Gurney, along with Lindbergh, arrived at Santa Paula Airport where they had arranged to borrow a Tiger Moth owned by Robertson. Hangared at the opposite end of the airfield, Gurney’s Gipsy Moth complained enough for its owner to delay take-off. Bud the younger speculates that fouled plugs were the culprit. John Gurney remembers that “Lindbergh and I sat next to the gasoline shack for a few hours and waited for dad to fix whatever was wrong to make it airworthy.”
When the Gipsy Moth was ready, Hilda jumped in to fly with her husband and the two planes took off for a nearby lake and landing strip. There, to defeat the media, Gurney and Lindbergh switched planes.
Hilda remembers that she “jumped back into the Gipsy Moth and Slim looked surprised. I told him, I go where this plane goes.” Their ruse worked and Lindbergh was able to land unnoticed. Lindbergh was then 68. It was the last time the two old pals would fly together. Lindbergh died in 1974.
Hilda remembers times when Bud and Slim did not always agree and spent hours talking things out. “They remained close right up until the end,” says Hilda. “Bud and Slim respected one another and of course shared their common interest in aviation, and almost anything mechanical. They were both interested in how things worked.”
Before he died at age 77 in 1982, Gurney had reconnected with all 12 of his siblings. Bud the younger remembers that, “If help was needed through a tough time, Dad was there for them.” Well loved by his family, friends, and community, Gurney was also honored by the project committee for which he participated in building a 1903 Wright Flyer. The replica was posthumously dedicated in his honor when it went on display in Los Angeles.
The Nebraska boy who left home at age 13 to earn money to continue high school never graduated, yet his life was a constant quest for learning.
Giacinta Bradley Koontz is an aviation historian and author. She was the founder and director of the Portal of the Folded Wings Shrine to Aviation and Museum from 1995-2001 (the site of Charles Taylor’s grave in North Hollywood, CA). Giacinta holds a BA in anthropology with a minor in U.S. history and has given presentations on pioneer aviation since 1995. Most recently she has been awarded a partial grant from the Wolf Aviation Fund to write her second book, highlighting the life of Amelia Earhart’s mechanic, Ernest Eugene Tissot Sr.