Henry “Sandy” McMurray oral history interview
Pilot Henry Sanford “Sandy” McMurray is interviewed about his military and commercial flying careers. He discusses his service with the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, including his flight training with the Civilian Pilot Training Program, his service with the 305th Bombardment Group in the European Theater, and his service with the Air Transport Command in the Pacific Theater. He then shares highlights from his time as a commercial pilot for ONAT (Orvis Nelson Air Transport) and United Airlines and as a test pilot for Boeing, where he rose to the position of head of Production Test Flight before his retirement in 1981.
McMurray’s son, Scott Sanford McMurray, also participates in the interview.
Table Of Contents
Introduction and personal background -- Flight training, part one -- Service in the European Theater, part one -- Flight training, part two -- Service in the European Theater, part two -- Service with the Air Transport Command, part one -- Story about an ill-fated takeoff in a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress -- Service with the Air Transport Command, part two -- Service in the Pacific Theater -- Father’s military service and death -- Marriage and career with United Airlines -- Career with Boeing -- Connections to The Museum of Flight -- Thoughts on different aircraft and a close call on the runway -- Ferrying a B-17 from Hawaii to California -- Memories of the Red Barn -- Additional stories from wartime service, part one -- More on the Red Barn and stories from flying career -- Additional stories from wartime service, part two -- More on his father’s career and service -- Bailing out of a Curtiss C-46 -- Closing thoughts
Henry Sanford “Sandy” McMurray was a retired Boeing Production Test Pilot with a career spanning 32 years, from 1949 until 1981.
McMurray was born on July 14, 1921 in San Leandro, California to Welborn and Harriett McMurray. He lived there with his parents and younger sister, Elizabeth, until joining the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1941.
McMurray went to McKinley Grade School and San Leandro High School, transferring to Hayward High School from which he graduated in 1939. While in high school he filled out a questionnaire about possible careers and indicated that he was going to be a pilot. Working toward that goal, mechanically-minded McMurray attended San Jose State College taking engineering classes. The Civilian Pilot Training Program had just started there and McMurray was one of the first 50 candidates selected. Earning his Private Pilot Certificate by the summer of 1941, he took his physical and was accepted into the U.S. Army Air Corps on November 7, 1941. Attending training at “Kelly-on-the-Hill,” he selected multi-engine training, knowing that would further a civilian career as a pilot.
On July 3, 1942 he was assigned to the 305th Bombardment Group, subsequently known as the “Can Do” group, at Muroc Field. Completing his B-17 training there, McMurray found himself and his crew in Chelveston, England by November. McMurray flew his first mission on December 12 to Rouen, France in the B-17 “Unmentionable Ten” and his 25th mission on July 26, 1943 striking Hanover, Germany. Returning to the United States, he was transferred to the Air Transport Command, where he earned his Instrument Rating while delivering bombers, fighters, and transports. Assigned to the 7th Ferry Command, he was based in Wilmington, Delaware on D-Day when he had the opportunity to fly in the Pacific Theater. McMurray’s father had disappeared in 1942 with the fall of the Philippines and he was eager to see what information he could find. He learned that his father had passed away at Cabanatuan on June 14, 1942 of cerebral malaria. McMurray spent the last year and a half of the war bringing wounded troops out of battle and flying in replacements.
Discharged from the U.S. Army Air Forces on January 3, 1946 at McClellan Field, California, McMurray quickly found work as a flight engineer for Orvis Nelson Air Transport (later Transocean Airlines). After three months with ONAT, he was hired by United Airlines, flying as copilot primarily on West Coast routes. On one of these flights, he met his wife, Marjorie, a United Airlines stewardess. They were married in San Francisco on December 6, 1947. About a year later, United furloughed 88 pilots, McMurray included.
McMurray was then hired on at the Boeing Company. When United Airlines asked him back in October 1949, he opted to stay with Boeing. For his first couple of years at Boeing, McMurray wrote pilot handbooks. He subsequently moved to a test pilot position. As a test pilot, he started out copiloting Stratocruisers, C-97s, B-50s, B-29s, and other variants of these airframes. He transitioned to jet-engined aircraft with the B-47 and also flew the KC-135 and B-52 as part of the team developing jet-engined refueling capabilities for the U.S. Moving to the civilian side of Boeing, he flew the 707, 727, 737, and 747 extensively in Production Test Flight. In 1966, McMurray’s manager, Clayton Scott, retired and McMurray was promoted into his position as head of Production Test Flight. He held this position until his retirement in 1981.
McMurray died in 2021 at 99 years of age.
Biographical information derived from interview and additional information provided by interviewee.