Deke Slayton's airplane

Six hours after astronaut Donald “Deke” Slayton died in 1993, his small racing plane was spotted taking off from an airport in Southern California (John Wayne Int’l, I think). At the same time, that same aircraft was on display in a museum in Nevada, and I believe its engine had been removed.

Given that the aircraft could not have been flying in So. Cal., how did this story get started? If someone owned a replica of Slayton’s airplane (and it’s a very small group of people who fly these machines), it should be easy to figure out who was flying the aircraft. No one has come forward. No one had checked the control tower recordings that would have to have captured take-off clearance, and by now they must have been erased.

What’s the Straight Dope? Was a similar aircraft sighted and reported as Slayton’s? Or did someone decide, “Hey! This’d make a great Urban Legend!” and spread the story around? It has to be one or the other.

“I must leave this planet, if only for an hour.” – Antoine de St. Exupéry

Are you a turtle?

What kind of racer was it? I’m guessing a midget-class airplane like a Cassutt or something? If so, there are a lot of airplanes that would look like it at a distance. Most of the midget racers are plain-looking simple planform types. Hell, a Piper Cherokee or Mooney could be mistaken for one at a distance.

Every version of the story I’ve just read has the plane being a Formula One Racing Plane with large FAA-required registration letters and numbers on the fuselage: N21X.

Supposedly, the plane was very noisy and its registration letters were identified by many people who went on to complain about the noise to the FAA. The FAA then sent a letter to the then dead Deke’s address based on the registration letters.

Here’s a more detailed telling of the story straight from the “Contact with Non-human Intelligence” homepage.

Tony Soprano: We’re the only country in the world where the pursuit of happiness is guaranteed in writing… Where’s my happiness then?
Dr. Melfi: It’s the pursuit that’s guaranteed.
Tony Soprano Yeah, always a fucking loophole.

Thanks for the link to the UL. Lots of “facts” in it. I still wonder how it got started.

“I must leave this planet, if only for an hour.” – Antoine de St. Exupéry

Are you a turtle?

This is just my WAG and I didn’t check the suggested link (I’m lazy, so sue me) but it sounds to me as though one of Deke’s astronaut or Air Force (I think Slayton was in the Air Force) buddies took off in a plane similar to him as a tribute - maybe even going so far as to change his ID letters to match Slayton’s.

Astronaut/fighter pilot lore is chock-full of this kind of story.

Johnny L.A.,

Did you just watch Moon Shot or something? I was also curious about this story after seeing this movie. Thanks for asking about it. Now I have the straight dope on it.


Then he got up on top
With a tip of his hat.
“I call this game FUN-IN- A-BOX”
Said the cat.

-The Cat in the Hat

Forget about his buddies taking off in a ‘similar’ airplane - a Formula 1 racer is a homebuilt aircraft, and there aren’t very many of them around. They are extremely tiny (like, maybe half the size of a Cessna 150). They are purposely built for one thing only - to win races in sanctioned Formula 1 air race events (The Reno Air Races being the major one). I doubt if there are more than a couple dozen Formula-1 planes flying.

The above link is remarkably accurate in the details of Formula-1 aircraft and aerodrome operations - the little planes make a ferocious racket because the O-200 engines turn at a high rpm, they don’t have starters, they probably would trip noise monitors if flown low enough, etc. However, one glaring problem with the story is the number of people who could ‘clearly see the registration numbers’. A small airplane going very fast is hard to see, and the numbers on it would be extremely hard to see. Without binoculars, I think it’d be close to impossible to read the registration on an airplane like that in flight.