The story of the 1927 crash of the plane carrying the MGM lion is one of the more exciting chapters in the Rim Country's history, and a new article on the subject is now on the newsstands.
Payson resident Gail Hearne wrote the article published in the February/March issue of Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine, the official magazine of the Air and Space Museum.
Its headline "Restoration: MGM Special/Ryan B-1 Brougham" refers to the plane utilized in the cross-country promotional flight staged by the then-fledgling movie studio -- an aircraft identical to Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, but with extra fuel tanks and a cage for MGM's famous mascot.
After crossing California and southern Arizona, pilot Martin Jensen flew over Phoenix, where people on the ground could actually see Leo in the low-flying aircraft. But the heavy load and hot temperatures of the desert limited its ability to climb.
When it reached the Rim Country, the overloaded plane lumbered into Hells Canyon. It didn't come out.
Injured only slightly, Jensen walked three days to safety in Gisela and a rescue party went back to the crash site to bring the still-caged but very hungry lion to Payson.
Hearne's article was triggered by an interview with C. B. "Junior" Haught, whose father Columbus "Boy" Haught was in the rescue party. It focuses on the efforts of Prescott pilot Scott Gifford to restore the original MGM Special.
Gifford, who had the wreckage removed from the crash site by helicopter in 1991, plans to complete the original flight to New York City one day.
"Airplanes are designed for one purpose and one purpose only -- to fly. The MGM Special will fly again," he recently told the members of the Northern Gila County Historical Society. He plans to use a giant stuffed lion instead of one of Leo's descendants.
According to a recent article by Christopher Creek resident Jim Hagen, you can still see the effects of the crash on Leo when you watch an MGM movie.
"When you see the famous MGM trademark and Leo turns his head with his mouth half open, look closely at his pock-marked face and his scarred ear," Hagen wrote. "They are not just make-believe -- old Leo had weathered some pretty tough storms."
For a full account of Gifford's presentation to the historical society, go to payson.com, click search, and then enter "MGM lion." The first article listed will be "Rim Country's moment in aviation history," which appeared in the May 31, 2005 issue of the Roundup.