A Hollywood Side Story

The author’s friend, localite Ralph Williamson, was instrumental in restoring the 1930 open cockpit Waco biplane that was used in the filming of the movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with Harrison Ford.

...by Pat D’Amicot

My husband’s old flying buddy and my good friend, Ralph Williamson, recently moved into a retirement community at age 90. He will thrive there because he is an affable man and has lived an interesting life. Plus, he has a remote connection to Harrison Ford.

Ralph and his business partner, Hank Strauch, were the owners of the 1930 open cockpit Waco biplane used in the filming of the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Ralph and Hank operated a flight service at Snohomish Airport where they repaired, rebuilt, bought and sold airplanes. Ralph conducted a flight school and Hank manned the shop.

The two became aware of the Waco biplane in 1950 and immediately wanted to buy it, but it was not for sale. It was used as a cross-country instructional aircraft.

Sometime later they received an unexpected call from the owner saying they could buy it for six hundred dollars... The only catch was that it had been crashed and was at the bottom of the Willamette River. They jumped at the offer, retrieved it and rebuilt it (but that is another story).

In 1964, Ralph and Hank sold their business in Snohomish. Ralph became an independent insurance broker, but Hank continued working on airplanes from his home— complete with a hangar and grass strip—in Junction City, Oregon. The Waco was based there.

Then, in the late 1970s, Hank got another call. This time it was from a movie producer in Hollywood. He had heard that there was a 1930’s Waco in the Pacific Northwest and he wanted to use it in a movie. Ralph and Hank flew the Waco to Los Angeles, where it was disassembled for shipping to the movie set in Hawaii. The contract required that Hank accompany it so he could put it back together and be sure it was in flying condition. It was painted to the specifications of the producers for its movie debut.

The pilot, who doubled for Harrison Ford, crashed it once again in the filming of the movie. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but the airplane was crumpled. One can only imagine the chaos on the movie set where minutes are clocked in dollars. Hank announced that if they could get a certain list of parts, he could repair it in four days. The parts arrived, the mission was accomplished, the Harrison Ford double soared into the sky once again and the rest is movie history.