Plane crashed by Harrison Ford trained World War II pilots in Central Valley

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- The plane Harrison Ford was flying when he crash-landed was a Ryan PT 22 originally based at Sequoia Field in Visalia.

Tulare County public information officer Eric Coyne noticed the markings. "This says 'Sequoia Field Visalia' right on the engine surround," he said.

The Tulare County Museum in Visalia has a display on Sequoia Field and its history. Coyne noted Ford's plane was number 54. "From the early number, his plane was probably active in 1941, '42, '43," he said.

Sequoia was just one of several airfields built in the Central Valley during World War II to train thousands of pilots. Robert Meltvedt, who's now 92, was one of those young pilots who learned to fly in a PT 22. He left home in Los Angeles for training at Eagle Field, another training field in the Central Valley. The old airfield is partially restored and there's a museum there.

Meltvedt recently took another ride in a PT 22 at Eagle Field and understands why pilots like Ford are still flying them. "First of all they were an open cockpit you know, you're sitting in the breeze helmet and goggles on," he said. "They were a lot of fun to fly, you loop you roll 'em, you could do all kinds of aerobatics in them. You are rolling over upside down hanging from your belt, and it gives you the thrill of really flying an airplane."

After his training, Meltvedt went on to fly dive bombers in Europe and later fighter bombers in the Korean War.

The PT22 is not his only connection to the actor. Meltvedt met Ford when the actor flew into Eagle Field to shoot a scene from the last Indiana Jones movie. "He flew his own plane in. It was a high wing monoplane; I can't remember what make it was. Big engine," said Meltvedt. "He was a nice guy. We talked. Discovered we had the same hat size, 7 and 3/8s. He said he'd give me a hat."

Meltvedt has lived in Fresno for the past 50 years. He is a retired physician and wishes Ford a speedy recovery, but wants to remind the actor he still owes him a hat. "You know an Indiana Jones hat, but I never got it for some reason or another," said Meltvedt.

Harrison Ford is of course known for his most popular role as Indiana Jones, an archaeologist who digs up the past. And in a small way, his unfortunate accident has uncovered a bit of the Central Valley's World War II history.

Copyright © 2019 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.