*This is a great story sent to me by Nick Saia. When I read it, I fell in love with it. I think you will too! Thank you Nick!*

 “The Nighthawk” A 1931 World Record Glider, and now a ’33 3 Window Coupe:

There are two things I love in this world: family… and the nostalgic high that comes from driving an old car, windows down, motor roaring, as fast as I can get away with down an old back road. I’ve been a hot rod guy as long as I can remember, with the dream of one day building a 1933 3 window coupe. I didn’t plan it to go this way, but it’s working out that not only am I building the car of my dreams, but I’m tying my love for my family history right into the build. Turns out that craving to go fast and seek adventure must be hereditary as I’m learning more and more about the short, but thrill-seeking life of my great grandfather.

The car is a 1933 3 window ford, it’s a build started by John Carrillo in Southern CA. I was lucky enough to come into possession of it in 2021. I was antsy to get started on it, and began scouring the internet for parts, deciding on the important things like what kind of motor I was going to run and how to create the look I had in my head. I quickly decided I wanted to run an Oldsmobile Rocket, and the hot rod gods led me to 4 of them in a true barn find along with various other car parts I’d only dreamt to own. The look I had envisioned for the car could be described as “looks like it’s going 100 mph when sitting still”. During this timeframe, when I wasn’t obsessing over my old jalopy I was researching as much as I could about my late great grandfather. 

I’d heard the stories of my great grandfather, William Cocke Jr., and his world record setting glider as a kid. I knew that he had built and flown his own sailplane in the 1930’s, the Nighthawk, and set world records in it. I even did a 4th grade presentation on the little information my family had on him. Unfortunately, that was just it, we had minimal information on his life as he was killed at the young age of 33 in the Philippines, flying a B-17 off of a military base the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. I had always wanted to learn more, more details of his days in the Nighthawk, more details of his time as a military pilot, so I set out to find out as much as I could. One of my main questions was: where is the Nighthawk now? I’d been on the hunt for it for the last decade. From what I knew, William had donated it to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles after he had completed his record setting flight. I reached out to them first, only to be told that they no longer had it. I had also heard that in the 1990s it had potentially been moved to a museum in New York City, however it never really made it there and rumor had it that the Nighthawk had been stolen. I followed a lead to the Santa Monica Museum of Flying, who directed me to another museum, and another, each one having a different idea of what might have happened including stories of museum fires and a basement flooding that could have destroyed the Nighthawk.

As I worked on the car, I created a thread about it on the H.A.M.B and mentioned the Nighthawk Glider, and how it was becoming a goal of mine to find ways to honor the Nighthawk through the 33 build, although I was losing hope. Shortly after my post, I got a message through the H.A.M.B from Shane Thompson who is a part of another air museum and has contacts with the Natural History Museum of LA. After a quick call, he was able to track down the Nighthawk!

They were able to confirm that they do in fact have it in their possession, but it’s been sitting in a storage facility in downtown LA for over three decades. It was on display at one time but was returned to its original crate William built and shipped it to them in in the 1930s. Unfortunately, since it’s in a crate, wrapped in plastic, and in storage I’m unable to see it at this time.

The big mystery had been solved; we know where it is. I was also able to get in to contact with a museum historian who provided several historical documents about William Cocke Jr. and the Nighthawk. I thought I’d hit the jackpot obtaining these records and then I got a surprise package full of documents, newspaper clippings, and articles from the Smithsonian! I had made enough phone calls and inquiries throughout my quest to find the sailplane that even the Smithsonian got wind and sent me what they had on record. Through all of the records I’d been gifted I learned even more information than I could imagine.

Highlights of the journeys of William Cocke Jr. included his record setting glide in the Nighthawk in Hawaii in 1931. He remained in the air for 21 hours, 34 minutes, 25 seconds, and covered 600 miles. This set the US and world endurance and duration records, breaking a previous record set in Germany in 1927 of 14 hours. I learned that during the 21-hour glide, in order to allow William to see in the dark at night, the Army sent a crew of men from the 64th Coast Artillery to operate 4 high powered searchlights that lit up the cliffsides as he flew. William flew through the night with only an altimeter to guide him.

During this flight, tragedy struck as well. Another successful glider pilot took on the same flight at the same time, Lt. W. J. Scott. Lt. Scott took off half an hour after William, but unfortunately his glider lost its rudder before the tow cable released, followed by the loss of a wing. The glider went into a slow spin and landed nose first. Lt. Scott tragically died of his injuries in the crash. During this event William witnessed the crash from 3400 feet above and grew concerned for his gliding buddy. Contest Officials feared that William would end his flight early over concern for Scott, so they wrote out “Scott OK” in gasoline and lit it on fire so William would see it in the air. The lie worked, and William completed world record setting flight.

Today, a memorial plaque remains on display at the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout in Oahu, dedicated to those who made the flight possible.

Another article detailed an event that happened in 1932 where William Cocke Jr. joined the mythical “Caterpillars Club” when he was forced to make a parachute jump from an Army Observation Plane en route from Los Angeles to San Francisco.  The article described that he had jumped in the night, in the dead of winter, into the snowy mountains of Sequoia National Forest. He survived the jump and trekked through the snow for 24 hours until he was discovered by Park Rangers near a Ranger station. His flying partner did not jump, and unfortunately succumbed to the crash of the plane.


Also included in these records were photos of the Nighthawk I had never seen, including the graphics that are on each side of the tail. Both images were his squadron logos as part of the 19th bombardment group. One side has a tribal man in a loin cloth with a spear, and the other features a skeleton with a lei and hula skirt, with crossed spears underneath. These graphics provided me the inspiration I was looking for to memorialize the Nighthawk in my 33.

Back to the car, now that I was armed with more information than I ever thought I’d be privy to, it was time to complete the Nighthawk build. As much as I wanted to complete every detail of the build myself, my better half was very pregnant with our daughter and free time was not something I had a lot of. I reached out to Clay Slaughter at Claytons Hot Rods to see if he’d be willing to take on the project. I can’t describe how thankful I am that Clay’s taken on this build for me and is making my Nighthawk journey a reality. I’m going to memorialize the Nighthawk in small details on the car. The shift knob will feature one of the tail graphics, I’ll have the other squadron logo painted on the rear quarter panel, vintage license plate frame from Hawaii, the grill will have a caterpillar club and distinguished flying cross badge, the center of the header panel will have an altimeter, and mag switches like what would have been in his B17. I must admit I consider myself to be a superstitious guy, so it feels right that the 33 coupe has a custom 33 horn button, since it’s also the age my great grandfather was when he passed, as well as the age I am now. I’m looking forward to flying down the open road in my own version of The Nighthawk.


William Villani

Hi. Did you see the article on the flight of the Nighthawk in the last AAHS Journal? I sent them some of my photos of Lt. Scott and the Albatross. They might put them in the next issue.

Randy Hanson

Wow what a story and also a great car keep the story’s and cars coming!

Nick Saia

Hell yeah, thanks for sharing dude!

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