By now, it is well known that American Flyers Airlines was started by Reed Pigman in 1939. The airline started with DC3s and Lockheed Electras, eventually expanding its fleet to include 727s and DC-8s.
During the summer of 1964, the Beatles arrived on U.S. soil for their first tour and selected an American Flyers Airlines Lockheed Electra to fly them around the country during the tour. While Reed Pigman did not fly all the flights, he did fly them on a small part of the tour.
One of the stops on their tour was in Houston. By this time, the Beatles were exhausted and wanted some rest. Mr. Pigman’s assistant, Ruby Hickman, arranged for the Beatles to go to the Pigman Ranch in Missouri instead of going to New York as originally planned.
Obviously, they could not land an Electra at the ranch, so the airplane landed at Walnut Ridge, AR. They were then transferred onto Reed Pigman’s Beech 18 and flown by Mr. Pigman to his ranch for the weekend. The band members later revealed that this was a nerve-wracking flight for them. You have to remember that in the early 1960s, general aviation was still in its infancy and most people had never flown on, let alone seen a small airplane. This flight was also less than five years after the accident involving Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper. This incident was in the back of the Beatles’ minds as they were flying VFR at night, especially for George Harrison, who was afraid of flying anyway. The story holds that Pigman had a map on his lap and was looking for VFR checkpoints at night. From the band’s perspective, he looked like he was lost. When they finally saw the airport, they saw that trash cans lined the runway with fire burning in each one, lighting the runway outline.
After the weekend, they loaded back into the Beech 18, flew back to Walnut Ridge, boarded their trusty Electra, and continued on with their tour.