An actual Howard Stark — not the fictional father of Iron Man Tony Stark — and a real plane crash in Utah
There actually existed a real Howard Stark who was both a legendary pilot and an inventor
There actually existed a real Howard Stark who was both a legendary pilot and an inventor — and he died in the aftermath of a plane crash in northern Utah.
Mention Howard Stark to anyone today and they may instantly think of the fictional Howard Stark from the Marvel comics and movie universe, who was the late father of Iron Man, the alias of Tony Stark.
A June 16, 1936, headline in the Salt Lake Tribune: “Search party follows lost U.S. flier’s trail for five miles. Major Stark wandered down Lost Creek from plane after crack-up last January” (available on newspapers.com, subscription required).
My gosh, there was a real Howard Stark who flew airplanes in their early decades.
Stark flew U.S. mail in airplanes. He was flying from Rock Springs, Wyoming, to Salt Lake City on Jan. 16, 1936, when all radio contact was lost. A winter storm apparently forced him to land on a remote Utah peak, Observatory Peak, 28 miles northeast of Devil’s Slide and east of Huntsville, Weber County, in a blizzard. His plane was not discovered until 5 months later, in June of 1936, but he was not there and presumed dead somewhere.
Another newspaper article on Stark in Bountiful’s Weekly Reflex of Jan. 23, 1936, stated that he was “a nationally known authority on blind flying.”’
The Salt Lake Telegram newspaper of Sept. 22, 1939, carried the headline: “Aviator’s body rests in S.L.”
After more than 3½ years, Stark’s body was found by a sheepherder.
This story referred to Stark as the “ace blind flier of the department of commerce.” He survived his plane crash, but not the winter conditions of trying to walk to civilization.
On a recent Google search for “Howard Stark,” there were a half dozen full pages of results all on the fictional Howard Stark of Marvel comics and movies (including posts that speculate on Marvel bringing the character back to life).
Finally, at the top of page 7 of the search results was an article in Vintage Plane magazine from May 2002 about this real life Howard Stark. Its headline is: “Howard Stark: The Pioneer Aviator of instrument flying.”
This article, by John M. Miller, says that Stark was flying a Stinson Model S plane for the U.S. Department of Commerce, headed to the West Coast to give more instruction to other flyers about using instruments in airplanes.
Stark had never been west before and his plane and equipment were not designed for the high altitude flying of Utah. The author believes he made an emergency landing in a snowstorm and froze to death trying to walk to safety in deep snow and minus 20 degree temperatures.
The author of the article stated that “Howard Stark is really the almost forgotten but true father of today’s instrument flying. … Howard Stark, Charles A. Lindbergh and Clyde Pangborn are my civilian pilot heroes. ... Stark’s 1-2-3 system has served as the basis for what we know now as partial-panel flying.”
So, there you have it. A snapshot of the real Howard Stark. A first-class pilot and a civilian one, just like the fictional Howard Stark.
Note that the first mention of the fictional Howard Stark in Marvel comics was in the “Iron Man” comics of 1970. Iron Man made his first debut in 1963 as Tony Stark. The father, Howard Stark, was added seven years later and it is highly likely that the two Marvel comic writers who created Howard Stark were oblivious to the real one, since he is rarely mentioned in history.
Lynn Arave worked as a newspaper reporter for more than 40 years. He is a retired Deseret News reporter/editor, from 1979-2011. His email is email@example.com. His Mystery of Utah History blog is at http://mysteryofutahhistory.blogspot.com.