Civil Air Patrol

Cartoonist brought CAP to mass audience

Jack Martin, known as Smilin’ Jack, took off into the comic strip world in 1933.  A well-traveled aviator, Jack kept Americans entertained for 40 years with the adventures he encountered along with his co-pilot, Downwind. Popular not only in print, Smilin’ Jack could also be found on the radio and in a series of Universal Studios movies, "The Adventures of Smilin’ Jack."

Comic strip fans will recognize the feature as the creation of Zack Mosley, the cartoonist-turned-pilot who flew Civil Air Patrol coastal missions during World War II from Florida’s Base No. 3 in Lantana. Before the war was over, this hard-working pilot-artist would become commander of the Florida Wing.

Born in 1906, Zack Mosley wasn’t always as enthusiastic about flying as Smilin’ Jack. In fact, after watching two crash landings as a young boy, Mosley was afraid of flying, which he equated with rattlesnakes: “I was afraid of both, but there was some strange fascination about them.”
Mosley started sketching aircraft in 1917 immediately after a Curtiss Jenny crash-landed near his home in Oklahoma. While waiting several days for parts to arrive, Mosley began to sketch the aircraft. A fan of  the “funny papers,” 11-year-old Mosley incorporated these sketches into his own comic-style drawings and decided he wanted to fly airplanes and draw comics when he was older.

As a young man, Mosley moved to Chicago to study drawing at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. It was there in Chicago where he got his big break and caught the attention of the Chicago Tribune, which would go on to publish Mosley’s comic strip.
However much Mosley wanted to fly, he still had to overcome his fear of flying, which he finally did in 1933 on the advice of another comic strip artist, Chester Gould, creator of “Dick Tracy.” Not only did Gould encourage Mosley to take flying lessons, but he also advised him to create a comic strip about scared pilots. Taking this suggestion, Mosley created the strip “On the Wing.”  And along the way, he earned his pilot’s certificate. It’s a good thing he wasn’t superstitious with his fears of flying – Mosley earned his pilot’s certificate on Friday, Nov. 13, 1936.
He was encouraged to continue flying by his editor at the New York Sunday News in order to create a more authentic character in his aviation comic strip.

“On the Wing” main character Mack Martin’s first name eventually became Jack and the strip was renamed “Smilin’ Jack.” The strip is assumed by many to be based on Mosley’s experiences as an aviator who eventually owned nine planes and logged over 3,000 hours of flight time, traveled around the world and became involved with various aviation organizations.
In 1941, America was facing the threat of war. In Florida, where Mosley worked and flew, he became very active in the establishment of the new civilian defense organization, Civil Air Patrol.

As a CAP member Mosley flew missions over the coast of Florida, patrolling for Nazi submarines. In fact, he was credited with more than 300 hours of flight time for CAP and was awarded the U.S. Army Air Force Air Medal. Even “Smilin’ Jack” had a hand in these CAP patrols, as Civil Air Patrol would be mentioned in the comic strip that Mosley worked on during the war effort.  

His artistic endeavors didn’t end with comics – he designed the logo for Coastal Base No. 3 and had it painted on his plane. Mosley accepted command of the Florida Wing in 1944 and continued to draw “Smilin’ Jack” during his tenue.

Mosley is quoted as saying, “As long as I can keep pushing a drawing pen, I hope to keep manipulating airplane controls.”  He wrote three books, including his autobiography, "Brave Coward Zack," and continued to be involved in his community. He was inducted into the Civil Air Patrol Hall of Honor in 1976.  Zack Mosley dedicated his life to aviation and service to his nation.

Smilin’ Jack kept flying until 1973, coming in for a landing after 40 years of sharing the thrill of aviation with people around the world as the longest-running aviation adventure comic strip in history. 

Quotes from:
Mosley, Z.T. GatorCAPers (September 1986).  Retrieved from



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© 2019 Civil Air Patrol National Headquarters. All rights reserved.