History Podcasts

Heroes and Landmarks of British Aviation, Richard Edwards and Peter J Edwards

Heroes and Landmarks of British Aviation, Richard Edwards and Peter J Edwards

Heroes and Landmarks of British Aviation, Richard Edwards and Peter J Edwards

Heroes and Landmarks of British Aviation, Richard Edwards and Peter J Edwards

Sub: From Airships to the Jet Age

Most chapters start with a brief biography of a particular figure in British aviation then trace the achievements of the company they founded or the aircraft or technology that they were associated with. Some focus more closely on a particular person, so the chapters on R.J. Mitchell or Herbert Smith stop with their death or retirement from the aircraft industry. Most of the others end with the period of mergers that eventually saw most of the UK aircraft industry consolidated in a single company, now BAE Systems. The process of mergers is covered in the final chapter, which takes us up to the present day.

The individual chapters can be a bit scattergun, leaping from topic to topic and sometimes repeated information in two related places (in the original short biography and later in the company history for example). Despite this they are all interesting, looking at the exploits of some very remarkable people and the contribution they made to British survival and eventual victory in two World Wars. You do become very aware of the important of the wars for most of these companies - the First World War turned a fledgling industry into a major employer, and the Second World War saw the surviving companies expand on a previously unimaginable scale.

This is an interesting approach to a history of the British aircraft industry, focusing on the key figures who helped create the industry or designed some of its most important aircraft.

Chapters
1 - Ernest Willows and the Airship over the Channel
2 - Short Brothers and the World's First Aircraft Manufacturer
3 - Geoffrey de Havilland and the Race to Australia
4 - Vincent Richmond, the R101 and the End of British Airship Ambitions
5 - Sir George White and the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company
6 - Thomas Sopwith and the Camels of Kingston
7 - Harry Hawker and the Hawker Hurricane
8 - RJ Mitchell and the Birth of the Spitfire
9 - Herbert Smith and the Development of the Fighter
10 - Charles Rolls, Henry Royce and the Magic of Merlin
11 - Reginald Pierson and the Wellington Saga
12 - Alliott Verdon-Roe and the Road to Lancaster
13 - Frederick Handley Page and the Opening of the Imperial Airways
14 - Charles Fairey and the Journey from Swordfish to Spearfish
15 - Robert Blackburn and the Brough Buccaneers
16 - Robert Watson-Watt and the Prowlers of the Night Sky
17 - Frank Whittle and the Power Jets Company
18 - Harold Wilson and the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act 1977
Appendix 1 - Summary of Main British Aviation, Mergers, Acquisitions and Nationalisations
Appendix 2 - Selected UK Aviation Museums

Author: Richard Edwards and Peter J Edwards
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 257
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Year: 2012



No. 1 School of Technical Training RAF

No. 1 School of Technical Training (No. 1 S of TT) is the Royal Air Force's aircraft engineering school, based at RAF Halton from 1919 to 1993, as the Home of the Aircraft Apprentice scheme. The Aircraft Apprentice scheme trained young men in the mechanical trades for aircraft maintenance, the graduates of which were the best trained technicians in the RAF and would usually progress to Senior NCO ranks. However, ninety one ex-apprentices went on to achieve Air Rank. Many more became commissioned officers, including Sir Frank Whittle "father of the jet engine", who completed his apprenticeship at RAF Cranwell, before the move to RAF Halton. [1] Graduates of the Aircraft Apprentice scheme at RAF Halton are known as Old Haltonians.


The squadron was formed at Swingate Down, near Dover, Kent, England in April 1916. [5] In November 1917, the squadron deployed to France and their first operation was in the Battle of Cambrai. [6] When the First World War ended, 49 Squadron became part of the occupying forces and disbanded in Germany in July 1919. [7]

The squadron was reformed in February 1936 from 'C' flight on No. 18 Squadron at RAF Bircham Newton. [7] The squadron initially reformed with Hind aircraft and relocated to RAF Scampton in March 1938. In September of the same year, the squadron started accepting Hampden aircraft, [5] the first operational squadron to do so. [8]

During the Second World War they carried out the attack on the Dortmund-Ems Canal on 12 August 1940. In 1942 No.49 Squadron converted to Manchesters, then Lancasters, and in October led No.5 Group's epic dusk attack on the Schneider armament and locomotive works at Le Creusot. In 1943 the squadron took part in the first "shuttle-bombing" raid (when the targets were Friedrichshafen and Spezia), and the famous raid on Peenemunde. Among the targets which it attacked during 1944 were the coastal gun battery at La Pernelle on the Normandy coast, and the V-1 flying bomb storage sites in the caves at St. Leu d'Esserent on the River Oise, some 30 miles north-west of Paris. In December 1944, it took part in a raid on the German Baltic Fleet at Gdynia and in March 1945, was represented in the bomber force which so pulverised the defences of Wesel just before the crossing of the Rhine that Commandos were able to seize the town with only 36 casualties.

The Squadron remained with Lancasters until it was re-equipped with Lincolns in November 1949. They carried out 2 tours of duty during the Kenyan Mau Mau Uprising from November 1953 to January 1954 and from November 1954 to July 1955. During both these tours it was commanded by Squadron Leader Alan E. Newitt DFC. After returning to the UK, the squadron was disbanded at RAF Upwood on 1 August 1955. [9]

During their second tour of operation Avro Lincoln SX984 was lost in an accident. [10]

They operated the Vickers Valiant from RAF Wittering and RAF Marham from 1 May 1956 until 1 May 1965.

The sole remaining Vickers Valiant (XD818) - the one that dropped the first British hydrogen bomb at Christmas Island with 49 Sqn as part of Operation Grapple - is preserved at the RAF Museum Cosford, near Wolverhampton. [11]

The SX984 was lost in a crash on 19 February 1955 while serving in Kenya during the Mau Mau Uprising.

On returning from an operational bombing sortie at 1540 hours, some 1hr 25mins flying time (total airborne time to the moment of the crash was 1hr 33mins), the pilot of SX984 carried out several unauthorized low passes over the police hut at Githunguri, where another 49 squadron crew was paying a visit. On the third such pass SX984 struck the roof of the hut and a telegraph pole, breaking off part of the wing and some of its nose. It went into a steep climb, stalled and crashed to the ground 8 miles north north west of Kiambu killing five members of the crew and four civilians on the ground. A visiting crew member called Pierson managed to pull the Rear Gunner from the wreckage but he died a few hours later of his injuries. [12]

The finding of the Board of Inquiry was that the accident was caused by wilful disobedience of orders and unauthorized low flying.

There is a memorial window to the crew and civilians killed in the crash in St Leonard's Church, Sandridge in Hertfordshire, UK.


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A brief history of obituaries

Various types of headers had been used for obituaries over the years, including Deaths, Obituaries, Died, In Memoriam, In Remembrance, Memorials, etc.

Obituaries have been present in newspapers for centuries. As newspapers changed over the years, so did obituaries, but their essence has remained the same to this day.

Before the linotype machine was invented in 1886, publishers used to set by hand the type for printing daily newspapers. The process took time, which is why newspapers only used to have several pages (only four pages in most cases). With fewer pages, there was limited space for ads and news articles, so the obituaries were usually very short.

In most cases, an obituary was just a one-liner announcing that a certain person had died. The newspaper editors used to decide who should have a more comprehensive obituary, based on the deceased's status and popularity in the community. Famous people and those whom the editors thought would be of significant general interest would get more detailed obituaries.

    The length of a person's funeral obituary depended on several things:
  • How important they were for the community
  • How much time the editors needed to spend researching about the deceased in order to write the obituary
  • If the obituary needs to tell an important story

As centuries went by, and towns turned into cities, families started writing obituaries on their own so that they would include more important details about their relatives. The newspaper industry defined a new term for these user-written obituaries, "Death Notes." Newspapers started including them as paid advertisements and began charging for publishing obituaries. The price of an obituary usually depended on the word count, the number of insertions, and the inclusion of photos.

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Usually, obituaries contain the name of the deceased and the burial date. Although, they may not reveal the death date. Therefore, you may need to figure it out using other details such as the date when the obituary was published. However, as you will realize using the obituary finder, obituaries also often contain more in-depth information such as the birth date, names of spouse, parents and children, marriage date, social status, occupation, education, and more. In many obituaries, you can find the location of the family members of the deceased at the time they were published.

An obituaries search can be a comprehensive process but the information you may find could be worth your while.

Why are obituary archives Important?

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They play a crucial role in preserving history. One obituary represents a written trace of a person's life. Whereas, many obituaries from the same community or same period will open a window into the lives of our ancestors and their communities. To find the obituary of a person means finding a hidden door that leads to amazing discoveries. Obituaries connect us through space and time, and they help us discover important details about family members and friends, preserving vital parts of history and keeping them safe for generations to come.

What can obituary searches be used for?

The details you discover may open up an interesting research adventure. For example, the obituary of your immigrant ancestor may give you clues to their birthplace, so that you may be able to trace your family’s roots.

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A death notice search will take you back through time and give you an insight into the life of your ancestor and their closest family members.


Investigators at the 1967 crash site shortly after a North American Aviation X-15 rocket plane broke up at 62,000 feet while traveling at 4,000 mph. (NASA) More photos

Peter Merlin and Tony Moore, self-confessed aviation geeks, find and sort through military crash sites in the Mojave as a hobby. They call these weekend expeditions 'aerospace archaeology.'

By W.J. Hennigan

Photography by Brian van der Brug

Video by Don Kelsen

Reporting from Mojave

P eter Merlin trudges through the desert, side-stepping sage brush and creosote until he reaches a spot barren of vegetation. He points out a faint crescent-shaped scar in the earth 100 feet long.

Merlin kneels and scoops up a handful of sand and lets it sift through his fingers, leaving behind three gray pebbles, each no bigger than a quarter.

"See these rocks?" he asks. "They're actually fragments of melted aluminum. This is the impact point where the flying wing crashed, and the crew lost their lives. Right here. This is the incident that gave Edwards Air Force Base its name."

The pebbles were remnants of the YB-49, an experimental bomber that crashed in 1948 carrying Capt. Glen Edwards and a crew of four. His untimely death prompted the military to rename Muroc Air Force Base in his honor.

Finding and sorting through military crash sites in the Mojave is Merlin's hobby and pastime. He and Tony Moore, his partner on these weekend expeditions, call it "aerospace archaeology."

"Living this close to Edwards is like an Egyptologist living in Egypt," Merlin said. "It has been called the 'valley of the kings.'"

The skies above the Mojave Desert are legendary. The first American jet plane flew here. The sound barrier was broken here. Space shuttles returned to Earth here. But less heralded are the failures and crashes, tragic footnotes to these remarkable accomplishments.

Merlin and Moore refer to themselves as "The X-Hunters," a nod to the Air Force's use of "X" in naming experimental planes. Their findings have broadened the military's understanding of Southern California's aerospace history.

"Their value to the office is a great one," said Richard Hallion, a retired official who worked 20 years as an Air Force historian. "In many cases, there was only rough approximation of where the crashes took place."

Peter Merlin, center, and Tony Moore, left, at a memorial to the crew of an ill-fated YB-49 test flight near Mojave. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times) More photos

Despite the vastness of the Mojave, there are few crash sites that Merlin and Moore have yet to find. They have compiled a list of more than 600 locations amid the sun-scorched sand and rock, and so far they have examined more than 100.

Merlin and Moore are unlikely confederates. Merlin, 49, the introvert, is prone to extended pauses when talking. He has a thin Errol Flynn-esque mustache and is known to wear a safari hat and leather jacket with "The X-Hunters" emblazoned on the back.

Moore, 55, is a large, affable man who walks with a metal trekking pole because of bad hips. He grew up in Northridge and has long been fascinated with Edwards, and seems to have a story about any aircraft that was ever built.

They both work at Edwards, but in 1991 the self-confessed aviation geeks were employed at the Burbank airport when they had a conversation about the region's aerospace history. Moore told Merlin he had found the wreckage site of the XB-70, an experimental bomber that collided with an F-104 in 1966.

Merlin was intrigued. But aviation buffs are secretive about the information they have — like fishermen who won't tell where the big ones are — so Moore gave Merlin vague directions to the site: about 12 miles north of Barstow.

The following Monday, Merlin came to work, smiling. He had found the site.

"I was shocked," Moore said. "I must have given him a two-mile area to search through. But he found it, to his credit."

Watch the video

Aviation buffs sift through history in the desert

Merlin and Moore spend their spare time finding and sifting through military aircraft crash sites in the Mojave.

After recognizing their shared infatuation, they decided to team up. When the two men started researching airplane wrecks, they mostly relied on files from the Edwards History museum and a 1993 environmental impact study of the base that listed only 15 sites.

On their first expedition, Moore and Merlin turned to a book written by a former test pilot that documented the crash of Maj. Michael Adams, who was killed in 1967 when the North American Aviation X-15 rocket plane he was piloting broke up at 62,000 feet while traveling at 4,000 mph.

According to the book, the wreckage was located several miles northeast of Johannesburg. But once they arrived at the spot, the terrain didn't resemble what was depicted in the book's grainy black and white photographs.

After several hours of fruitless searching, they decided to head home. As they drove toward U.S. 395, Moore noticed a mountain in the distance that looked like one pictured in the book.

They pulled onto a dirt road and rumbled toward the mountain. More landmarks began to line up. There was a ridge with an outcropping of white rocks near its crest.

They got out of their Jeep and began walking toward the mountain, stopping at intervals to consult the book. Merlin then looked at the ground and saw a piece of weather-beaten metal tubing.

"We're here," he shouted, noticing the ground was littered with more metal fragments.

For two years, they combed over the debris field and recovered 125 pounds of parts, including a warning light that likely glowed in the cockpit while Adams fought to save himself and the aircraft. These items are at the flight test museum at Edwards.

A memorial now marks the site. It was erected in 2004. More than 60 people, including Merlin, Moore and members of Adams' family, attended the dedication.

"We often approach these sites from a historical perspective," Merlin said. "But there's a human element that lives on. To see the emotional reaction from the family really showed me how much the sites can mean to people."

Among their other finds was the crash site for another flying wing, an experimental bomber constructed of wood, dubbed the N-9M. The plane went down 12 miles west of Edwards in 1943.

The men also located pieces of the Bell X-2, which in 1956 tumbled out of control, killing test pilot Capt. Milburn Apt on impact in the Kramer Hills off the eastern edge of the base.

Seven miles west of California City, they found the location of the NF-104A crash that would have killed Chuck Yeager in 1963 had he not ejected in time. A more recent non-fatal wreck was the X-31 that crashed less than a half-mile from California 58 in 1995.

When a plane goes down in the desert, the military tries to recover as much of the wreckage as possible. Retrieving hefty, hulking pieces is a priority.

I've seen enough deflated Mickey Mouse balloons to last me a lifetime."

— Peter Merlin

Most of the time, Merlin and Moore are searching for smaller parts such as twisted stainless-steel skin, rusted fasteners and fittings, or crushed cowl flaps.

They scan the horizon for glinting metal when they think they're in the right spot. Once they uncovered a part of a tail fin. But finding such items is rare, and often what they think is an aircraft part shimmering in the distance ends up being a Mylar balloon.

"I've seen enough deflated Mickey Mouse balloons to last me a lifetime," Merlin said.

When they do find something that they think they can identify, they take it home and weigh and measure it. They verify the part's authenticity by chasing down serial numbers, inspection stamps or examining a manufacturer's book on the aircraft. After documenting it, they'll donate it to the flight test museum or other institutions. They have written a book about their exploits titled "X-Plane Crashes."

Critics believe that the significance of the men's findings is slightly exaggerated. Raymond Puffer, retired Edwards historian, said their work is more of a hobby than anything else.

Other explorers, like G. Pat Macha, prefer to leave the crash sites intact.

"That's a big issue in this field: To simply take a picture or take the stuff home with you," said Macha, 67, who has identified and documented crash sites in Southern California for 50 years.

Macha, however, appreciates that rather than holding onto what they have recovered, the two men have given their findings back to the base.

Tourists scour the Mojave Desert landscape on the lookout for debris from a 1967 X-15 crash near Johannesburg. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times) More photos

Merlin and Moore take pride helping families who have lost a son or a father in one of these fatal crashes.

While standing at the YB-49 crash site that killed Edwards, Moore saw something glimmering in the dirt. He picked it up: It was a star sapphire, perfect except for a slight chip on one side.

The small stone was a mystery until Moore was talking to an engineer who had been on the base the day the YB-49 crashed.

The engineer mentioned that a member of the crew, Maj. Daniel H. Forbes, had been married just a few weeks before the accident. His wife had given him a sapphire ring. The military had found the setting but not the stone.

Moore was stunned: "We found the stone," he said. "We found it five years ago right in the middle of the site.'"

He mailed a photograph of the sapphire to Air Force personnel, who went to visit Forbes' widow.

A half-century had passed since the tragedy. The widow had remarried and at first didn't seem to remember the ring. Then they showed her the pictures.

Without saying a word, she walked to her bedroom and returned with a matching star-sapphire ring in her hand. The stone was eventually returned to her in a ceremony at the Kansas air base that bears Daniel Forbes' name.

"It's unbelievable how many things needed to happen in order for that ring to be reunited with her," Moore said. "It validated all our work."


Silver Star

The Silver Star Awards are the United States' third-highest award exclusively for military operations involving conflict and ranks fifth in the precedence of military awards behind the Medal of Honor, the Crosses (Distinguished Service Cross Navy Cross and Air Force Cross), the Defense Distinguished Service Medal (awarded by the Department of Defense), and the Distinguished Service Medals of the various branches of service. It is the highest award for combat valor that is not unique to any specific branch it has been bestowed by the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marines. It may be given by any one of the individual services to not only their own members, but to members of other branches of service, foreign allies, and even to civilians for "gallantry in action" in support of combat missions of the United States military.

Because the Silver Star is only awarded for combat valor, the only devices worn on it are:

    in lieu of additional Army/AF awards in lieu of a sixth Army/AF award in lieu of additional Navy/USMC awards in lieu of a sixth Navy/USMC award.

(Seven Awards of the Silver Star then, would be displayed on the ribbon as a Silver OLC and 1 Bronze OLC for Army or Air Force. For Navy/Marine Corps Awards it would be a Silver Star plus 1 Gold Star.)

Established by President Woodrow Wilson

The Silver Star Medal was established by President Woodrow Wilson as the "Citation Star" during World War I, and was awarded solely by the U.S. Army, though it was presented by the War Department to members of the U.S. Navy and Marines. Originally, it provided for a 3/16" silver star to be worn on the ribbon of the service medal for the campaign in which the citation was given. Based loosely upon the earlier Certificate of Merit, the Citation Star was retroactively available to those who distinguished themselves while engaged in military operations as far back as the Spanish-American War. (Subsequently, it has been awarded for gallantry to Civil War heroes who were similarly cited for gallantry in action.) Prior to 1932, the General Orders announcing awards of the "Citation Star" typically began:

"By direction of the President, under the provisions of the act of Congress approved July 19, 1918 (Bul. No. 43, W.D., 1918), the following-named officers and enlisted men are cited for gallantry in action and a silver star may be placed upon the ribbon of the Victory Medals awarded to such officers and enlisted men." (A narrative of the act or acts followed for each man thus cited.)

On February 22, 1932, the date that would have been George Washington's 200th birthday, Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur revived General Washington's "Badge for Military Merit (1782)" as the Purple Heart. That same year he also successfully advocated for conversion of the "Citation Star". When his recommendation was approved by the Secretary of War, the 3/16' silver star was converted from a ribbon device" to a full-fledged medal.

Certificate of Merit Medal - Silver Star Predecessor

The Silver Star Medal was designed by Rudolf Freund of Bailey, Banks, and Biddle, and consisted of a gilt-bronze five-pointed (point-up in contrast to the point-down design of the Medal of Honor) star bearing a laurel wreath at its center. The ribbon design incorporated the colors of the flag, and closely resembled the medal's earliest predecessor, the Certificate of Merit Medal. The reverse of the medal is blank, save for the raised text "For Gallantry in Action", beneath which is usually engraved the name of the recipient.

Is The Silver Star Made of Silver?

Technically, the Silver Star is not made of actual Silver. The gold hue of the gilt-bronze - ormolu - star seems at odds with the award's name, Silver Star. The name Silver Star comes from the medal's World War I history and the 3/6" silver star that is prominently displayed in the center of the medal.

The Silver Star Medal remained exclusively an Army decoration until August 7, 1942, nearly a year after World War II began. On that date, the Silver Star Medal was expanded by an Act of Congress for award by the Navy Department for actions on or after December 7, 1941, (Public Law 702, 77th Congress).

We estimate that the number of Silver Star Medals awarded during World War I and present-day is somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000. While that number seems quite large, when compared to the more than 30 million American men and women who have served in uniform during that time period, it is obvious that the Silver Star is a rare award, bestowed on fewer than 1 in every 250 veterans of military service.


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Mr Edwards says women should dye their hair a low-maintenance colour like sparkling brunette (left) and book in for regular trims (right) to prevent split ends

Mr Edwards says you should dye your hair a colour that 'melts perfectly to your natural tones'

Choosing a shade close to your natural colour will also cut down on lightening and high-lighting treatments that can dry hair out, Mr Edwards added.

Because winter weather increases the chance of split ends, he says it's a good idea to book in for regular trims - once every six weeks or so - to keep your locks in good condition.

He says heated styling tools like straighteners and curlers should be avoided whenever possible and replaced with creative looks such as braids that will keep hair healthy.

Mr Edwards says women should treat their hair just like they care for their skin because both are damaged by cold air in the same way

And when it comes to protecting your hair from the inside out, Mr Edwards says it all comes down to drinking enough water.

'If you are dehydrated on the inside, it will show on the outside,' he said.

During the coldest winter months, he also recommends swapping conditioner for a mask once or twice a week and applying a light serum such as Virtue Labs Healing Oil ($60) every day.

Jaye Edwards' hair trend predictions for 2021

In a resurrection few saw coming, Mr Edwards says the shag cut is back in a choppy, modern interpretation of the iconic disco-era hairstyle.

Created by barber Paul McGregor, the shag cut is a style that has been layered to various lengths and feathered at the top and sides.

Natural-looking auburn tones and coppery blondes are making a huge comeback, Mr Edwards says, while more obviously dyed shades have fallen out of favour.

'Timeless, classic and bold', Mr Edwards predicts a revival of the '90s-inspired pixie cut in 2021.

Short, layered bobs which grow out evenly over time are also making a comeback, as women opt for hassle-free styles that require little maintenance.

Curly hair is back in a big way as women embrace their natural waves and turn away from heated styling tools, according to Mr Edwards.

He previously told Daily Mail Australia the closure of beauty salons at the peak of the pandemic is responsible for the nationwide shift towards a more natural look.

Mr Edwards says if there's any hair colour that transcends season, it's bronde, a combination of brown and blonde-toned ombré shades and balayage that is flattering on almost anyone.

After years of platinum shades dominating the salon chair, this autumn Mr Edwards says he is getting more requests for warm blonde which helps to enhance the skin's natural glow, making you look younger.

'Shag' cuts (left) last popular in the 1970s and auburn colouring (right) are back in fashion, according to top Australian hairstylist Jaye Edwards


The prince found such restraints irksome, while his parents were upset by his refusal to marry and settle down. When the Prince’s choice fell on a twice-divorced American, Mrs Wallis Simpson, constitutional problems arose. Never steady or strong of will, the prince had to decide between Mrs Simpson and the Crown, which passed to him in 1936 on the death of his father George V. In the event, Edward VIII became the only British sovereign to resign the throne of his own will.

He abdicated on 10 December 1936, broadcasting a memorable farewell message by radio, and left the country to marry Mrs Simpson in France. He was made Duke of Windsor and lived abroad, maintaining friendly, if distant, links with his relatives until his death in 1972.

In this exclusive extract, we present a brief guide to Edward and Mrs Simpson’s relationship:

Mrs Simpson’s first introduction to Edward, Prince of Wales

In January 1931, Lady Furness held a weekend house party at Burrough Court, near Melton Mowbray, to which she invited the Prince of Wales. A married couple who were also on the guest list suddenly fell ill, and in their place she invited Mr and Mrs Ernest Simpson.

Like Lady Furness, Mrs Simpson was born in America, and was already once divorced. In 1928 she made a second marriage to Ernest Simpson, a native of New York who had served in the Coldstream Guards and become a naturalised British citizen. Though Mrs Simpson had lived in England for several years she still clung fiercely to her ‘American ways and opinions’, and her Baltimore accent was very pronounced. Hard-faced and by no means attractive, she was always elegant and well-dressed, and the Prince of Wales found her sympathetic, understanding and witty. Though she made little impression on him at their first meeting, she and her husband invited him to dine at their London flat a year later, and soon an invitation to spend a weekend at Fort Belvedere followed. The association, as she remarked in her memoirs, ‘imperceptibly but swiftly passed from an acquaintanceship to a friendship.’ Mutual friends and members of the household soon noticed that the Prince appeared to be infatuated by her as never before.

The King talks to the Prince of Wales about his future

Six days after the thanksgiving service for the 25th anniversary of the King and Queen’s accession to the throne, the King had a long and serious talk with the Prince of Wales about the future when he ascended to the throne, and regretting that he had never married. To this the Prince replied that he could never marry, as such a life had no appeal for him. When the King accused him of keeping Mrs Simpson as his mistress, the Prince reacted with anger and gave his word of honour that he had never had any immoral relations with her. He then begged the King to invite her to the Jubilee Ball at Buckingham Palace and to Ascot, which the King did with reluctance. It was a decision which caused the rest of the royal family as much mortification as it did the King to approve.

The Duke of York was especially shocked. He had already noticed with bitterness that Mrs Simpson was accepting large sums of money from the Prince of Wales, as well as jewellery – particularly family heirlooms bequeathed to the Prince by Queen Alexandra, who had taken it for granted that he would make a suitable marriage and would need them to give to his Queen Consort. On hearing about the interview that had passed between father and son he was aggrieved that the Prince of Wales should have lied to blatantly about his relationship with Mrs Simpson. He was sure that the two were lovers, suspicions soon to be confirmed by the Prince’s staff.*

*As Duke of Windsor, to the end of his days he denied that his wife had been his mistress during her second marriage. He successfully sued one author, Geoffrey Dennis, whose Coronation Commentary, published in 1937, referred to her having been his mistress, and some twenty years later threatened to take the official biographer of the late King George VI, John Wheeler-Bennett, to court if he did not drop the word ‘mistress’ from his book.

The Prince of Wales becomes King

On the afternoon of 16 January 1936, as he was shooting in Windsor Great Park, the Prince of Wales was handed a note written by Queen Mary. She had advised him that the royal physician, Lord Dawson of Penn, was ‘not too pleased with Papa’s state at the present moment’, and he should come to Sandringham, but in a casual manner so as not to alarm him.

Next morning, he flew to Sandringham in his private aeroplane. Later that day he telephoned Mrs Simpson to tell her that the King was unlikely to live for than two or three days. The Dukes of York and Kent joined them, leaving the Duke of Gloucester who was at Buckingham Palace, recovering from his laryngitis. On 20 January, shortly after midday, the King received his Privvy Counsellors for the last time. Propped up in an armchair, wearing his dressing-gown, he was too weak to do more than answer ‘Approved’ when the Lord President read out the order paper, and make two shaky marks signifying his initials G.R. on the document. Shortly before midnight, in the words of Lord Dawson, his life moved ‘peacefully to its close’.

Queen Mary’s first act as a widow was to kiss the hand of the eldest son, the new sovereign. Immediately afterwards, the new King telephoned Mrs Simpson with the news.

Edward’s relationship with his brother, the Duke of York, deteriorates

The new King’s penny-pinching (he had made cuts, dismissing members of staff and only telling the family once it was a fait accompli) at a time when he was showering his mistress with lavish gifts lost him much sympathy from his servants and household. Shortly after his accession, a sanction was obtained that no man in royal employment should be dismissed without being offered alternative employment, but this rule was soon quietly dropped by the King. Servants resented having their wages cut when they spent much of their time loading furniture, plates and cases of champagne for despatch to Mrs Simpson’s flat. The King’s personal instruction that soap supplied for the guests in the royal residences, which was collected up after the guests had left and finished in the servants’ quarters, should in future be brought to his own rooms, was also ill-received below stairs.

At the time of her brother-in-law’s accession, the Duchess of York was in low spirits. Early in the new year she has been struck down with influenza, and was till very weak when the King died. She grieved for him, noting that unlike his own children she was never afraid of him, and in all the years she had known him ‘he never spoke one unkind or abrupt word to me.’ As yet she attached little importance to the King’s infatuation for Mrs Simpson, though a tasteless remark by the latter did nothing to raise her standing with the Duchess. She was told that in early February, during a conversation about court mourning, Mrs Simpson remarked that she had not worn black stockings since she gave up the Can-can.

It was noticed that the Yorks no longer visited Fort Belvedere, so much did they dislike what they heard of the King’s subservient behaviour towards Mrs Simpson. The Gloucesters did, but with deep misgivings. They were unhappy about the liaison, but the Duke felt personally obliged to go. The Kents did likewise, but the Duke was saddened that his eldest brother, who had always been so close, now appeared so remote and distant. Against her better judgement, the Duchess of Kent regularly invited her brother-in-law and Mrs Simpson to tea at Coppins and at their London home in Belgrave Square.

Mrs Simpson files for divorce

September 1936 had been a bad month for the royal family October was to bring more portents of the impending crisis. Edward VIII’s private secretary, Hardinge, was informed by the Press Association that Mrs Simpson’s divorce petition was to be heard at Ipswich Assizes on the 27th of the month. Aghast, he discussed the news with Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, who went to see the King on 20 October to warn him what a scandal his ‘friendship’ with the lady was causing, and to ask him to try and prevent the divorce from going through. The King firmly declined. As yet, Baldwin took a less serious view of matters than Hardinge, who called upon the Duke and Duchess of York to warn them that the King’s abdication was a definite possibility.

Though the British press still adhered to a gentleman’s agreement that the name of Mrs Simpson should not appear in their columns, it was becoming an increasingly open secret that the King intended to marry her. Mrs Simpson’s decree nisi was granted on the grounds of Ernest’s adultery, but suspicion was rife that everything had been arranged for the convenience of her and the King. On 10 November, her name was publicly mentioned for the first time in the House of Commons. During question time, the Coronation was referred to, and Mr McGovern, Labour member for Shettleston, Glasgow, declared angrily that they need not bother to talk about it in view of the odds at Lloyd’s that there would be no Coronation. To cries of ‘Shame!’, he retorted, ‘Yes – Mrs Simpson!’

Abdication rapidly progressed from a grim but remote possibility, to inevitability. London was alive with rumours at all levels of society. Even friends of the King acknowledged, albeit with reluctance, that if the King married Wallis, he would have to abdicate immediately, otherwise there would be a renewed Socialist (and perhaps Republican) agitation, the formation of a King’s party, a Yorkist party, and a general election in which the King’s marriage and its acceptability or otherwise would be a major distraction at a time of recession and severe unemployment at home, and sabre-rattling from dictators abroad.

Abdication

On 16 November the King invited Baldwin to Buckingham Palace, and told him that he intended to marry Wallis Simpson at the earliest possible opportunity, whether his ministers approved or not. If they did not, he was prepared to abdicate. Later that evening he went to see Queen Mary at Marlborough House, and told her and the Princess Royal.

Since King George V’s death, mother and daughter had drawn very close to each other. Whenever she and her husband were at their London residence, the Princess Royal spent as much time as possible with the Queen, and during the crisis she was her mother’s greatest support. They were ‘astounded and shocked’ at his threat – or intention – to relinquish the throne. The Queen told him firmly that he must give up Wallis or the throne and it was his duty to give up the former. To this, he countered that he felt unable to function as King without marrying her, and therefore his ultimate duty was to leave the throne.

On the morning of 10 December, all four brothers were present at the signing of the Instrument of Abdication. With a degree of calmness which astonished the others, King Edward signed several copies of the Instrument and then five copies of his message to Parliament, one for each Dominion Parliament.

There were still difficulties to be resolved in what was an unprecedented situation. Never before had a British monarch voluntarily abdicated the British throne. The last King to be deposed, James II (in 1688, coincidentally also on 11 December), had never formally renounced the throne and still called himself King during his remaining twelve years of exile abroad. Edward was suddenly worried about how badly off he would be, and requested that the terms of his father’s will should be strictly observed as regards his life interest in Balmoral and Sandringham they should be treated as absolutely his, for him to dispose of as he saw fit. There was uncertainty as to whether he would be provided for by government, and whether the life or freehold interest in Balmoral passed to the crown under Scottish law. A few minor alterations were agreed and signed. Neither his brother nor Lord Wigram realised that he had made huge savings in his personal fortune for such an eventuality. When they did, it added to the anger and resentment they already felt at his rejecting his responsibilities as King and head of the family, while being unwilling to accept the financial consequences of doing so.

Another issue to be settled was the outgoing sovereign’s future title. As he was born the son of a Duke, he would be Lord (instead of a plain Mr) Edward Windsor, and under such a name he could stand for election to the House of Commons. The chance that Mrs Simpson might persuade him to do so did not escape their notice. Only be confirming him as HRH Duke of Windsor could he be barred from doing so, and the Duke of York maintained that he could not speak or vote in the House of Lords† but he would not be deprived of his position in the army, navy or Royal Air Force.

At 1:52 p.m. on Friday 11 December, ‘that dreadful day’, in the phrase of the new King, Britain witnessed her third sovereign in eleven months. Prince Albert, Duke of York, was now King George VI. He had chosen his regnal name a few days earlier preferring to take the same one as his father in order to demonstrate a sense of continuity with the latter’s reign, and in preference to the name of Albert, which he recognised had too Germanic a ring.

† This was technically incorrect. Royal dukes can speak in the House of Lords. The sons of King George III, and King Edward VII as Prince of Wale, had previously done so as would Prince Charles and Richard, Duke of Gloucester many years later. The former King Edward VIII’s title was created by Letters Patent on 8 March 1937.

The Duke of Windsor and Mrs Simpson marry

A week before King George’s 1937 Coronation, the Duke of Windsor and Mrs Simpson were reunited. On 3 May, she was informed that the decree had been made absolute, and she called the Duke in Austria. He caught the ‘Orient Express’ from Salzburg that afternoon and met her at the Château de Candé, central France, at lunchtime the following day.

Candé, which belonged to a very rich French-born naturalised American named Charles Bedaux, had been chosen for the Windsors’ marriage. The Duke had sadly resigned himself to the fact that none of his family would be attending, and Sir Edward Metcalfe accepted an invitation to be his best man. What rankled far more deeply, however, was King George VI’s refusal to raise Wallis to royal rank upon their marriage.

The wedding took place as arranged on 3 June. A civil marriage by the Mayor of Monts was followed by a religious ceremony at which the Reverend R. Anderson Jardine officiated. Jardine, vicar of St Paul’s Church, Darlington, was warned by the Bishop of Durham that he had ‘no episcopal licence or consent’ to conduct the ceremony, but went ahead anyway.

Extracted from George V's Children by John Van Der Kiste


Early life and ministry

Edwards’s father, Timothy, was pastor of the church at East Windsor, Connecticut his mother, Esther, was a daughter of Solomon Stoddard, pastor of the church at Northampton, Massachusetts. Jonathan was the fifth child and only son among 11 children he grew up in an atmosphere of Puritan piety, affection, and learning. After a rigorous schooling at home, he entered Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut, at the age of 13. He was graduated in 1720 but remained at New Haven for two years, studying divinity. After a brief New York pastorate (1722–23), he received the M.A. degree in 1723 during most of 1724–26 he was a tutor at Yale. In 1727 he became his grandfather’s colleague at Northampton. In the same year, he married Sarah Pierrepont, who combined a deep, often ecstatic, piety with personal winsomeness and practical good sense. To them were born 11 children.

The manuscripts that survive from his student days exhibit Edwards’s remarkable powers of observation and analysis (especially displayed in “ Of Insects”), the fascination that the English scientist Isaac Newton’s optical theories held for him (“ Of the Rainbow”), and his ambition to publish scientific and philosophical works in confutation of materialism and atheism (“ Natural Philosophy”). Throughout his life he habitually studied with pen in hand, recording his thoughts in numerous hand-sewn notebooks one of these, his “Catalogue” of books, demonstrates the wide variety of his interests.

Edwards did not accept his theological inheritance passively. In his “ Personal Narrative” he confesses that, from his childhood on, his mind “had been full of objections” against the doctrine of predestination—i.e., that God sovereignly chooses some to salvation but rejects others to everlasting torment “it used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me.” Though he gradually worked through his intellectual objections, it was only with his conversion (early in 1721) that he came to a “delightful conviction” of divine sovereignty, to a “new sense” of God’s glory revealed in Scripture and in nature. This became the centre of Edwards’s piety: a direct, intuitive apprehension of God in all his glory, a sight and taste of Christ’s majesty and beauty far beyond all “notional” understanding, immediately imparted to the soul (as a 1734 sermon title puts it) by “a divine and supernatural light.” This alone confers worth on humanity, and in this consists salvation. What such a God does must be right—hence Edwards’s cosmic optimism. The acceptance and affirmation of God as he is and does and the love of God simply because he is God became central motifs in all of Edwards’s preaching.

Under the influence of Puritan and other Reformed divines, the Cambridge Platonists, and British philosopher-scientists such as Newton and Locke, Edwards began to sketch in his manuscripts the outlines of a “ Rational Account” of the doctrines of Christianity in terms of contemporary philosophy. In the essay “ Of Being,” he argued from the inconceivability of absolute Nothing to the existence of God as the eternal omnipresent Being. It was also inconceivable to him that anything should exist (even universal Being) apart from consciousness hence, material things exist only as ideas in perceiving minds the universe depends for its being every moment on the knowledge and creative will of God and “spirits only are properly substance.” Further, if all knowledge is ultimately from sensation (Locke) and if a sense perception is merely God’s method of communicating ideas to the mind, then all knowledge is directly dependent on the divine will to reveal and a saving knowledge of God and spiritual things is possible only to those who have received the gift of the “new sense.” This grace is independent of human effort and is “irresistible,” for the perception of God’s beauty and goodness that it confers is in its very nature a glad “consent.” Nevertheless, God decrees conversion and a holy life as well as ultimate felicity and he has so constituted things that “means of grace” (e.g., sermons, sacraments, even the fear of hell) are employed by the Spirit in conversion, though not as “proper causes.” Thus, the predestinarian preacher could appeal to the emotions and wills of humankind.


10 All-Time Great Pilots

WHEN WE ASSEMBLED THE FOLLOWING LISTS OF GREAT PILOTS (and the list of milestone flights that follows), we faced the same dilemma that Von Hardesty, a National Air and Space Museum aeronautics curator, faced as author of Great Aviators and Epic Flights (Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, Inc., 2003). "If you mention Jean Mermoz," Hardesty writes in the introduction, "Why not Henry Guillaumet, who crashed and survived a six-day ordeal in the Andes? If you cover the crossing of the English Channel by Louis Blériot, why not the transcontinental aerial trek of Cal Rodgers? When the chapter outline was shown to one curator, he remarked, 'The problem is who to omit!' Such an observation genuinely haunted all of us who designed and worked on this book."

1. James H. Doolittle

At age 15, Doolittle built a glider, jumped off a cliff, and crashed. Undaunted, he hauled the pieces home, stuck them back together, and returned to the cliff. After his second plunge, there was nothing left to salvage. In 1922, Lieutenant Doolittle made a solo crossing of the continental United States in a de Havilland DH-4 in under 24 hours. The Army sent him back to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where in 1925 he earned a doctorate in aeronautical engineering. Two years later, he climbed to 10,000 feet in a Curtiss Hawk, pushed the stick forward until he saw red (negative Gs make blood pool in the head), and performed the first outside loop. In 1929, aided by Paul Kollsman’s altimeter and Elmer Sperry’s artificial horizon and directional gyro, he flew from takeoff to landing while referring only to instruments. “Aviation has perhaps taken its greatest single step in safety,” declared the New York Times.

He next took up air racing and collected the major trophies: the Schneider in 1925 with a Curtiss seaplane, the Bendix in 1931 with the Laird Super Solution, and the Thompson in 1932 in one of the treacherous Gee Bees, when he also set the world’s landplane speed record. With this triumph, he observed: “I have yet to hear of anyone engaged in this work dying of old age,” and retired from racing.

In 1942 Doolittle was sent off to train crews for a mysterious mission. He ended up leading the entire effort. On April 18, 1942, 15 North American B-25s staggered off a carrier and bombed Tokyo. Most ditched off the Chinese coast or crashed other crew members had bailed out, including Doolittle. Though he was crushed by what he called his “failure,” Doolittle was awarded the title Brigadier General and a Congressional Medal of Honor, which, he confided to General Henry “Hap” Arnold, he would spend the rest of his life earning.

2. Noel Wien

Thanks to Noel Wien, Alaska has a higher ratio of aircraft and pilots to residents than any other state. In the 1920s, almost single-handedly, Wien introduced the airplane to Alaska, and over some 50 years, aircraft became virtually the primary mode of transport in the vast and thinly populated state, which is twice the size of Texas and infinitely less hospitable in climate and geography.

Wien, a native of Minnesota, arrived in Anchorage in June 1924 at age 25 with his first aircraft, an open-cockpit Standard J-1 biplane. Being the only flier in Alaska that summer and the next, and with little competition for a number of years thereafter, just about every flight he made was a first, starting with a flight from Anchorage over the Alaskan Range to Fairbanks. Wien was the first in Alaska and Canada to fly north of the Arctic Circle, and made the first commercial flight between Fairbanks and Nome. He was first to fly the Arctic Coast commercially, the first to fly from North America to Siberia via the Bering Strait, and ultimately the first to fly a year-round service, throughout the vicious winters. All this with sketchy maps, no radio, and virtually no paved landing strips.

Wien got so good, writes author Ira Harkey in Pioneer Bush Pilot: The Story of Noel Wien, he could land the Standard in a mere 300 feet. Surveyor Sam O. White said: “I don’t belive there was ever anyone around here who could get everything out of an aiplane like Noel Wien did. It was like the wings were attached to his own shoulders.”

Wien’s flights broke other records as well. In 1927 he noted, “the last boat leaving in October didn’t mean isolation from the States until the first boat next June. For the first time ever, Nome got mail and fresh foods for Thanksgiving. Everybody looked forward to getting Christmas mail and foods, but they were disappointed—I was down on a lake in a blizzard Christmas Day.”

Wien flew everything and everybody to everywhere: bodies to burial sites, tourists to stunning views, gold dust from prospectors to market, sick folks to hospitals, trappers and dogs to hunting grounds. He lost an eye to infection in 1946, but he was able to hold on to his medical certificate and continued flying commercially until 1955. Wien stopped counting flight hours at 11,600.

3. Robert A. Hoover

After his Spitfire was shot down by a Focke-Wulf 190 over the Mediterranean in 1944, Hoover was captured and spent 16 months in the Stalag Luft 1 prison in Barth, Germany. He eventually escaped, appropriated an Fw 190 (which, of course, he had never piloted), and flew to safety in Holland. After the war Hoover signed up to serve as an Army Air Forces test pilot, flying captured German and Japanese aircraft. He became buddies with Chuck Yeager Hoover was Yeager’s backup pilot in the Bell X-1 program, and he flew chase in a Lockheed P-80 when Yeager first exceeded Mach 1.

Hoover moved on to North American Aviation, where he testflew the T-28 Trojan, FJ-2 Fury, AJ-1 Savage, F-86 Sabre, and F-100 Super Sabre, and in the mid-1950s he began flying North American aircraft, both civil and military, at airshows. Jimmy Doolittle called Hoover “the greatest stick-and-rudder man who ever lived.”

Hoover is best known for the “energy management” routine he flew in a Shrike Commander, a twin-engine business aircraft. This fluid demonstration ends with Hoover shutting down both engines and executing a loop and an eight-point hesitation slow roll as he heads back to the runway. He touches down on one tire, then the other, and coasts precisely to the runway center.

Despite the numerous awards accorded him, Hoover remains humble enough to laugh at himself. He notes in his autobiography, Forever Flying, that in the 1950s, after showing off his Bugatti racer to the neighborhood kids, he asked, “Well, what do you think?” One youngster’s reply: “I think you’ve got the biggest nose I’ve ever seen.”

4. Charles A. Lindbergh

The young man who would give aviation its biggest boost since the Wright brothers got his start in aviation as a wingwalker, barnstormer, and parachutist. His proficiency in the latter art paid off when he had to bail out of a trainer during his Army stint and another three times while flying the Chicago-St. Louis mail run for the Robertson Air Corporation.

Any collection of photos of Lindbergh can easily be divided into pre-Atlantic crossing and post. There are many broad smiles before he flew solo nonstop from New York to Paris in May 1927 not many thereafter. Lindbergh was assaulted by the media and besieged by the adulation of the entire United States. By 1929, when Lindbergh was surveying cross-country routes for Transcontinental Air Transport and posing with movie stars to publicize the airline, the smile had vanished.

Lindbergh made his greatest survey flight in 1931 for Pan Am, when he and his wife and radio operator/navigator Anne Morrow set out in a Lockheed Sirius on floats to establish the shortest air route from New York to China via Churchill in Canada, Nome, Petropavlosk, Tokyo, and Nanking. Two years later the pair scoped out north and south Atlantic cities for operational facilities on Pan Am’s transatlantic routes. This round-the-Atlantic flight in the Sirius encompassed landings in Greenland, Iceland, Sweden, Russia, Denmark, Scotland, Portugal, the Canary Islands, Brazil, and Puerto Rico.

In 1944, Lindbergh tested the Vought F4U Corsair in the field—the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific—and flew several missions with the U.S. Marines, downing a Japanese Zero. In New Guinea, he demonstrated to Army Air Forces pilots a fuel-saving technique that extended the range of the Lockheed P-38 from 575 to 750 miles. Charles Lindbergh’s flight to Paris was just the beginning of his career.

His daughter Reeve revealed Lindbergh’s method and his mastery when she recalled flying with him in an Aeronca Champion whose engine had quit: “He was persuading and willing and coaxing that airplane into doing what he wanted it to do, leaning it like a bobsled right down where it could safely land. He could feel its every movement as though it were his own body. My father wasn’t flying the airplane, he was being the airplane. That’s how he always done it.”

5. Charles E. Yeager

As a young Army Air Forces pilot in training, Yeager had to overcome airsickness before he went on to down 12 German fighters, including a Messerschmitt 262, the first jet fighter. After the war, still in the AAF, he trained as a test pilot at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, where he got to fly the United States’ first jet fighter, the Bell P-59, which he took on a joyride, flying low over the main street of his West Virginia hometown.

Yeager then went to Muroc Field in California, where Larry Bell introduced him and fellow test pilot Bob Hoover to the Bell XS-1. In his autobiography, Yeager, he says that Bell, in assuring them that a deadstick landing would be a piece of cake, bragged that “[W]ithout fuel aboard, she handles like a bird.”

“A live bird or a dead one?” Hoover asked.

In Yeager’s hands, the bullet-shaped XS-1 performed as advertised, and on October 14, 1947, ignoring the pain of two cracked ribs, he reached Mach 1.07 and lived to tell about it. The X-1 was not designed to take off under its own power it was air-dropped from a mothership. In January 1949, Yeager fired up the X-1’s four rockets on the runway. “There was no ride ever in the world like that one!” he later wrote. The aircraft accelerated so rapidly that when the landing gear was retracted, an actuating rod snapped and the wing flaps blew off.

He also managed to fly the Douglas X-3, Northrop X-4, and Bell X-5, as well as the prototype for the Boeing B-47 swept-wing jet bomber. The Bell X-1A nearly ate him for breakfast one December day in 1953. Yeager thought he could coax the X-1A to Mach 2.3 and bust Scott Crossfield’s Mach 2 record, achieved in the Douglas D-558-II Skyrocket. At 80,000 feet and Mach 2.4, the nose yawed, a wing rose, and the X-1A went berserk “in what pilots call going divergent in all three axes,” Yeager wrote. “I called it hell.” He was able to recover at 25,000 feet.

Yeager was sent to Okinawa in 1954 to test a Soviet MiG-15 that a North Korean had used to defect. When he stopped test-flying that year, he had logged 10,000 hours in 180 types of military aircraft.

6. Scott Crossfield

When Navy fighter pilot and flight instructor Scott Crossfield heard about the Bell Experimental Sonic XS-1 under construction in 1947, he wrote to its manufacturer proposing that he be named its first test pilot he offered to fly it for free. Bell did not reply, but no matter: In 1950 Crossfield was hired by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and sent to Edwards Air Force Base in California to fly the world’s hottest X-planes, including the X-1, the tail-less Northrop X-4, the Douglas D-558-I Skystreak and D-558-II Skyrocket, the Convair XF-92A (which he pronounced “under-powered, under- geared, underbraked, and overweight”), and the Bell X-5. He made 100 rocket-plane flights in all. On November 20, 1953, he took the D-558-II to Mach 2.04, becoming the first pilot to fly at twice the speed of sound.

He gained a reputation as a pilot whose flights were jinxed: On his first X-4 flight, he lost both engines in the Skyrocket, he flamed out the windshield iced over in the X-1. After a deadstick landing in a North American F-100, he lost hydraulic pressure and the Super Sabre slammed into a hangar wall. Forever after, Chuck Yeager crowed, “The sonic wall was mine the hangar wall was Crossfield’s.”

Despite the many thrills at Edwards in the Golden Age of X-Planes, Crossfield was seduced by an aircraft on the North American drawing board. In 1955, he quit the NACA and signed on with the manufacturer, where he found his calling with the sinister-looking X-15. Crossfield made the first eight flights of the X-15, learning its idiosyncrasies, and logged another six after NASA and Air Force pilots joined the program. On flight number 4, the fuselage buckled right behind the cockpit on landing, but he had his closest call on the ground, while testing the XLR-99 engine in June 1960. “I put the throttle in the stowed position and pressed the reset switch,” Crossfield wrote in his autobiography Always Another Dawn. “It was like pushing the plunger on a dynamite detonator. X-15 number three blew up with incredible force.” Fire engines rushed to extinguish the blaze, and Crossfield was extracted from the cockpit. “The only casualty was the crease in my trousers,” he told reporters. “The firemen got them wet when they sprayed the airplane with water.” You sure it was the firemen? a reporter asked. Yes, he was sure, he aid. “I pictured the headline: ‘Space Ship Explodes Pilot Wets Pants.’ ”

7. Erich Hartmann

Unlike the rest of the pilots in “Ten Great,” Erich Hartmann flew only one aircraft type, and did almost all his flying during World War II. But his downing a mindboggling 352 enemy aircraft and earning the title of the Greatest Ace of All Time, No Kidding, places him on this list fair and square.

Hartmann’s mother taught him to fly gliders in his teens. He enlisted in the Luftwaffe in 1940, and his profiency at gunnery school marked him as a rising star. When he arrived on the Eastern Front at age 20, he was nicknamed Bubi (boy) by fellow pilots, and took to the Messerschmitt Me 109 like a duck to water. Hartmann’s winning technique was to fly so close to the enemy that he couldn’t miss. In November 1942 he scored his first victory, and within a year had downed 148 aircraft. The number of medals and awards seemed to keep pace with the number of fallen aircraft, which reached 301 in August 1944.

His superiors deemed him too valuable an asset to remain in combat (he was forced down 16 times) and called him back to test the Messerschmitt Me 262. But Hartmann was dedicated to fighting the Soviets and finagled a reassignment to the front. He was made a group commander and downed another 51 aircraft before Germany surrendered. In less than three years, he had flown 825 combat sorties.

Hartmann spent 10 years in a Russian prison. Three years after his release in 1955, he was commanding West Germany’s first all-jet fighter wing. He remained with the air force for another 15 years.

8. Anthony W. LeVier

Along with the P-38, the U-2, and the SR-71, Tony LeVier was one of Lockheed’s most prized legends. LeVier cut his teeth on air racing and placed second in the 1939 Thompson Trophy Race. The next year he was hired as a test pilot by General Motors then he moved to Lockheed.

LeVier flight-tested the P-38 Lightning to the ragged edges of its envelope and was sent to England to teach Eighth Air Force pilots how to get the most out of it. On one harrowing flight, in a 60-degree dive at over 500 mph initiated at 35,000 feet, the airplane started to nose over LeVier hauled back on the stick, trying to maintain dive angle. What saved him were dive-recovery flaps that engineers had just installed to prevent this very problem. At 13,000 feet, LeVier slowly regained control. “My strain gauges were set for 100 percent of limit load,” he reported in Test Pilots by Richard Hallion, “and they were all over 100 and all the red warning lights were on when I finally got out of the dive.”

Next up: the XP-80A, the nation’s first operational jet fighter. In 1945, by which time he was Lockheed’s chief test pilot, an XP-80’s turbine disintegrated and took the tail off the airplane. LeVier bailed out and crushed two vertebrae upon landing, an injury that grounded him for six months. He later called it “the most horrifying experience of my whole flying career.”

After World War II ended, LeVier worked with the model 75 Saturn and XR60-1 Constitution transports, and on the side bought a P-38 and got back into air racing. In 1946 he again placed second in the Thompson race. LeVier was the first to fly the XF-90, the YF-94 Starfire, the XF-104 Starfighter, and the U-2. (In Kelly: More Than My Share of It All, Lockheed designer Kelly Johnson recounts that when LeVier first saw the F-104, he asked, “Where are the wings?”—a question a great many others at least wondered about.) In 1950 he piloted the first Lockheed aircraft to surpass Mach 1, an F-90, which he dove at an angle of 60 degrees to reach 900 mph. When LeVier retired in 1974, he had made the first flights of 20 aircraft, had flown some 240 types of aircraft, and had survived eight crashes and a mid-air collision.

9. Jean Mermoz

In January 1921, on his third try, Jean Mermoz got his pilot’s license. Three years later, he signed up as a pilot with Lignes Aeriennes Latécoère, and set out to attain the goal of aircraft designer Pierre Latécoère: to create an airmail line linking Europe with Africa and South America.

In 1926, Mermoz had engine trouble over the Mauritanian desert and made an emergency landing. He was captured by nomadic Moors and held prisoner until a ransom was paid—a common practice and one of the many torments on the Latécoère airmail routes, which linked Toulouse to Barcelona, Casablanca, and Dakar. Mermoz was lucky—five Latécoère pilots were killed by Moors. Other hazards: the hostile Sahara, impenetrable Andes, and 150-mph winds that roiled over the southern Argentine coast.

In 1927, Lignes Aeriennes Latécoère became Compagnie Général Aéropostale, and Mermoz took charge of the South American routes. He made Aéropostale’s first South American night flight in April 1928 from Natal in Brazil to Buenos Aires in Argentina, along a route unmarked by any sort of beacon. After he showed the way, mail delivery was no longer restricted to daylight-only operations.

Mermoz next tackled shortening the Argentina-to-Chile route pilots had to make a thousand-mile detour to get around the Andes. With mechanic Alexandre Collenot, Mermoz set out in a Latécoère 25 monoplane and found an updraft that carried them through a mountain pass, but a downdraft smashed the aircraft onto a plateau at 12,000 feet. After determining that they could not hike out, Mermoz cleared a crude path to the edge of the precipice and removed from the aircraft anything that wasn’t bolted down. He and Collenot strapped themselves in, and Mermoz got the airplane rolling down the path. In effect, they dove off the mountain, and Mermoz pointed the nose straight down, hoping to gain flying speed. Again, luck was with him. And in July 1929, with the acquisition of Potez 25 open-cockpit biplanes that had a much higher ceiling than the Laté 25, Mermoz and Henry Guillaumet opened a scheduled route between Buenos Aires and Santiago.

In early 1930, Aéropostale looked to bridge the Atlantic. Mermoz, in a new Latécoère 28 float-equipped monoplane, took off on May 12 from St. Louis, Senegal, with a navigator, a radio operator, and a load of mail. As night fell, they flew into a series of waterspouts that rose into stormy clouds. In Wind, Sand and Stars, published in 1940, fellow Aéropostale pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote: “Through these uninhabited ruins Mermoz made his way, gliding slantwise from one channel of light to the next, flying for four hours through these corridors of moonlight. And this spectacle was so overwhelming that only after he had got through the Black Hole did Mermoz awaken to the fact that he had not been afraid….”

Mermoz flew 1,900 miles in 19.5 hours, and landed in the Natal harbor the next morning. “Pioneering thus, Mermoz had cleared the desert, the mountains, the night, and the sea,” Saint-Exupéry wrote. “He had been forced down more than once…. And each time that he got safely home, it was but to start out again.”

The U.S. press called Mermoz “France’s Lindbergh.” On December 7, 1936, Mermoz departed Africa in a fourengine seaplane, bound for Brazil, on the weekly mail run. It was his 28th Atlantic crossing. Neither he nor his crew were seen again.

10. Jacqueline Auriol

The daughter-in-law of Vincent Auriol, president of France from 1947 to 1954, Jacqueline Auriol learned to fly so she could escape the stuffy protocol of the Palais Elysée. Her mentor, instructor Raymond Guillaume, imbued her with a passion for aerobatics. After the crash of a Scan 30 amphibian in which she was a passenger, she faced 22 surgeries to put her face back together yet, her first words in the ambulance rushing her to the hospital were “Will it be long before I can fly again?”


21–23 June 1937

Work order for Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra at Bandoeng, 21–23 June 1937. (Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections) by


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