Daily Archives: January 5, 2023

5 January 1959

Fairey Rotodyne XE521 (FAI)
Fairey Rotodyne XE521 (FAI)

5 January 1959: At White Waltham, Berkshire, England, test pilots Ron Gellatly and Johnny Morton set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Closed Circuit of 100 Kilometers Without Payload, flying the prototype Fairey Rotodyne, XE521, to an average speed of 307.22 kilometers per hour (190.90 miles per hour)¹ over a course from White Waltham Aerodrome to Wickham, Radley Bottom, Kintbury and back to White Waltham. The prototype was not a helicopter, but a compound gyroplane. Its record is for Class E (Rotorcraft), Sub-Class E-2 (Rotodyne).

Fairey Rotodyne XE521
Fairey Rotodyne XE521 (Photograph Courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

The Fairey Rotodyne was a unique aircraft. Like a helicopter, it was capable of hovering and low-speed translating flight. The main rotor had both cyclic and collective pitch and provided roll and pitch control. Unlike a helicopter, though, thrust for forward flight was provided by two turboprop engines. Varying the propellers’ pitch provided yaw control for the aircraft until about 80 knots, when the twin rudders were sufficiently effective. As the Rotodyne accelerated in forward flight, the stub wing provided increasing lift and at about 60 knots, the main rotor tip jets were turned off. The main rotor continued to turn in autorotation, as in a gyrocopter.

Flight controls were similar to those of a helicopter, with a cyclic stick and collective lever with a twist throttle. The pedals, though, rather than controlling a tail rotor, varied the propeller blades’ pitch and rudder angle. The elevators were controlled by electric trim motors.

Fairey Rotodyne XE521 in flight. (Unattributed)
Fairey Rotodyne XE521 in flight. (Unattributed)

Helicopters’ maximum speed is limited by retreating blade stall. The Rotodyne’s stub wing provided 60% of lift in cruise flight, allowing the main rotor to operate with a lower blade angle of attack, delaying the onset of the stall. With propulsion provided by the turboprop engines rather than the main rotor, blade angle is further reduced. This allowed the Rotodyne to reach higher speeds in flight than a conventional helicopter.

Also, unlike a helicopter, the Rotodyne’s rotor was not driven by engines through a gear reduction transmission, reducing the aircraft’s weight and complexity. Drive was accomplished by tip-mounted high pressure jet engines (“tip jets”), fueled by compressed air supplied by the turboprop engines and turbine fuel. There is no torque effect, so an anti-torque rotor (tail rotor) is not required. The rotor mechanism is simplified because lead-lag hinges are not necessary.

Lieutenant Commander Johnny Morton (left) with Squadron Leader Ron Gellatly. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Lieutenant Commander Johnny Morton (left) with Squadron Leader Ron Gellatly, Fairey Aviation Company test pilots. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

XE521 made its first flight 6 November 1957 at White Waltham with Ron Gellatly and Johnny Morton in the cockpit.

The Rotodyne’s four-blade main rotor used symmetrical airfoils. It was 90 feet (27.432 meters) in diameter and the blade tip speed was 720 feet per second (219.5 meters per second). The blades had a chord of 2 feet, 3 inches (0.686 meters). The rotor blades were built of steel for strength, fatigue life and resistance to corrosion. The leading edge spar was machined from a 35 foot rolled steel billet and the rear spar was fabricated of layered stainless steel. The airfoil is shaped by pierced stainless steel ribs. The steel skin was a single sheet, joined at the trailing edge.

The wing span was 46 feet, 6 inches (14.173 meters). The engines and main landing gear were  carried in long nacelles mounted under the wing.

The Rotodyne’s fuselage was 58 feet, 8 inches (17.812 meters) long. The cabin has a length of 46 feet (14.021 meters) and is 8 feet (2.438 meters) wide and 6 feet (1.829 meters) high, providing space for 40 passengers or up to 9,000 pounds (4,082.3 kilograms of cargo. Clamshell doors at the aft end provided for cargo loading. Overall height of the aircraft was 22 feet, 2 inches (6.756 meters).

The Rotodyne was powered by two Napier & Son Eland NEl.3 turboprop engines with a maximum rated power of 2,805 shaft horsepower and 500 pounds of thrust at 12,500 r.p.m. for takeoff. Maximum continuous power was 2,180 shaft horsepower and 420 pounds of thrust. These engines drove four-bladed Rotol propellers with a diameter of 13 feet (3.962 meters). An auxilary compressor at the rear of the engine supplied compressed air for the main rotor tip-jets. Each engine supplied power to opposite pairs of of rotor blades at 250 °C. (482 °F.)

The prototype had an empty weight of 24,030 pounds (10,899.9 kilograms)

A video from the Fairey Aviation Film Unit can be seen at:


Squadron Leader Wilfred Ronald Gellatly, AFC, leans out of teh cockpit after teh first flight of Fairey Rotodyne XE521, 6 November 1957. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Squadron Leader Wilfred Ronald Gellatly, AFC, leans out of the cockpit after the first flight of Fairey Rotodyne XE521, 6 November 1957. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

Squadron Leader Wilfred Ronald Gellatly, OBE AFC, RNZAF (Retired) was born in 1920. He joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1940. During the last year of World War II, he commanded No. 243 Squadron, Royal Air Force.

Squadron Leader Gellatly attended the Empire Test Pilot School in 1950, and for the next four years was the helicopter flight commander at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at RAF Boscombe Down. In the New Year’s Honors, 1 January 1954, the squadron leader was awarded the Air Force Cross. He joined Fairey Aviation ,Ltd., as Chief Test Pilot. On 8 June 1963, Gellatly was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air.

After the merger with Westland Helicopters at Yeaovil in 1967, Gellatly remained with the company as chief test pilot. On 1 January 1970, Squadron Leader Gellatly was invested an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. He retired from Westland in 1976 after having made the first flight of five new helicopters, including the Lynx. He died in 1983 at the age of 62 years.

Squadron Leader Wilfred Ronald Gellatly, AFC, in the cockpit of the Fairey Rotodyne. (Photograph from the collection of Roger J. Humm)

Lieutenant Commander John George Peter Morton, OBE, Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, was born in Lancashire, 10 May 1925. At Age 17 he entered the Fleet Air Arm and was sent to the United States for flight training. He was assigned to fly the Chance Vought Corsair from the aircraft carrier HMS Colossus. (One of the airplanes he flew, Corsair KD431, is on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton.)

Johnny Morton served as a test pilot on Supermarine Seafire XVs following the war, and then flew the Seafire from HMS Theseus, and then Sea Furies Sea Hawks from HMS Centaur.

John P.G. Morton
John G. P. Morton

The Royal Navy assigned Johnny Morton to Fairey Aviation as a test pilot. On 14 June 1969, Senior Test Pilot Morton was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air.

Morton was the lead test pilot on the Westland Wasp and the naval variant of the Westland Lynx. He made the first flight of Lynx XX469, 25 May 1972. On 21 November, XX469 suffered a tail rotor failure and was damaged beyond repair. Johnny Morton and his copilot were slightly injured. He was also the first pilot to roll the Lynx.

On 1st January 1975, John Peter George Morton was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

After retiring from Westland, Morton and his wife moved to New Zealand. Lieutenant Commander John George Peter Morton OBE, died there, 4 May 2014, at the age of 88 years.

¹ FAI Record File Number 13216

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

5 January 1956

Piasecki YH-16A-PH Transporter 50-1270 hovers in ground effect.
Piasecki YH-16A-PH Transporter 50-1270 hovers in ground effect. (Piasecki Aircraft Corporation)

5 January 1956: The prototype Piasecki Helicopter Company YH-16A-PH Transporter twin-turboshaft, tandem-rotor helicopter, serial number 50-1270, was returning to Philadelphia from a test flight, when, at approximately 3:55 p.m., the aft rotor desynchronized, collided with the forward rotor and the aircraft broke up in flight. It crashed at the Mattson Farm on Oldman’s Creek Road, near Swedesboro, New Jersey, and was completely destroyed.

Test pilots Harold W. Peterson and George Callahan were killed.

It was determined that a bearing associated with an internal coaxial shaft supporting test data equipment had seized, causing the rotor shaft to fail.

Harold W. Peterson (left) and George Callahan, with the prototype Piasecki YH-16A Turbo Transporter, 50-1270. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Harold W. Peterson (left) and George Callahan, with the prototype Piasecki YH-16A Turbo Transporter, 50-1270. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

At the time, the YH-16 was the largest helicopter in the world. The United States Air Force intended it as a very-long-range rescue helicopter, while the U.S. Army expected it to serve as a heavy lift cargo and troop transport.

The YH-16A had a fuselage length of 78 feet (23.774 meters), and both main rotors were 82 feet (24.994 meters) in diameter. With rotors turning, the overall length was 134 feet (40.843 meters). Their operating speed was 125 r.p.m. Overall height of the helicopter was 25 feet (7.62 meters). The helicopter’s empty weight was 22,506 pounds (10,209 kilograms) and the gross weight was 33,577 pounds (15,230 kilograms).

YH-16 50-1269 was powered by two 2,181.2-cubic-inch-displacement (35.74 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp E2 (R-2180-11) two-row, fourteen-cylinder radial engines with a Normal Power Rating of 1,300 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), and 1,650 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., for Takeoff.

The second YH-16A, 50-1270, was modified while under construction and was powered by two Allison Division YT38-A-10 turboshaft engines which produced 1,800 shaft horsepower, each. This made the YH-16A the world’s first twin-engine turbine-powered helicopter.

The Piasecki YH-16A Transporter was the world's largest helicopter in 1956. (Piasecki Aircraft Corporation)
The Piasecki YH-16A Transporter was the world’s largest helicopter in 1956. (Piasecki Aircraft Corporation)

The cruise speed of the YH-16A was 146 miles per hour (235 kilometers per hour). In July 1955, Peterson and Callahan had flown 50-1270 to an unofficial record speed of 165.8 miles per hour (266.83 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 19,100 feet (5,822 meters) and the maximum range for a rescue mission was planned at 1,432 miles (2,305 kilometers).

After the accident, the H-16 project was cancelled.

Prototype Piasecki YH-16A Transporter 50-1270, hovering in ground effect at Philadelphia Airport, 1955. (Piasecki Aircraft Corporation)
Prototype Piasecki YH-16A Transporter 50-1270, hovering in ground effect at Philadelphia Airport, 1955. (Piasecki Aircraft Corporation)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Medal of Honor, Brigadier General Kenneth Newton Walker, United States Army Air Forces.

Brigadier General Kenneth Newton Walker, United States Army Air Forces. (Air University Press)



Rank and organization: Brigadier General, U.S. Army Air Corps, Commander of V Bomber Command.

Place and date: Rabaul, New Britain, 5 January 1943.

Entered service at: Colorado.

Birth: Cerrillos, New Mexico

G.O. No.: 13, 11 March 1943.


For conspicuous leadership above and beyond the call of duty involving personal valor and intrepidity at an extreme hazard to life. As commander of the 5th Bomber Command during the period from 5 September 1942, to 5 January 1943, Brig. Gen. Walker repeatedly accompanied his units on bombing missions deep into enemy-held territory. From the lessons personally gained under combat conditions, he developed a highly efficient technique for bombing when opposed by enemy fighter airplanes and by antiaircraft fire. On 5 January 1943, in the face of extremely heavy antiaircraft fire and determined opposition by enemy fighters, he led an effective daylight bombing attack against shipping in the harbor at Rabaul, New Britain, which resulted in direct hits on 9 enemy vessels. During this action his airplane was disabled and forced down by the attack of an overwhelming number of enemy fighters.

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers of the 43rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) parked in revetments at 7 Mile Drome (Jackson Airfield), Port Moresby, 31 December 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

On the morning of 5 January 1943, six Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and six Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers departed 7 Mile Drome, an airfield near Port Moresby at the eastern end of the island of New Guinea. Their mission was to attack an enemy shipping convoy believed to be approaching the Japanese military base at Rabaul on the neighboring island of New Britain.

Leading the attack force was B-17 41-24458, San Antonio Rose, flown by Major Allen Lindberg, commanding officer, 64th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) and Captain Benton Hayes Daniel, Jr.  Also on board as observers were Lieutenant Colonel Jack Bleasdale, the executive officer of the 43rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), and Brigadier General Kenneth Newton Walker, commanding general, V Bomber Command, Fifth Air Force. There were a total of 11 airmen on board.¹

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 43rd Bombardment Group (Heavy) en route to attack Rabaul, New Britain, 5 January 1943. (U.S. Air Force A–23272 A.C.)

The bombers arrived over Rabaul at 8,500 feet (2,591 meters) at 12:00 p.m., local time, and the formation broke up to make individual attacks against the ships in the harbor. Anti-aircraft artillery fire was light and ineffective. The bomber crews claimed several ships sunk and damaged.²

As the bombing force left the target, it was attacked by enemy fighter aircraft, which were described as Mitsubishi A6M Navy Type 0 (Allied reporting name, “Zeke,” but best known as the “Zero”) or Nakajima Ki-43 Army Type 1 Fighters (the Hayabusa, Allied reporting name, “Oscar”).

Enemy shipping under attack in Simpson Harbor, 5 January 1943. (U.S. Air Force E-23272 A.C.)

One of the B-24s had been badly damaged and diverted to Milne Bay. Four of the five B-17s which returned to Port Moreseby were damaged.

San Antonio Rose, the B-17 carrying General Walker, was seen trailing smoke and diving through clouds. A Fifth Air Force message stated, “Later B-17 was observed heading south just east of Vunakanau [10 miles (16 kilometers) south-southwest of Rabaul] at about 5,000 feet, left outboard engine smoking but later appeared alright, was being closely pursued by four to five Zekes and last seen going into clouds.” A Japanese fighter pilot wrote that the B-17 was seen flying to the south, about 25 miles south of Rabaul. It was not seen again.

San Antonio Rose and its crew never returned from the mission. Searches over the next several days were unsuccessful. The 11 airmen were listed as Missing in Action.³

On 12 December 1945, the crew of San Antonio Rose were reclassified as Killed in Action.

An 8 minute, 34 second, film of the 5 January 1943 mission from the National Archives and Records Administration is available on YouTube:

Kenneth Newton Walker was born 17 July 1898 at Los Cerrillos, a tiny community along the “Turquoise Trail” in the Territory of New Mexico. He was the son of Wallace Walker and Emma Helen Overturf Walker. His father abandoned them when he was very young. Mrs Walker took Kenneth to Denver, Colorado, and later to Kansas City, where he attended Central High School. He graduated from the Omaha High School of Commerce in Omaha, Nebraska in 1915. Ken Walker studied business through a college extension course.

The United States entered World War I on 6 April, 1917. Ten months later, 10 December 1917, Kenneth Newton Walker enlisted in the Signal Enlisted Reserve Corps, United States Army, at Denver, Colorado. Walker was 5 feet, 8 inches (1.73 meters) tall, with a high forehead and ruddy complexion. He had brown hair and green eyes.

Walker was promoted to private first class, Aviation Section, Sig. E.R.C., 7 March 1918. Pfc. Walker was then assigned to the University of California School of Military Aeronautics, and in June 1918, he began flight training at the Air Service Flying School, Mather Field, near Sacramento, California. On completion of his flight training, Pfc. Walker was discharged from his enlistment, effective 1 November 1918, to accept a commission as a second lieutenant, Aviation Section, Signal Corps, United States Army, the following day.

2nd Lieutenant Walker was sent to Brooks Field at San Antonio, Texas, where he trained as a flight instructor. He was then assigned to Barron Field, south of Fort Worth, Texas. In 1919, Walker was reassigned to Post Field at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Under the National Defense Act of 1920, the Aviation Section became the Air Service, a distinct combatant branch of the Army, and was no longer a part of the Signal Corps. This resulted in changes in officers’ commissions.

2nd Lieutenant Walker’s commission was vacated on 15 September 1920. Retroactively, he received a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant, Air Service, United States Army, effective 1 July 1920, and was promoted to 1st lieutenant with the same date of effect. The new commission was accepted 15 September 1920. His rank as 1st lieutenant was accepted 13 April 1921.

Lt. and Mrs. Kenneth N. Walker. (Photograph courtesy of Douglas P. Walker)

2nd Lieutenant Walker married Miss Marguerite Potter, 28 September 1922. The ceremony was performed by Rev. H. Leach Hoover at St. Andrew’s Church, Lawton, Nebraska. The Walkers would have two sons: Kenneth Newton Walker, Jr., born in 1927, and Douglas Potter Walker, born in 1933.

Also in 1922, Lieutenant Walker graduated from the Air Service Observation School, as a qualified aerial observer. On 15 December 1922, Walker was discharged as a 1st lieutenant, A.S., U.S.A., and appointed a 2nd lieutenant.

Lieutenant Walker was assigned to Nichols Field, south of Manila on the island of Luzon, in the Philippine Islands. He was once again promoted to 1st lieutenant, 24 July 1924.

1929, Air Corps Tactical School, Langley Field, 1929; faculty, senior instructor

1934 Divorce

Second Lieutenant Kenneth N. Walker, Air Service, United States Army, circa 1924. (National Archives and Records Administration)

On 18 August 1934, Lieutenant Walker married Ms. Juliet G. Wimberly in Madison County, Alabama. This was the second marriage for both. A second wedding ceremony took place in Franklin County, Tennessee, 8 September 1934, officiated by L.J. Sisk, Justice of the Peace. They would have one son, John W. Walker. This marriage ended in divorce at Reno, Nevada, in February 1940.

Captain Kenneth Newton Walker, Air Corps, United States Army. (U.S. Air Force)

Command and General Staff School, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 1935. Promoted to captain, 1 August 1935, then less than three months later, 20 October 1935, to the rank of major (temporary).

Douglas B-18 BG-23 after accident at Denver, Colorado, 23 December 1937. (UP)

On 23 December 1937, Captain Walker was piloting one of three Douglas B-18 twin-engine bombers which had picked up recent graduates from the Air Corps Technical School at Rantoul, Illinois, and were returning them to Hamilton Field, Novato, California. After a stop at Denver Municipal Airport (now Stapleton International Airport, DEN), Captain Walker’s airplane was the second to takeoff. Just after becoming airborne, the B-18 crashed.

Captain Walker said,

#000000; font-family: times new roman, times; font-size: 12pt;">“We were about 20 feet off the ground and going about 80 miles an hour when the ship just seemed to lose power,” he said. “I kicked hard on the left rudder and we swung around at right angles after sliding across that little gully,” indicating a ravine at the roadside.

The Billings Gazette, Vol.. L., No. 50, Friday, 24 December 1937, Page 2 column 1

The B-18 hit the runway, slid about 200 feet (61 meters) then cut through a fence and came to rest on a roadway between a ravine and railroad tracks. None of the nine men on board ⁴ were injured but the B-18 was seriously damaged. It had flown just 49 hours since new. (49:00 TTSN)

Major Walker commanded the 18th Pursuit Group (Interceptor), Wheeler Field, Territory of Hawaii.

Major Walker’s Curtiss-Wright P-36A Hawk, in flight over the island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, 8 February 1940. (Hawaii Aviation)

Attended the General Staff School from 10 March 1942 to 1 July 1942. Walker was promoted to the temporary rank of Brigadier General, Army of the United States, on 17 June 1942.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Brigadier General Kenneth Newton Walker was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit and the Purple Heart.

General Walker’s remains have not been recovered. There is a cenotaph in his memory is at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. His name, along with the other airmen of San Antonio Rose, appears on the Walls of the Missing, Manila American Cemetery, Taguig City, Philippines. In 1948, Roswell Army Air Field was renamed Walker Air Force Base in his honor.

“Brigadier General Kenneth N. Walker, commanding general of a bomber command in the southwest Pacific, who has been reported missing in action after leading a flight against Japanese shipping. This is the most recent photograph of General Walker, taken in front of his tent-office in the field.” (Library of Congress LC-USW33-000979-ZC [P&P] )
Two Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 43rd Bombardment Group at Port Moresby, Fall 1942. The airplane in the foreground is B-17E 41-2649, previously assigned to the 19th Bombardment Group. 41-2649 survived the war. It served in the Mediterranean Theater until August 1945. It crash-landed at Goose Bay, Canada, 23 August 1945, and was salvaged. (U.S. Air Force).

San Antonio Rose was a Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress, c/n 3143, Army Air Corps serial number 41-24458. The bomber was built during the summer of 1942, in the same production block with another famous B-17, Memphis Belle (41-24485). It was delivered to the United States Army Air Corps 8 July 1942.

Deep within my heart lies a melody
A song of old San Antone
Where in dreams I live with a memory
Beneath the stars all alone

It was there I found beside the Alamo
Enchantment strange as the blue, up above
A moonlit path that only she would know
Still hears my broken song of love

Moon in all your splendor knows only my heart
Call back my Rose, Rose of San Antone
Lips so sweet and tender like petals fallin’ apart
Speak once again of my love, my own

Broken song, empty words I know
Still live in my heart all alone
For that moonlit pass by the Alamo
And Rose, my Rose of San Antone

—”New San Antonio Rose,” by Bob Wills, 1941

Boeing B-17F-10-BO Flying Fortress 41-24458, San Antonio Rose, parked in a revetment at 7 Mile Drome, Port Moresby, New Guinea, with all engines running. (U.S. Air Force via b17flyingfortress.de)

¹ Major Allen Lindberg, Pilot, Aircraft Commander; Captain Benton H. Daniel, Jr., co-pilot; 1st Lieutenant John W. Hanson, Navigator; 2nd Lieutenant Robert L. Hand, Bombardier; Technical Sergeant Dennis T. Craig, Engineer/Top Turret Gunner; Staff Sergeant Quentin W. Blakeley, Radio Operator/Top Gunner; Sergeant Leslie A. Stewart, Gunner; Private 1st Class William G. Fraser, Jr., Gunner; and Private Leland W. Stone, Gunner.

² Postwar analysis found that one ship, the transport Keifuku Maru, 5,833 tones, had been bracketed by two bombs and sank. Another freighter, Kagu Maru, and the Minikaze-class destroyer Tachikaze, were damaged. (Tachikaze had been damaged in an earlier air attack, 27 December 1942, and its commanding officer killed.) On 5 January 1943, the destroyer was alongside Yamabiko Maru, a passenger-cargo steamer which had been converted to a repair ship for the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Keifuku Maru, 5,833 tons, photographed during the 1930s, was sunk during the Allied air attack on Rabaul, 5 January 1943. (Wikipedia)

³ It is possible that two airmen, Lieutenant Colonel Bleasdale and Lieutenant Daniel, bailed out of the bomber and were later captured and held as prisoners of war. Neither survived the war, however.

⁴ Captain Walker, pilot; Lieutenant William Capp, co-pilot; Staff Sergeant William J. Oglesby, crew chief; Corporal Burton Vanderwerhen, gunner; with J.D. Rhodes, H.E. Perkins, G.J. Ambrose, J.S. Doherty, and J.S. Chamberlain.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

5 January 1939

Amelia Mary Earhart (Harris & Ewing)
Judge Clarence Elliot Craig

5 January 1939: After she had been missing for 18 months, Judge Clarence Elliot Craig of the Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles County declared Amelia Mary Earhart legally dead in absentia,¹ at the request of her husband, George Palmer Putnam II. She and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared while enroute from Lae, Territory of New Guinea, to Howland Island in the Central Pacific, 2 July 1937.

George Palmer Putnam and Amelia Earhart had met in 1928 while he was interviewing prospects for a transatlantic flight to be sponsored by Mrs. Amy Phipps Guest. She was selected to make the flight and became the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean, aboard Donald Woodward’s Fokker F.VIIb/3m, Friendship, which was flown by Wilmer Stutz and Louis Gordon. (See This Day in Aviation, 17–18 June 1928) They were married 7 February 1931 at his parents’ home in Noank, Connecticut.

George Palmer Putnam leaves the Los Angeles Superior Court after missing aviatrix Amelia Earhart was declared dead in absentia, 5 January 1939. (Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive , UCLA Library.)

Judge Craig appointed Mr. Putnam as the executor of Earhart’s estate, which contemporary news reports said was “estimated at more than $10,000.”

Amelia Earhart Declared Dead

Court Names Husband of Lost Aviator as Executor of Estate

     Amelia Earhart, ill-fated aviator who was lost during an attempt to girdle the earth at the Equator in an airplane 17 months ago, yesterday was declared dead in a Los Angeles probate court.

     Five minutes later Superior Judge Elliott craig named her husband, George Palmer Putnam, Hollywood publisher and writer, sole executor of an estate estimated at more than $10,000.


     Acknowledging as extraordinary the procedure of declaring a person legally dead less than seven years from the date of disappearance, Judge Craig reasoned that Miss Earhart’s death could not be classified as usual.

     To bolster his petition, Putnam had presented to the court a thick file of affidavits from naval officers and Department of the Interior officials who led the search for his lost wife in the South Pacific during the first week of July, 1937.


The log of the Navy cutter Itasca was given as evidence that a thorough search for the aviator, lost on the homeward leg of her globe flight with her navigator, Capt. Fred Noonan, had proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was dead.

     Judge Craig set July 2, 1937, as the exact date of Miss Earhart’s demise.

     Miss Earhart’s will, dated April 1, 1932, made at Rye, N.Y., named Putnam as executor. He will get all her personal property. The remainder goes into a trust fund of which the income will be sent to her mother, Mrs. Amy Otis Earhart of Medford, Mass., quarter-annually.

Los Angeles Times, Vol. LVIII, Friday, 2 January 1939, at Page 2, Column 4

Less than five months later, on 21 May 1939, Mr. Putnam married Mrs. Jean-Marie Cosigny James, an author, at Boulder City, Nevada. This was Putnam’s third marriage. It would end in divorce in 1945.

Mrs. Jean-Marie Cosigny James Putnam and George Palmer Putnam, Chicago, Illinois, 23 May 1939. (Associated Press Photo)

¹ Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles, Probate Case File 181709

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes