Brig. Gen. Robert L. Scott, who wrote the best-selling “God Is My Co-Pilot,” was at the bottom of his West Point class, but a World War II ace over China. In the fall of 1943, alone, he was credited with 13 Japanese aircraft shot down and another six probable kills. He died Feb. 27 at Warner Robins, Ga. He was 97.
Born in Waynesboro, Ga., he was a builder of would-be flying contraptions from childhood, including a somewhat successful glider cobbled together from canvas and pine at the age of 12. “I cleared the first magnolia, but then the main wing strut broke and I came down in Mrs. Napier’s rose bushes,” he said. “It was the only plane I ever crashed.”
Scott graduated from the Military Academy in 1932, and was among the Army pilots who flew the air mail “hell stretch” between New York and Chicago after the Roosevelt administration cancelled commercial air mail contracts. He also built airfields in South America and was a pilot instructor.
Desperate for combat duty after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor despite his advanced age of 33, he lied about his bomber experience, claiming 1,100 hours when he had none. “If you’re going to invent facts, there’s no use being humble about it,” he said later. A friend gave him some helpful training and the then-Colonel was on his way to the Far East.
Initially assigned to fly cargo planes over the Himalaya “Hump,” he met Gen. Claire Chennault and talked him out of a P-40 in which he escorted the transports. From the start he was a masterful fighter pilot, shooting down Japanese planes, bombing strategic bridges and raiding enemy airfields. Life magazine dubbed him “the greatest of all the pursuit pilots” (fighters were called pursuit planes in those days).
Wounded when Japanese bullets pierced his plane’s armor, he recuperated with a medical missionary whose comments about someone looking out for him gave Scott the title for his first book (and later movie), “God Is My Co-Pilot.”
After the war Scott commanded the jet fighter school, was the director of Air Force information, and commanded Luke Air Force Base before retiring. After that, most of his time was devoted to lecturing and writing books, which included “Flying Tiger,” “The Day I Owned the Sky” and “Between the Elephant’s Eyes” about hunting in Africa.
Al White, test pilot, dies at 87
Alvin White died April 29 at the age of 87, at the end of a brief illness.
White was Scott Crossfield’s boss at North American Aviation, and could have assigned himself to the flights that made Crossfield the famous “fastest man on Earth.” Instead, he chose the XB-70 project, which he considered more challenging. Crossfield once commented that it had taken a rocket ship (the X-15) to propel him to Mach 3, whereas White flew the XB-70 at that phenomenal speed routinely and in the comfort of a bomber’s large cockpit.
Like Crossfield, White was selected for the NACA Man-In-Space-Soonest program in 1958 but both of them quickly returned to North American. He was chief test pilot for the XB-70 from 1960 until the 1967 crash of the second prototype during a publicity flight, after which he left North American to work at Trans World Airlines before establishing his own consulting firm.
Born in 1918, White learned to fly in the Civilian Pilot Training Program, earning his pilot’s license in 1940. During World War II he flew bomber escort and strafing missions over Europe with the 355th Fighter Group from D-Day through V-E Day.
The XB-70 was an exotic and beautiful creation, with large delta-shaped canard surfaces and folding wingtips for directional stability at high speeds. It also utilized a new concept called compression lift. White oversaw – and overcame – an enormous number of challenges before the trouble-filled first flight on Sept. 21, 1964.
On Oct. 14, 1965, White and co-pilot Joe Cotton broke through Mach 3, making the XB-70 the largest and heaviest air-breathing aircraft ever to fly that fast. After a series of proving flights, they did it routinely.
A past president and founding member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, White earned some of the top awards for his profession, including the Iven C. Kinchloe award, the Octave Chanute Award, and the Harmon Trophy.
After 8,500 hours of flying time in more than 125 different aircraft, he retired and settled in Tucson, Ariz.
James Bryson Jr., Tuskegee Airman, dies at 80
James O. Bryson Jr., 80, who was a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, died of a cerebral hemorrhage at Palm Coast, Florida, early in May.
Bryson graduated from flight school at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in June 1945. He was given a combat assignment in the Pacific but Japan surrendered before he got there. Some 40 years later, he published a guide to public speaking for his fellow Tuskegee Airmen, who were being called upon with increasing frequency to tell the story of the first black military pilots.
The Tuskegee program was established grudgingly by the War Department in 1941. Its pilots proved themselves outstanding in combat, destroying or damaging more than 400 German aircraft and more than 1,000 ground and sea targets. They lost 66 pilots in combat, and 32 more were shot down and made prisoners of war. Their great pride is that they never lost to enemy fighters a single bomber that they were escorting.
Bryson was born at Fort Benning, Ga., and attended Virginia’s Hampton Institute. He applied for Army Air Corps pilot training while still in college and entered the Tuskegee program shortly after his 18th birthday. He remained at Tuskegee Army Air Field after the war, where he was a special missions pilot.
He returned to Hampton Institute in 1946, received a bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering in 1950 and a master’s in civil engineering from Catholic University in 1958. He joined the National Bureau of Standards as a structural engineer in 1954, retiring in 1982 as chief of Testing Laboratory Evaluation Technology. He moved to Florida in 1993.
Entrepreneur Phillip M. Coleman dies
On a Cub Scout outing near his hometown of Glencoe, Ill., Philip Coleman took his first airplane flight. That flight inspired a 50-year career in aviation for Coleman, who died April 27.
Starting his career as an entrepreneur and ferry pilot, Coleman delivered hundreds of general aviation aircraft across the North Atlantic and around the world from the late 1950s until the early 1990s.
He started Scot Air, one of the first mail order catalog companies that focused exclusively on pilot supplies. He also founded Coleman Aircraft Corp., an aircraft sales and brokerage company, and Coleman Air Transport, a regional airline based out of Rockford, Ill.
During the 1980s he was the Midwest distributor for Piper Aircraft, and served as vice president of sales for Mitsubishi Aircraft and vice president for CSX Corp.’s Aviation Division. He also owned and operated Aerodyne Inc., an FBO at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport. Later he began Interlease Aviation Corp., which leased aircraft to small domestic carriers.