Capsule Biographies

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19 -- 1928


Born at Salamanca NY, December 29, 1884. Died at Pacific Palisades CA, May 26, 1955.

Charles Healy Day built his first aircraft in 1909, working with Glenn L Martin. Day is credited with developing the technique of using laminated wood to make propellers, thus increasing their strength. In 1910 he built and flew the nation's first tractor biplane, an aircraft of his own design. He worked off and on with Martin until 1915, when he was made vice-president and chief design engineer of the Sloane Airplane Company, soon to become the Standard Aircraft Corporation. There he designed and built several aircraft leading to the famous Standard J-1 used extensively for pilot training in World War I, flying the mail, and for barnstorming in the 1920s. The J-1's large forward cockpit held two passengers to double the pilot's revenue per flight. It was also the aircraft used by Otto Timm in 1922 to give a young Charles Lindbergh his first taste of flying.

In the early 1920s, Day worked as an aviation consultant, and for a short time with Elektron Metals Corporation of America, developing and promoting the use of magnesium alloys in the US aircraft industry. For two years he was a consultant on light metals to the German Chemical Trust, then in 1926 he teamed up with Ivan Gates, of the Famous Gates Flying Circus, to form the Gates-Day Aircraft Company in Paterson NJ, reorganized in 1928 as the New Standard Aircraft Corporation. During that time, Day designed his most famous and enduring aircraft, the GD-24, which evolved into the D-25 and many variants, all of which had a huge front cockpit capable of carrying up to five passengers or a big load of bootleg whiskey. Needless to say, it became a mainstay of barnstormers and smugglers. The last variant of the design was built in 1942 by White Aircraft Corporation for the Department of Agriculture, and a few are still flying today.

In 1931 Day resigned his position as president of Standard Aircraft, built a small open-cockpit trainer he called the Day Model A and with his wife, Gladys, flew it around the world—excepting oceans, where it went more logically by boat. Then in 1934, after a couple of years of consulting, he accepted an offer from Chiang Kai-Shek, head of the Canton Government in China, to organize and operate an aircraft factory at Shiuchow. He got the factory up and operating in minimum time, but by 1937 it was being targeted by Japanese bombers. To defend against the bombings, Day moved his manufacturing equipment into bamboo sheds, scattered several miles into the forest. Operating under those primitive conditions, he was able to continue production of the Fushin trainer, Curtiss Hawks under license, and Russian I-15 pursuits. Practically all of the 400 employees of that factory had no previous experience with aircraft and had to be trained by Day and his staff.

In 1940, after many harrowing experiences, the factory was cut off from supplies needed to continue operation, and the Days left China. Back in New York, he was a recognized aircraft production expert. That, coupled with his recent experiences in China, put him in great demand for the lecture circuit. He wrote articles and made several speeches on the Japanese Air capabilities. Late in 1940, he became Supervisor of Aircraft Production, Department of Munitions and Supply, Ottawa, Canada.

After Pearl Harbor he was commissioned a major in the Army Air Corps and was stationed at Wellston Air Depot, now Robins AFB, GA. He resigned his commission in November 1942 to head the Glenn L Martin Modification Center at Omaha, where he remained until 1945. By that time he was having some health problems, but continued working as an aviation consultant until his death at his home. ( — James A Aubey)

Born at Triflis, Russia, June 7, 1894. Died August 24, 1974.

After acquiring an aeronautical engineering degree, Alexander Prokofieff de Seversky was commissioned a lieutenant in the Imperial Navy of Russia in 1915. On his first combat mission he lost his right leg. Less than a year later he was back in the air, flying 57 missions, and downing 13 German aircraft to become Russia's top Naval Ace.

In 1917 de Seversky came to the USA, offering his services to the War Dept, making outstanding contributions to our production of the British-designed SE-5 fighter and serving as a test pilot. In 1921 he and General Billy Mitchell worked together staging the bombing tests that graphically demonstrated the vulnerability of battleships to airplanes. Then, following his invention of the in-flight refueling method, he worked with the Sperry Gyroscope Co, to produce a gyro-stabilized bombsight in 1923 that was acclaimed the world's best. He was commissioned a major in the USAAC, and founded Seversky Aircraft Corp in 1928.

In 1930 de Seversky again made a most important contribution to his new country's air efforts in the all-metal P-43 fighter, predecessor of the historic P-47 Thunderbolt. Many of its new concepts are universally accepted construction principles for today's aircraft. Capable of speeds over 300 mph, the P-43 gave long-range and high-altitude protection to US bombers. He also developed an advanced design amphibian in which he set world speed records 1933-35, and an all-metal monoplane that set speed records at the 1933-39 Nationals, as well as a transcontinental speed record in 1938.

The outbreak of WW2 found our air arsenal pitifully neglected. To bring the magnitude of this problem to public attention, de Seversky wrote his best-seller book, "Victory Through Airpower." Also made into a movie, it awoke people to the need for better airpower. For that, and for his counsel on the strategic use of air power, he was awarded the Medal of Merit by President Truman.

By then he had become world renown as an expert in the areas of airpower and defense. His Seversky Electroatom Corp of 1952 directed its efforts to defending the USA against nuclear attack, and to extraction of radioactive particles from the air. Research in that area led to the discovery of the Ionacraft, an aircraft that derived lift and propulsion from ionic emissions. For serving as a special consultant to the Chiefs of Staff of the USAF, he received the Exceptional Service Medal in 1969. (— Jean Lail, NAHF)

Enshrined in National Aviation Hall of Fame 1970.

Born at Alameda CA, December 14, 1896. Died September 27, 1993.

"Flyer James Harold Doolittle is the most famed member of the Class of 1914 at Los Angeles' Manual Arts High School" reported Time magazine on Jan 28, 1935. In our fledgling air service, "Jimmy" Doolittle first flew with the Border Patrol, then completed the Air Service's mechanics course at Kelly Field and was assigned to the engineering school at McCook Field, where he later directed experimental flying. In 1922 he made the first transcontinental flight in less than a day's time.

In the years between the Wars, his name spread far and wide as an aviation pioneer. As a test pilot, Doolittle earned a reputation as a daredevil who would try anything in an airplane, when in reality his analytical mind calculated every risk—each "stunt" had a specific purpose for the advancement of aeronautics. In such fashion, in 1927 he attempted the first outside loop, subjecting himself and his aircraft to more stress than had ever been endured. True to his calculations, he survived. His modest reply to reporters asking why he risked the impossible: "I just thought of it on the spur of the moment!"

Numerous records were accomplished by Doolittle as a test pilot and racer, including the first crossing of the continent in less than a day in 1922. He is also credited with the first blind flight and instrument landing in 1929.

During the '20s and '30s, when exploits of Babe Ruth and Red Grange were found in the sports sections, the National Air Races were front page news, and the superstar of that heroic sport was Jimmy Doolittle. He was the only one to win all three of the most coveted prizes in air racing—the Schneider trophy for seaplanes, and the Bendix and the Thompson trophies. His victory in the 1932 Thompson came in the most famous and ultra-dangerous of race planes, the Gee Bee R-l. With its stubby, barrel shape and tiny fins, it "flew like a bullet!" and proved just as deadly.

Returning to active duty in the USAAF, his historic April 1942 Japanese raid on the Japanese mainland—the first offensive blow of World War 2 against Japan—proved conclusively that they were not invincible and earned him the Medal of Honor. Doolittle went on to distinguish himself as a Commanding General in various theaters of combat around the globe. Retiring from military service, he continued to serve as consultant to the USAF in aerospace developments, as well as on the board of directors of a number of major US corporations. For his lifetime of achievements, he received most every major aviation honor. (— K O Eckland)

Enshrined in National Aviation Hall of Fame 1967.

  -- The Amazing Mr Doolittle, Quentin Reynolds (1953)
  -- Bomber Commander: The Life of James H Doolittle, Thomas L, & Jablonski (Sidgwick & Jackson 1977)
  -- Doolittle; Lowell Thomas & Edward Jablonski (Da Capo 1976)


Born at Vandoncourt, France, February 10, 1885. Died at San Diego CA, February 28, 1959.

Etienne Dormoy graduated from the Industrial Institute of Northern France in Lille in 1906 with a Civil Engineering degree from the Electrical Department. He joined the French Military soon after as an engineer. After completing his service, he joined the Deperdussin Company as a draftsman where he designed and built the world's first monocoque fuselage. Dormoy first came to the US in 1913 and built a racer for Maximillian Schmidt, our nation's first true monocoque fuselage, which won the 1914 New York Times Fourth of July Race. Dormoy returned to France and joined the French Air Force and became a pilot in 1915. He flew bombers before becoming one of the first pilots to make night flights in search of Zeppelins. In 1916 Dormoy was sent back to Déperdussin by the French Air Force to help design the SPAD (Societé Pour Avions Déperdussin) fighter.

When his military service ended in 1917, through an agreement with the US Army Signal Corps and the Déperdussin, Dormoy was brought to the US to teach Americans how to build the SPAD at Curtiss' Elmwood factory. Several fuselages were made, but none was finished due to a shortage of Hispano engines. He joined the US Air Service as a civil engineer in 1920.

During this time he built his 1924 "Flying Bathtub" in his basement out of parts from a hardware store. The Henderson Motorcycle engine was the only component not from the hardware store. His plane won the 1924 Dayton Daily News Light Airplane Contest and the Rickenbacker Trophy. Dormoy left the AAC in 1925 and joined Buhl Aircraft in 1927. He designed or helped design all the Buhl planes including the Spokane Sun God, first plane to fly transcontinental round-trip non-stop, from Spokane to New York City and back, using aerial refueling.

After Buhl ended operations due to the Depression, Dormoy joined Boeing, where he became part of the P-26 design team. He became a US citizen in Seattle, then left Boeing to join Consolidated Aircraft, who sent him to Russia to oversee an American crew helping Russians build the PBY. During his lengthy career with Consolidated/Convair he designed or helped design many planes, including the PBY Catalina. He retired from Convair in 1958 as senior design engineer, and died of a heart ailment the following year. (— Richard Meister)


Born April 6, 1892. Died February 1, 1981.

Graduated by Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1914, Donald Wills Douglas became chief engineer of the Glenn L Martin Co in 1915. He was appointed chief civilian aeronautical engineer of the Army's aviation section in 1916, then rejoined Martin in 1917, where designed the famous Martin Bomber.

Forming his own company in 1920, Douglas embarked on a career of manufacturing private, commercial, and military aircraft. His Cloudster was the first airplane to lift a payload equal to its own weight and, based on its design, in 1924 he built the DWC World Cruisers that made the first global flight. This brought him fame as an aircraft designer. In the mid-1920s he produced a remarkable series of observation, cargo, transport, mail, and amphibian airplanes. In 1932 came the development of his historic DC series of commercial transports—the DC-2 was an immediate success, and earned Douglas Co the 1935 Collier trophy. Its successor, DC-3, became the world's most widely-used airliner and helped make commercial aviation practical.

With the approach of WW2, his company mass-produced troop and cargo transports, as well as bombers, dive bombers, and attack planes for the Allied forces. After the war, Douglas Co developed new types of military aircraft and missiles, as well as important new multi-engine commercial transports that helped make possible the expansion of domestic and international passenger and cargo air service. (— NAHF)

Enshrined in National Aviation Hall of Fame 1969.

  -- Sky Master: The Story of Donald Douglas, Frank Cunningham (Dorrance 1943)