I learned that the flight Milo
was making that day was the first public flight of the P-80.
Thus they knew him well, these thousands who only watched, and this week when Milo Burcham
was laid to rest in Forest Lawn Memorial Park they mourned their hero.
For all who knew him personally, Milo's death in the crash of an airplane he was testing brought a deep sense of grief, and wherever test pilots gathered the Lockheed Chief Pilot was eulogized.
had a host of friends, a legion of admirers, and no enemies.
The end came when Milo
took off from the east-west runway at Lockheed Air Terminal and was forced into a low-altitude, down-wind turn, probably by power failure.
This flying procedure meant only one thing to other pilots.
It meant that the Chief pilot was thinking of the safety of others, as usual.
It was his
"To us who considered him the world's smartest pilot," said one flier, "this procedure meant that Milo
wanted to avoid even the remotest possibility of a forced landing in areas thick with people, houses, and automobiles.
always insisted on doing the most hazardous tests himself.
It was his
desire to help young Army Air Force flyers that prompted development of a special course of P-38 instruction he
conducted this summer for the Fourth Air Force
Despite the fact that stunting brought him early newspaper headlines, whenever the safety of others was involved, Burcham
was painstaking as a pilot.
"But," said a fellow pilot, "when he
was alone over the desert, I've seen him do some of the damndest things a man ever did with an airplane…stunts even a bird wouldn't try."
Riding Was Favored
used to drive his
old Ford to the stables, a mile from his
home where he
kept horses for himself, his
wife Peggy, and two sons, Garry, 14, and Vance, 11.
From there he
would ride "Smokey" 2 ½ miles to a chicken ranch a block or two from the Pilot House where he
would tether the horse and complete the journey on a bicycle.
Returning, he'd ride the bike to the ranch, the horse to the stables and the Ford
One of the few injuries this pilot of the worlds fastest airplanes ever had was when "Smokey" slipped on some loose gravel one morning and fell on his
To most of the 85 pilots who test Lockheed planes, Burcham
displayed the genial personality the public thinks is typical of most fliers.
intimates knew him as a man of profound depths.
often took long walks at midnight, pondering some strange problem of flight he
had encountered during the day.
Leaned to Science
was one of the first human beings to peer over the scientific abyss of compressibility…to enter that area of high speed in the air where odd behavior of supposedly immutable laws of physics confounded aviation's ablest minds.
That was in the early days of testing P-38's…when, from 40,000-foot heights, he
screamed earthward faster than any other man ever flew.
With the help of Burcham's observations, Lockheed research engineers have overcome flight barriers created by these strange phenomena of super-sonic speed.
nine years of pre-Lockheed flying experience included barnstorming, competition in national air races, upside-down flying and other stunts.
But, despite the gasps he
drew from admiring crowds, Milo
never took chances.
Every stunt was carefully rehearsed…his plane minutely checked before take-offs.
Though born in Newcastle, Indiana, Burcham
considered himself a Californian by adoption.
He attended Whittier High School and Whittier College.
Burcham joined Lockheed in 1937 as a ferry pilot and two years later was sent to England in charge of flight testing at the company's Liverpool division.
Recalled to Burbank, his
thoroughness and skill as a pilot brought about his
assignment to engineering flight testing where he
began testing of P-38 Lightnings.
A visit to the Mayo Clinic to study reactions to high-altitude flying convinced Burcham
that decompression of pilots who fly above 30,000 feet was not only desirable, but absolutely necessary.
As a result, Lockheed
installed decompression equipment for its pilots.
appointment as chief pilot early this year, Burcham
developed the unique training course for the Fourth Air Force
, flying to bases up and down the Pacific Coast.
The same P-38 in which he
made the trips was used to demonstrate special flying technique to young pilots of the AAF.
It was a work he
loved even better than testing the characteristics of a Lockheed
prototype-this teaching others to fly skillfully.
contributions to the science of aviation must be written finally in other chapters at other times, but every pilot knew at that quiet ceremony in Forest Lawn last Tuesday that one of the great fliers of the world had been taken away-too soon.
Cover: This week's cover, Lockheed
's own Milo Burcham
, is presented to Lockheed
folk in honor of the memory of a great flier...a master test pilot whose loss is mourned by all.