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This profile was last updated on 3/12/06  and contains information from public web pages.

Milo Garrett Burcham

Wrong Milo Garrett Burcham?

Chief Instructor

Local Address:  Long Beach , Canada
O'Donnell School of Aviation

Employment History


  • Whittier College
  • Whittier High School
60 Total References
Web References
The Milo Burcham Page of the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register Website, 12 Mar 2006 [cached]
Milo Burcham
Milo Burcham was born in May 1903 in Newcastle, IN. Early on, Burcham sold burglar alarms of his own design to finance flying lessons from the O'Donnell School of Aviation in Long Beach, CA , where he eventually became chief instructor.
Milo Burcham, U.S. Postal Cachet, August 31, 1934 (Source: Kranz)
Milo Burcham, U.S. Postal Cachet, August 31, 1934 (Source: Kranz)
Burcham landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield flying Boeing Model 100, NC872H, January 29, 1934. He stayed overnight. Based in Long Beach, CA , he was solo eastbound to New Orleans, LA. Below, courtesy of the San Diego Aerospace Museum Flickr Stream (SDAM), is an undated photograph of Burcham in his Boeing.
Milo Burcham in the "Blue Flash," Date & Location Unknown (Source: SDAM)
He called his airplane the "Blue Flash".
Shortly before his visit to Tucson, Burcham flew a record flight INVERTED in December 1933. It happened like this: As a publicity stunt to make a name for himself early in his career, Burcham determined to win back the world's inverted flight endurance record, then held by Lt.
In typical scientific fashion, Burcham first tested his reaction to remaining head-down for long periods by rigging a special test set-up on the front porch of his father-in-law's house. He strapped himself into a chair that was then hoisted by a pulley to the inverted position. To confirm that his faculties were not impaired in any way, he would then read long passages from a book that his father-in-law was familiar with.
In 1939, Burcham went to work for Lockheed as a text pilot. In that capacity, he was assigned to England to oversee the assembly of 400 Lockheed Hudsons ordered by the British as they ramped up for the coming war. At rightis an article that describes that duty from Popular Aviation (PA) magazine, May, 1939.
Site visitor Mike Gerow sent me this image of Burcham at work.
It was taken by company photographer Erik Miller on the ramp at Lockheed Air Terminal in Burbank, the same field Burcham crashed from later that year in the YP-80. Since this is a cropped in version of a Lockheed company photo, I think you could probably use it on your site if you wanted to, but maybe you need to give them a credit line. Certainly. Photo, below, courtesy of the Lockheed Corporation, with great thanks. A couple of other great images of Burcham taken by Mike's father are available at this link to the Russell T. Gerow Collection .
Milo Burcham, May 17, 1944
Milo Burcham died October 20, 1944 testing the Lockheed YP-80 Shooting Star. For images of him and a basic understanding of his activities in aviation, see this link.
Another site visitor had this to say about Burcham's fatal test of the Shooting Star:
"I just read your article on Milo Burcham.
"'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 excerpt from the Lockheed Star of 10/27/44 gives the accepted account of the crash of Milo Burcham."
M.G. 05/10/06
And, "As for the Burcham accident, my Uncle ... was a TWA check pilot in Connies and was in queue for takeoff at LAT when Burcham took off before him that day. It was 5:10 on a Friday afternoon and Burcham was getting set to give an impromptu airshow for Lockheed employees. It's pretty common knowledge around the area that the crash took place in a gravel pit about a mile north of the field. Burcham just missed clearing it, hitting the side of the pit about 3' below the rim. Burcham's parents and oldest son Gary, 14, witnessed the crash.
Here is another image of Burcham (courtesy of Mike Gerow) with the P-38 "Yippee" during his test pilot days at Lockheed. It really was RED! This image, and the one above, was taken 62 years to the day before the revision date (5/17/06) of this webpage.
Milo Burcham, P-38, May 17, 1944
biographies B, 9 Jan 2015 [cached]
MILO BURCHAM Born at Cadiz IN, May 24, 1903. Died October 20, 1944 Born in Cadiz, but grew up in Whittier CA, at that time a Quaker settlement in the eastern Los Angeles basin, Milo Garrett Burcham learned to fly in 1929 at the O'Donnell School of Aviation at Long Beach and became its chief instructor soon afterward. Much more than just a P-38 test pilot, Burcham unfortunately has never received appropriate recognition because of wartime secrecy. He was an early-bird, with US License 5274, and established a world's record in December 1933 at Long Beach CA by flying upside-down for 4h:5m:22s in his new Boeing 100, in which he performed acrobatic shows until 1937. He flew a brand-new Lockheed 12A Electra Junior to fifth place in the 1937 Bendix Race from Los Angeles to Cleveland, which was doubly impressive since F C Hall, the plane's owner, and his wife were aboard, and yet they still came in only a few minutes behind Frank Sinclair in his Seversky racer. Burcham was hired as a production test pilot by Lockheed in 1938 and because of his extensive experience did most of the test flying on the P-38. He became Chief Engineering Test Pilot for Lockheed, and performed the 55-degree dive from 35,000' in the P-38. He made the first test flights of the P-80 at Muroc Dry Lake in January 1944 as Lockheed's Chief Pilot.
Milo Burcham, 5 Aug 2006 [cached]
Milo Burcham Milo Burcham
Milo Burcham
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. He 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 custom.
"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.
Milo 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
Milo 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 to his home.
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 master.
To most of the 85 pilots who test Lockheed planes, Burcham displayed the genial personality the public thinks is typical of most fliers. But his intimates knew him as a man of profound depths.
He often took long walks at midnight, pondering some strange problem of flight he had encountered during the day.
Leaned to Science
Burcham 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.
Milo's 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.
Developed Course
Following his 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. His 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.
Lockheed 12A Electra Jr., Golden Age Aircraft, 23 July 2013 [cached]
Piloted by Lockheed's own test pilot and world famous stunt pilot, Milo Burcham
1944: Developed in only 143 days, ..., 28 Feb 2012 [cached]
1944: Developed in only 143 days, the prototype Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star, Lulu Belle, is flown for the first time at Muroc Dry Lake (later Edwards AFB), Calif., with Milo Burcham at the controls.
1944: Developed in only 143 days, the prototype Lockheed XP-80 Shooting Star, Lulu Belle, makes its first flight at Muroc Dry Lake (later Edwards AFB), CA, with Milo Burcham at the controls.
Lockheed's chief test pilot, Milo Burcham, was the co-pilot.
1943: Famed Boeing test pilot Eddie Allen and Lockheed test pilot Milo Burcham make the first flight of the Lockheed C-69 transport (the military version of the Model 49 Constellation) at Burbank, CA.
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