Burcham was mourned ths week by thousands of men and
women - and boys - who knew him only as a flash of
silver against the California skies and by the roar of
his swift flight…
men and women built the ships he helped to perfect and
through the years at Lockheed had thrilled at his
wonderfully skillful demonstrations of their
boys rode with him-hundreds of them-whenever his
flashing ship crossed high above their playgrounds.
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.
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.
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
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
he taken off as the air-liners were doing, any crash
might have injured others south of the field. As it
was, he was the only victim. Not that he expected
trouble. He just didn't want to subject town fold to
even hypothetical danger."
consideration was typical of the popular pilot whose
career began with the sale of a home-made burglar
alarm in 1928 to buy a flying lesson and carried him
to achievement pinnacles scaled by few.
always insisted n 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.
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
Riding Was Favoured
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.
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.
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.
often took long walks at midnight, pondering some
strange problem of flight he had encountered during
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.
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.
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.
despite the gasps he drew from admiring crowds, Milo
never took chances. Every stunt was carefully
rehearsed…his plane minutely checked before take-offs.
born in Newcastle, Indiana, Burcham considered himself
a Californian by adoption. He attended Whittier High
School and Whittier College.
'Alarm' Opened Way
burglar alarm he sold to pay for his first flying
lessons was the product of his inventive mind which
has created a core f other similar gadgets.
his well-equipped home workshop Burcham has produced
several instruments and devices which engineers have
made standard equipment for the Constellation. They
were developed on off-hours to answer specific
problems he met while conducting engineering test
flights of the big transport.
his better-known inventions are a visual oxygen meter
that enables a pilot to keep closer check of his
oxygen supply in high altitudes and a device, still
used, that permits delivery of mail from a plane in
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
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
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.
a work he loved even better than testing the
characteristics of a Lockheed prototype-this teaching
others to fly skilfully. 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