RICHARD H. “DICK” DEPEW, JR.
FLIGHT PIONEER, INSTRUCTOR, SALESMAN, TEST PILOT
Richard H. Depew, Jr. was born May 20, 1892 at Plainfield,
NJ. Image, left, from his NASM dossier in Washington,
DC. Another photograph of him is at the Klein Archive on this site.
Depew was born into privilege and attended local grade
and prep schools. He attended Cornell University, according
to his NASM biographical information, and spent "2 1/4 years
in M.E. Class 1913". It is not clear if he earned a degree.
He was determined early to fly. In 1911 he went
to France and enrolled at the Maurice Farman Flying School
at Buc, France. There
he learned to fly in a Farman pusher biplane with Renault
engine. He made his first solo flight on August
13, 1911. He received his license on August 22nd and
received French Federation Aeronautique Internationale Certificate
# 641 on October 6th at age 19.
He is undoubtedly one
of the earliest pilots to land at the Davis-Monthan Airfield.
His other ratings include the air transport license (#188
earned in 1928) and the Airplane & Engine Mechanic's certificate
(#122 earned in 1928). At that time, the license number indicated
the serial order in which the rating was conferred. Thus,
he was the 188th transport pilot and the 122nd mechanic ever
licensed in the U.S.
Depew landed once at Tucson on September 7, 1928. He
flew Fairchild 8003 and
carried two passengers C.B. Alley and Frank Walton. See
the link for the history, additional flight activity at the
Davis-Monthan Airfield, and final disposition of this interesting
at Farmingdale, LI, NY the three were westbound from El Paso,
TX to Los Angeles, CA. Depew
noted in the Remarks column of the Register, “Splendid
field and service". They stayed half an hour and
were on their way again.
Image, right, is from 1918 during his military career when
he was a flight instructor and test pilot at Plattsburg,
NY, as well as test pilot at McCook Field, Dayton, OH. During
this time he tested the first JN-4HM planes with 150HP
Hisso engines at the Curtiss plant in Buffalo, NY. These
aircraft had been built for the first airmail service to
start between Washington, DC and New York City.
After his 1911 solo, and before and after his visit to Tucson,
Depew was a serious career aviator. Below, from his dossier
at the Smithsonian, is Depew's "Summary of Aeronautical
Experience", including his military duties, through
January 1937. The first sentence is impressive enough: "Since
learning to fly 23 years ago, I have flown 128 types of airplanes,
3 types of autogiros, and a glider...." There aren't
many contemporary pilots who can list that kind of experience.
From 1923-32 he was with the Fairchild Corporation at Farmingdale,
Long Island, NY. He was Chief Pilot and Manager of flying
operations for the Aerial Camera and Aeroplane and Motor
Divisions. It was part of his job with Fairchild that brought
him to Tucson in 1928. The airplane he was flying was for
display at the 1928 National Air Races terminus in Los Angeles,
Richard Depew, Jr., Date Unknown (Source: SDAM)
He became a member of the Caterpillar Club during the summer
of 1929 when flying a passenger to Cleveland in a Fairchild
71. They encountered a storm west of Reading, PA and were
forced to jump from 11,000 feet about 20 miles east of Johnstown,
PA. Photograph, left, courtesy of the San Diego Aerospace Museum Flickr Stream (SDAM).
He left Fairchild in 1932 to test and demonstrate Pitcairn
autogiros, where he remained until 1934. Although he probably
did not test his autogiro (a 1931 model), he did know John
Miller as a fellow member of Quiet Birdmen. During this
period he was also a Vice-President in charge of flying for
the Aviation Country Club at Hicksville, Long Island, NY.
In 1934 Depew joined Beckwith
Havens as a partner in the
northeastern regional distributorship of Fairchild planes,
with headquarters at Roosevelt Field, NY, where he remained
Depew was a founding member of the Early Birds of Aviation,
serving as president from 1944-1946. See this download for
the key correspondence (two letters) from October 1928 leading
to his becoming a charter member of the Early Birds. He was
also a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers, National
Aeronautic Association, Quiet Birdmen, Institute of Aeronautic
Sciences and the American Legion. Richard Depew died unexpectedly
of cerebral hemorrhage on January 28, 1948 at age 55 at his
home in Garden City, Long Island, NY.
At the time of his death he had devoted all his adult lifetime
to flying and aviation. He had been an active pilot for 36
years during which time he flew over 160 aircraft types,
many of them initial test flights. He was an active participant
in the National Air Races and Tours. His reputation was as
a careful, cautious pilot who had few accidents. He had a
rule that he did not want to be a notorious pilot, but just
to be one of the oldest ones. Perhaps he did not become one
of the oldest, but he was surely one of the earliest.
THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 05/06/06 REVISED: 05/07/06, 01/26/08, 10/25/08, 11/26/14