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Some of this information comes from the biographical file for pilot Elmendorf, CE-220000-01, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington, DC.

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Your copy of the "Davis-Monthan Airfield Register" with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available at the link. Or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-0-1.

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"Military Aircraft of the Davis Monthan Register, 1925-1936" is available at the link. This book describes and illustrates with black & white photographs the majority of military aircraft that landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield between 1925 and 1936. The book includes biographies of some of the pilots who flew the aircraft to Tucson as well as extensive listings of all the pilots and airplanes. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-2-5.

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HUGH MERLE ELMENDORF

Captain Elmendorf was born in Ithaca, NY on January 3, 1895. He was raised and educated there and graduated from Cornell University (mechanical engineering, 1917). During WWI he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant of infantry on August 15, 1917, and 1st Lt. February 9, 1918 and Captain October 28, 1918. He served at Camp Greene, NC until April, 1918 when he was transferred to Camp Benning, GA as an instructor.

Hugh Elmendorf, March 16, 1930 (Source: NASM)
Hugh Elmendorf, March 16, 1930

On March 10, 1921 he was transferred to the Air Corps and, after completing primary training at Carlstrom Field, Arcadia, FL, and advanced training at Ellington Field, Houston, TX, he was rated a pursuit pilot on December 7, 1921.

He served with the 1st Pursuit Group at Ellington Field and then Selfridge Field, MI. After a three-year tour of duty in Hawaii, he returned to Selfridge Field and assumed command of the 94th Pursuit Squadron. In July, 1927, after recovering from an accident suffered at Selfridge, he was assigned to command the 95th Pursuit Squadron at Rockwell Field, San Diego, CA.

That injury is described in a document shared by Doug Beckstead (credit, right sidebar) as follows: "Prior to Captain Elmendorf's death [see below], the most serious airplane accident which befell him during his career as an Air Corps pilot occurred at Selfridge Field, Mich., on July 14, 1927. He had no sooner made a landing in a P-1 Pursuit plane when a Transport plane, piloted by Lieut. [Irvin A.] Woodring who was just taking off, collided with it. At that particular time, Lieut. Woodring was being instructed in piloting a Transport plane by the late [fellow Register pilot] Lieut. LeClaire D. Schulze. The left wing of the Transport slid up along the fuselage of Captain Elmendorf's plane, striking him on the top of his head and crashing him down in the cockpit. Captain Elmendorf sustained a very serious injury to his back, and was confined at Walter Reed Hospital for an extended period. He eventually recovered from his injuries and continued his brilliant exploits as a Pursuit pilot, but there were some who expressed grave doubts if he would recover from a recurring injury to his back." You may view this entire document via this PDF (406KB) download. It is a copy of a "photostat" and difficult to read, but it is a good, first-hand accounting (ca. 1933?) of Elmendorf's service. It also discusses the intertwining nature of Elemendorf and Woodring's military lives and deaths.

Below, Elmendorf is on the far right in this photograph of members of the 95th Pursuit Squadron. I.A. Woodring is second from left.

Hugh Elmendorf (R) With Members of the 95th Pursuit Squadron, Date & Location Unknown (Source: Beckstead)
Elmendorf (R) With Members of the 95th Pursuit Squadron, Date & Location Unknown (Source: Beckstead)

Another document shared by Mr. Beckstead is a tabulation of Elmendorf's military service (PDF, 373KB). This tabulation is dated January 21, 1959 and states that his service extended from August 15, 1917 to January 13, 1933.

Hugh Elmendorf in Cockpit, Date & Location Unknown (Source: Beckstead)
Hugh Elmendorf in Cockpit, Date & Location Unknown (Source: Beckstead)

Elmendorf appears in the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register twice, on Saturday, April 20, 1929 and on Friday, May 10, 1929. Both times he was flying the Boeing P-12, 29-355. He did not cite his itinerary in the Register on April 20th, but on May 10th he was eastbound from San Diego, CA, Rockwell Field to El Paso, TX. No reasons for his flights were cited in the Register.

His work with the 95th on the west coast focused on high-altitude flying. While in command of that organization, he developed Pursuit tactics at extremely high altitudes, leading his entire squadron in maneuvers at an altitude of 28,500' over Mather Field, Sacramento, CA. The news photograph, above right, from his NASM file (NY American, Sunday, March 16, 1930), is captioned, " LIFE MASK -- Capt. H.M. Elmendorf in the mask aviators must wear to keep alive when flying in altitudes so high the atmoshphere's oxygen supply is scarce. The tube leading from flier's mouth connects with tanks of oxygen carried in the plane." If you compare the coaming of this airplane to that of 29-355, his airplane looks to be a Boeing P-12.

 

Ithaca (NY) Journal News, January 14, 1933 (Source: Beckstead)
Ithaca (NY) Journal News, January 14, 1933

The New York Sun of Saturday, April 12, 1930 reported the flight over Mather Field. The Sun reported the altitude reached as 30,000', the nineteen planes being in the air for two hours to do so. A real testimony to instrumentation of the era shows up when Elmendorf reported that his altimeter read 33,000', while those of the other ships varied from 26,000' to 40,000'. The Army performed hasty math and estimated they all had reached at least 30,000'.

Besides his high-altitude work, Elmendorf was recognized throughout the Air Corp as an exceptionally well-qualified aerial gunner. He regularly won gunnery matches during the late 1920s.

Elmendorf was killed in a crash on January 13, 1933 near Byron, OH while flight testing an experimental fighter, the Consolidated Y1P-25 prototype, out of Wright Field, Dayton, OH. The news article, right, summarizes the accident.

He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday, January 16, 1933. Planes from Bolling Field flew over his grave during the last rites. Elmendorf Air Force Base, adjacent to the city of Anchorage, AK, was named after him. Please direct your browser to the cemetery link for additional biographical information.

Further to Elmendorf's contributions to Golden Age military aviation, from Mr. Beckstead comes this document (PDF, 84DB) from December 12, 1940. It is the General Order #9 from the War Department which officially named the airfield at Fort Richardson in Alaska as "Elmendorf Field."

1960 Tablet Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Naming of Elmendorf Field (Source: Beckstead)
1960 Tablet Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Naming of Elmendorf Field (Source: Beckstead)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below, a formal photograph of Elemendorf in his uniform with wings.

Hugh Elmendorf, Date & Location Unknown (Source: Beckstead)
Hugh Elmendorf, Date & Location Unknown (Source: Beckstead)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dossier 2.2.76

THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 02/03/09 REVISED: 08/22/10

 
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I'm looking for photographs of pilot Elmendorf to include on this page. If you have one or more you'd like to share, please use this FORM to contact me.
Thanks to Doug Beckstead, base historian at Elmendorf AFB, AK, for sharing his photographs and information about pilot Elmendorf.
 
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