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There is no biographical file for pilot Henderson 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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http://www.cafepress.com/content/global/img/spacer.gifThe Congress of Ghosts is an anniversary celebration for 2010.  It is an historical biography, that celebrates the 5th year online of www.dmairfield.org and the 10th year of effort on the project dedicated to analyze and exhibit the history embodied in the Register of the Davis-Monthan Airfield, Tucson, AZ. This book includes over thirty people, aircraft and events that swirled through Tucson between 1925 and 1936. It includes across 277 pages previously unpublished photographs and texts, and facsimiles of personal letters, diaries and military orders. Order your copy at the link, or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author.  ISBN 978-0-9843074-4-9.

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ROBERT WILBUR HENDERSON

Robert Henderson was born April 8, 1903. He passed away May 31, 1979 at age 76. Below, Henderson as a teen, probably photographed at Spokane, WA, ca. 1920.

Henderson landed once at Tucson, Thursday August 28, 1930 at 2:30PM. He was eastbound from Burbank, CA to Patterson, LA. He carried one unidentified passenger in the Lockheed Vega NC197E. This airplane was being delivered to Wedell-Williams Air Service, Inc. then based at Patterson.

Robert W. Henderson, Spokane, WA, Ca. 1920 (Source: Careaga)
Robert W. Henderson, Spokane, WA, Ca. 1920 (Source: Careaga)

Compare the photograph above with the one at the top of the page for Boyd Montieth Shelton.

R.W. Henderson, Commercial Pilot Certificate, August 13, 1946 (Source: Careaga)
R.W. Henderson, Commercial Pilot Certificate, August 13, 1946 (Source: Careaga)
R.W. Henderson, Date Unknown (Source: Careaga)
R.W. Henderson, Date Unknown (Source: Careaga)

 

Henderson grew up in Spokane, WA. Shortly after graduation from high school, he joined the Army in October 1920. With his fascination and love of flying he signed up for Aircraft Mechanics School. Becoming a skilled mechanic, it didn’t take long for him to climb in the cockpit.

He held airline transport pilot license #2329 (acquired May 15, 1928), mechanic's certificate 2703 (acquired June 1, 1928), Army Air Corps pilot certification (acquired November 1, 1934) and private pilot license (acquired August 13, 1946 (image, right). Below, his transport license current to November 15, 1929. His number, 2329, is a relatively low one, although not the lowest among Register signers. For example, Clarence Young, who signed his pilot and mechanic certificates, below, and who was then Director of Aeronautics in the Aeronautics Branch in the Department of Commerce, held pilot license #2.

R.W. Henderson, Transport Pilot License, 1929 (Source: Careaga)
R.W. Henderson, Transport Pilot License, 1929 (Source: Careaga)

Below, his mechanic's certificate and photo ID from 1932 and 1934.

R.W. Henderson, Mechanic's Identification, 1932/34 (Source: Careaga)
R.W. Henderson, Mechanic's Identification, 1932/34 (Source: Careaga)

Henderson enlisted in the U.S. Army on October 22, 1920 as a private of "very good" character, and became a "Very Good Mechanic." His services were, "... honest and faithful" with no AWOL. Below is his enlistment record.

R.W. Henderson, Enlistment Record, October 22, 1920 (Source: Careaga)
R.W. Henderson, Enlistment Record, October 22, 1920 (Source: Careaga)

Below, his discharge certificate for his first period of service. Note that he was discharged August 5, 1921, after about 10 months of service. Note that he was 17 1/2 years old at time of enlistment.

R.W. Henderson, Discharge Papers, August 5, 1921 (Source: Careaga)
R.W. Henderson, Discharge Papers, August 5, 1921 (Source: Careaga)

Henderson married Mary Conley in November, 1932 in Glendale, CA. He and Mary had three girls, the oldest of whom is our correspondent Steve's mother.

PILOT LOG BOOKS

As a real highlight of this page, Mr. Careaga shares two of his grandfather's pilot log books with us. Pilot Henderson was fastidious in recording his aircraft numbers, including in most cases data regarding the purpose of his flights, the passengers he carried and sometimes the weather conditions. His "Book One" presented below is probably only book one by name alone. He probably had a previous record, lost to time, that listed flights made during his own training.

Below, I describe each log, and provide each as a complete PDF download for your own study. Click the book link to download. Please note, you will need Adobe Reader 8.0 or greater to read them. Please direct your browser to the link to download the appropriate version of Adobe Reader.

Book One (50 pages, PDF 12.1MB): The first log book spans June, 1929 through June, 1937. This book is a great resource for learning about what it was like to fly as a flight instructor, corporate pilot and military aviator during the Golden Age. It is in this book that we are able to piece together the reason for Henderson's itinerary through Tucson.

R.W. Henderson, Date Unknown (Source: Careaga)
R.W. Henderson, Date Unknown (Source: Careaga)

 

Right, R.W. Henderson in Air Corps uniform, date unknown. In Book One, he records his bases of operation on the fly leaf. Over the period of eight years he was affiliated with at least nine important organizations including Lockheed, Wedell-Williams Air Service, Varney Air Transport, Bowen Airlines and Braniff Airlines.

Apropos the latter, one undated letter written by his wife (see below) to her parents states, "I am a widow once again. Bob got a job & left this a.m. for El Paso. Avery Black is president of Varney Transport that runs from El Paso up to Pueblo, Colorado. He and Bob have been corresponding at intervals since we left the Coast. Anyway, he told Bob he would give him the vacation runs – about two months work and recommended him to another subsidiary but as yet the line hasn't started. So he asked Bob to report to him for two months – thence to the vacation pilot. The former to pay $150 per month and allow $10 per month as car allowance, the latter $575 per …."

He was also affiliated with a series of smaller operations. For example, he notes in his log, "Started working for the Eagle School of Aviation at Phoenix Ariz. June 9, 1929." He spent many hours in the early entries in this log flying and training students in the school's Swallow, NC8738 (not a Register airplane) operating from the Phoenix Municipal Airport.

He flew parachute jumpers and other interesting people. For example, on PDF page 2, he notes that he, "Flew Texas 'Bob' Heckle age 82." They flew for 1.5 hours in the Swallow . Robert Heckle was a poet and story teller of the American southwest living in Arizona at the time. He would become the maternal grandfather of country singer Marty Robbins ("A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation").

On page 3 we discover that he broke his left arm on August 11, 1929, and that he flew with a cast on as early as August 14th (solo). On September 5th (PDF page 4) he had a, "Forced landing on desert." Although there was no reason given for the forced landing it might have been an engine problem, because on October 4th (PDF page 6) at Casa Grande, AZ the license of the Swallow was revoked by a federal inspector, "...because of poor condition of motor...." Beginning October 10th, he switched his base of operations to the Los Angeles East Side Airport. It is not clear if he left the Eagle School because of the problem with the Swallow.

Some of the planes he flew out of East Side appear at various times in the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register flown to Tucson by other pilots. They were, among many others, the Monocoupe NC6755, Bird NC48K, Curtiss Robin NC330K, Fleet NC9436, Monosport NC8957, Cessna NC7462, Ryan 7671, Stinson NC8421, Waco NC112Y and the Travel Airs NC9017, NC9822 and NC684K. Please direct your browser to the links to learn more about these airplanes and the occasions of their landings at Tucson.

R.W. Henderson, Undated & Unsourced Article (Source: Careaga)
R.W. Henderson, Undated & Unsourced Article (Source: Careaga)

 

There is a hiatus in Henderson's log from March-April, 1930. In May (PDF page 11) he notes, "Started on salary with Lockheed Aircraft Co. May 8th by [Register passenger] Mr. Carl Squier as ferry and test pilot." Although he only brought one Lockheed aircraft through Tucson (NC197E cited above), his logbook cites several that landed at Tucson at one time or another. Among Register Lockheed Vegas he flew are NC288W, NC106W, NC433E, NC974H and NC395H. His affiliation with Lockheed was documented in the undated and unsourced document He flew deliveries of at least three Vegas, including NC197E that he brought through Tucson, to the Wedell-Williams transport operation in Patterson, LA.

R.W. Henderson, Undated & Unsourced Article (Source: Careaga)
R.W. Henderson, Undated & Unsourced Article (Source: Careaga)

In June, 1930 when he was in Louisiana delivering Vega NC104W (not a Register airplane) he had the opportunity to fly NR536V, the Wedell-Williams 240MPH racer. He logged that flight of 20 minutes on PDF page 12. NR536V (not a Register airplane) took several first, second and third place prizes in national and international air races during 1933. Register signer Lee Gehlbach was the pilot. It looks from his log that he spent the months of June and July in Louisiana operating Wedell-Williams' routes. The undated and unsourced article, right, documents his time with Wedell-Williams. Note also mention of Register pilot Dudley Steele.

In August he returned to the west coast, bringing with him Vega NC107W from Ft. Worth, TX to the factory. This brings us approximately to the date Henderson visited Tucson. His log page (PDF page 14), below, shows that on August 28th he left Burbank and landed at Tucson carrying a single, unidentified passenger. He states that he, "Gassed up at Municipal Field." That would be our Airfield. He departed Tucson for El Paso, TX, where it appears he remained overnight, departing the next day for San Antonio, TX, to which he traveled in a , "Non-stop straight line course." From San Antonio he flew to Houston, TX and then to Patterson, LA. Below, the pages from his log (PDF page 14) that show his itinerary through Tucson and beyond.

R.W. Henderson, Pilot Log Book, August-November, 1930 (Source: Careaga)
R.W. Henderson, Pilot Log Book, August-November, 1930 (Source: Careaga)

Another hiatus appears in this log for the months of December and January, 1930-31. In February he appears to be based at Phoenix again involved in flight instruction. He continued to fly airplanes that visited Tucson in the hands of other pilots. Among them the Monoprep NC118K. In June he moved farther east and worked for Midland Air Express and flew some legs for Braniff. He flew Lockheed Vega NC891E for Midland between Cheyenne and Kansas City. Note his abbreviation "Chian."

Henderson/Post Entertainment, Date Unknown (Source: Careaga)
Henderson/Post Entertainment, Date Unknown (Source: Careaga)

 

On July 13, 1931, while flying Vega NC195E for Midland, Henderson notes that he, "Met Wiley [Post] and [Harold] Gatty" at Oklahoma City. And he noted, "Escort 'Winnie Mae' to Tulsa" [OK]. At some point he and his wife and Post were on the west coast. The undated news filler at left describes a dinner enjoyed by the party in Hollywood. Cited in the article is Vernon Dorrell, fellow Register pilot who landed three times at Tucson.

In early 1933 Henderson begins to record flights in military aircraft, flying the Douglas BT-2B and O-19. He performed qualifications and formation flight. In May-June, 1934, he he flew Army PTs and O-19s out of Long Beach, CA practicing formation flights and cross-country exercises. He also appears to be flying for Western Air Express and he made a cross-continent flight with their Fokker NC123M (not a Register plane). He and Mary moved from southern California to New York near June 16, 1934, so this might be their flight east.

In July, 1934, according to his log book, he abruptly leaves the Fokker at Mitchel Field, LI, NY and begins flying Army craft (Falcon O-1-E, PT and BT) through the last half of the month and into August and September. There is no notation in his log that he rejoined the military, but he probably did at about this point.

Mr. Careaga says about his grandfather, "He started in the Air Corps as an aircraft mechanic, then came back into the service as a pilot, he was very active in the late 20s and early 30s,  it amazes me how many different aircraft he flew."

Indeed, it appears that he was assigned to train pilots in instrument flight techniques and formation flight. Below, from October 4, 1934, a photograph of Army Reserve officers at Mitchel Field, LI, NY standing in front of a Curtiss aircraft. Henderson stands third from the right. Also in this photograph is Register pilot (Capt.) Casey Jones, ninth from the left.

Army Reserve Officers, Mitchel Field, NY, October 4, 1934 (Source: Careaga)
Army Reserve Officers, Mitchel Field, NY, October 4, 1934 (Source: Careaga)

Mr. Careaga cites a letter sent from Henderson to his inlaws during 1934. He states, "... here is a quick letter he wrote to my grandmothers parents, it was when he was at Mitchel Field, NY, circa 1934 discussing blind flying training....

R.W. Henderson, Instrument Certification, December, 1937 (Source: Careaga)
R.W. Henderson, Instrument Certification, December, 1937 (Source: Careaga)

 

'Have just gotten home from the field, I was in charge of operations for Capt. Prime while he was gone out of the city. I have been the blind flying instructor for all three reserve squadrons at Mitchell Fields for the past five months. It has given me a flock of experience and more flying time then any ten other officers in the reserves. This blind flying is great stuff and enlarges your area of operations many times. Today for instance, we had an 800 ft ceiling and after climbing up through a couple thousand feet of overcast you would be up in the sunshine. Yesterday I was giving blind flying instruction right up in the clouds with only a 1000 ft ceiling below us. We climbed to 10,000 ft before we would come out on top and would pick up ice on the ship too. Have had enough time on the instruments now so I can do almost any kind of acrobatics blind and not lose any more altitude then when it is clear. Have made a lot of friends amount the regular officers on the post and am able to chisel any ship out there. We have just received a new Douglas Dolphin, a duck and here is where I store up some multi-engine time and boat time. Have flown off the water quite a bit here already. Well, so long until out next letter, Bob.'"

R.W. Henderson, Reserve ID, April 1, 1938 (Source: Careaga)
R.W. Henderson, Reserve ID, April 1, 1938 (Source: Careaga)

 

Henderson's logbook for October 4th records three flights in a Curtiss O-1-G, perhaps the one standing behind the officers above. Some of the check outs he logged earlier in the month cite the names of some of the officers listed in this photograph. For an appreciation of the intensity of his training activities, please refer to his log, PDF pages 31ff. Interestingly, a possible connection exists between the intensity of instrument flight training and the rollout of ( then brand new) instrument techniques as described on Albert Hegenberger's page. The timing is right.

Above, left, Henderson's certificate of instrument competence dated December 17, 1937. At right, his Army Reserve identification card from April 1, 1938.

Below, three stunning aerial photographs of Boeing aircraft. First the early XB-15 in the foreground with a P-26 above the horizon. The squadron number on the fighter is "179" or "I79." The P-26 does not have a streamlined tail wheel and at magnification the squadron insignia on the fuselage is unreadable. It is not clear if pilot Henderson was in either aircraft. What is clear is that he did not log any P-26 or bomber time in Book #1 or #2. Thus, these photos may not be relevant to his own flying experience, rather just an interesting part of his collection of memorabilia. Dates and locations are unidentified for all of three.

Early XB-15 and P-26 in Flight (Source: Careaga)
Early XB-15 and P-26 in Flight (Source: Careaga)

Below, two photos of P-26s in echelon.

Boeing P-26s in Echelon (Source: Careaga)
Boeing P-26s in Echelon (Source: Careaga)

Below, a double or maybe triple echelon.

Boeing P-26s in Echelon (Source: Careaga)
Boeing P-26s in Echelon (Source: Careaga)

On April 1, 1935 his log entries change to mostly civil aircraft and he returns west to fly for Varney Air Transport (see PDF page 37). And again on September 5th he returns to Army aircraft flying in Kansas and continuing his instrument flight instruction. In December 5, 1935 he transfered to Long Beach Army Base and alternates his military with civil (Varney) flying every few months.

R.W. Henderson, Instrument Certification, September, 1939 (Source: Careaga)
R.W. Henderson, Instrument Certification, September, 1939 (Source: Careaga)

 

On PDF pages 46-47 we find Henderson flying for Wilmington-Catalina Airline, Ltd. where he piloted the Douglas Dolphins NC967Y and NC14204 (neither Register aircraft) between February 1 and March 5, 1937 . His flights for Wilmington were signed off (pp. 47-48) by Wilmington-Catalina Chief Pilot Walter Seiler. You can view two photographs of NC967Y at Seiler's link. Henderson ends Logbook #1 in June, 1937 with 2,488 hours and 24 minutes of flight time.

 

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There is another hiatus in his flight logs just before and during WWII. However, at some point he was assigned at Riverside, CA, March Field.

At left, his instrument flight certificate, which validates his instrument competency at Riverside on September 6, 1938, just before he traveled to Wright Field.

 

Below, we find an order detailing him from Riverside to Wright Field, Dayton, OH to test an instrument of his own design for the Army.

 

Army Orders, R.W. Henderson, May 22, 1940 (Source: Careaga)
Army Orders, R.W. Henderson, May 22, 1940 (Source: Careaga)

It was a procedure and instrument for figuring and indicating the angle of attack of an aircraft when landing. He had patented the instrument and procedure for use. He spent quite a bit of time testing it and training air corp pilots on the operation. It appears that he spent a lot of his own money on it as well, but ultimately gave it to the Army. They decided after a lot of consideration not to use it.  Below, page two of his orders, which includes orders for other pilots and personnel, and the official signatures.

Army Orders, R.W. Henderson, May 22, 1940 (Source: Careaga)
Army Orders, R.W. Henderson, May 22, 1940 (Source: Careaga)

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BOOK 2 (119 pages, PDF 38.1MB):: Henderson's second logbook spans August 11, 1946 through June 29, 1953. We also learn that he retired from the Air Force as a 1st Lieutenant. Below, Henderson standing near the empennage of his Navion.

Robert Henderson with Navion NC91441, Date Unknown (Source: Careaga)
Robert Henderson with Navion NC91441, Date Unknown (Source: Careaga)

Below, two views of Henderson's AT-6B, NC61069.

Robert Henderson's AT-6B, NC61069, Date Unknown (Source: Careaga)
Robert Henderson's AT-6B, NC61069, Date Unknown (Source: Careaga)

The registration number N61069 is presently assigned to a 1969 Cessna 150 located on the east coast. Does anyone know what happened to the AT-6?

Robert Henderson's AT-6B, NC61069, Date Unknown (Source: Careaga)
Robert Henderson's AT-6B, NC61069, Date Unknown (Source: Careaga)

I have no photographs of the Vultee, but it is still registered to an owner in California, with its airworthiness status revoked. The registration number for the Navion is now assigned to an experimental Dahlman Pusher based in California.

Mary Henderson, Passenger in Navion NC91441, Date Unknown (Source: Careaga)
Mary Henderson, Passenger in Navion NC91441, Date Unknown (Source: Careaga)

 

Book 2 contains mostly flights for pleasure on the west coast in his own airplanes. He carried his wife, Mary, on many flights, and gives her flight instruction.

He cites in the remarks sections of this log the Register signers whom he met through the years. Among them, Tex Rankin, Charles Babb, John Montijo, Carl Squier, Dick Ranaldi and Jack O'Brien. He did not tally total flight hours at the end of the book.

Mary Henderson In Front of Unknown Aircraft, Date Unknown (Source: Careaga)
Mary Henderson In Front of Unknown Aircraft, Date Unknown (Source: Careaga)

 

 

 

He took a medical retirement from the service because of a pulmonary embolism in the early 40s. He retired to Costa Mesa CA where he lived with his wife Mary until May 31, 1979 when he died from complications of pneumonia.

Robert Henderson, Date Unknown (Source: Careaga)
Robert Henderson, Date Unknown (Source: Careaga)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 12/27/11 REVISED:

 
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Most of the information and images on this page are shared with us by pilot Henderson's grandson, Steve Careaga. Steve's mother, pilot Henderson's eldest daughter, wrote biographical notes that are incorporated throughout this page. Thanks to Steve and his family for their time and generosity in making these materials available to us.

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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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