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This information comes from the biographical file for pilot Smith, CS-680000-01, -02, -03, -04, -80, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum, 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. Or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-2-5.

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LOWELL HERBERT SMITH

Lowell H. Smith
Lowell Smith

Lowell Smith was born in Santa Barbara, CA October 8, 1892. He graduated from San Fernando College and the Military School of Aeronautics at the University of California in 1917. He is among the more illustrious pilots and passengers to land at Tucson.

He signed the Davis-Monthan Register once on February 20, 1926 flying a Douglas O-2, carrying one unidentified passenger. He had landed at the Airfield earlier, however, flying the Douglas World Cruiser (DWC) "Chicago". He was commander of the Around-the-World Flight DWC fleet in 1924. The Register was not on the Airfield until 1925, so there is no signature to document his 1924 visit.

He held sixteen world records in military aircraft for speed and endurance and was awarded the Mackay Trophy in 1924 for his leadership of the World Flight. See the link for additional images of him. His co-pilot and mechanic on the "Chicago" was Leslie Arnold.

He enlisted as a private in April 1917 in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps, qualified as a pilot in October of that year and was commissioned First Lieutenant in December. He was ordered to England during WWI, receiving intensive training in Handley-Page aircraft. He was promoted to captain in October 1918.

Back in the U.S. after the war he distinguished himself between 1920-21 in carrying out the work of airplane forest fire patrol throughout California, Washington and Oregon. He saved the government and private forest holdings millions of dollars.

He gained fame in 1923 when he and John Richter, another Army pilot and signer of the Davis-Monthan Register, broke eight world aviation endurance records on August 27 & 28 over Rockwell Field, San Diego, CA. The two made a flight of over 37 hours during which they refueled their plane in the air. Regardless of the endurance record, this was the VERY FIRST air-to-air refueling event. All contemporary refueling from airborne tankers dates from August 1923. See this link for unique images of that event on this site. A description of the flight is in Richard Smith's book, Seventy-Five Years of Inflight Refueling: Highlights, 1923-1998 in the REFERENCES.

During the late 1920s he spent three years on duty in the Hawaiian Islands. It was there that The New York Times of July 12, 1928 reported in headline, "Capt. L.H. Smith Loses Finger in Propeller". Indeed, he had flown a Fokker monoplane to Hilo on an inspection tour and was preparing to take off for Wheeler Field a little before 10AM when he signaled mechanics by wave of his hand to swing the tail of the airplane further around. During the wave his fingers passed through the propeller's arc and it removed the middle finger of his right hand and lacerated the index finger.

He stepped from the cockpit saying, "Shut her off, Sergeant, please." A tourniquet was applied, he went to see a physician, and Smith declared, "It's nothing much, we will take off for Oahu at noon." This he did.

Besides his refueling endurance records and the World Flight, which have good coverage on the Web, he developed in the 1930s the entire procedure for massed airborne troop landings. He piloted the first plane to participate in mass parachuting. Click this PDF download (152KB) to see what he wore and what he carried.

That there is honor among officers is illustrated by this kind exchange (PDF 245KB) of letters by Smith on behalf of Capt. Oakley G. Kelly. Clearly, these two pilots shared a spectrum of similar airborne (and probably ground-based) experiences, and these simple and courteous letters reflect the respect gained therefrom.

During WWII Smith trained heavy bombardment crews at the Davis-Monthan Airfield, which had been converted, in 1940 to a military air base. He also commanded the base during that time. Ironically, after all his aviation exploits, Col. Lowell Smith died November 4, 1945 at age 53 after being injured in a fall from a horse just outside Tucson.

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An interesting part of his posthumous "career" is that, during 1953 to the early 1960s, there was a swirl of correspondence between Smith's widow, Madelaine, and various military and political chiefs. This correspondence is preserved in Smith's NASM dossier, and it attends to the traditional listing of Maj. Frederick Martin as "commander" of the World Flight. Martin and his mechanic, Alva Harvey (who also signed the Register), crashed in Alaska early in the flight and Smith was assigned the command to continue around the world. His assignment never seemed to get into the official record, though, and Mrs. Smith was out to get the record changed.

Madelaine was, to say the least, outspoken in her lobbying to have her husband recognized as THE commander of the World Flight, citing the fact that he was, "...in command for 23,973 miles of the 26,345 mile flight." And that, "...Martin -- 2,372 miles." It is comically frustrating to read the exchange of letters between her and Hoyt Vandenberg, Nathan Twining and Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater (all three, interestingly, signers of the Davis-Monthan Register). While it is common knowledge that Smith was the commander, the official record remains with Martin in that role, despite Madelaine's efforts.

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Dossier 2.2.4

UPLOADED: 01/16/07 REVISED: 02/09/08, 03/02/08, 12/30/09

 
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