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There is no biographical file for pilot Sullivan in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington, DC.


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.


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 It includes across 277 pages previously unpublished photographs and texts, and facsimiles of personal letters, diaries and military orders.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.


The definitive reference for early Lockheed aircraft is:

Allen, Richard S. 1988. Revolution in the Sky: The Lockheeds of Aviation's Golden Age. Orion Books, NY. 253 pp.

You can find reference to Sullivan's Vega on page 215.


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R.O.D. Sullivan was born in Hannibal, MO, circa 1893. He joined the Navy about 1918 and learned to fly. He served about 11 years with the Navy, during which time he was a flight instructor and test pilot at Naval Air Stations around the U.S. He had one child, R.O.D. Sullivan, Jr., born about 1928.

Below, a photograph of Sullivan (center) shared with us by frequent contributor Mike Gerow. The back is stamped: "Photo by Alfred Ault, Orange Co. News Bureau, 762 W. Third St., Santa Ana, Calif." Note the standard Golden Age pilot uniform: jodhpurs and high-top boots. Spiegel wears goggles around his neck.

Sol Spiegel, R.O.D. Sullivan, Jack Reid, Ca. 1928, Location Unknown (Source: Gerow)
Sol Spiegel, R.O.D. Sullivan, Jack Reid, Ca. 1928, Location Unknown (Source: Gerow)

Mr. Gerow says about the image it, "... is a copy of a photo given to me by [Register pilot] Eddie Martin back in the early 80s. The caption on the back reads: "Sea Birds--The trio who will pilot the Albatross on the flight to set a new world record for endurance at the Orange County airport, Calif., are (l to r) Sol Spigel [sic], mechanic; R. O. D. Sullivan and Jack Reid, expert navy pilots of San Diego."

Their record attempt was for the men's landplane endurance record. Their flight taxied for a start at Santa Ana at 5:45AM on May 25, 1928. Unfortunately, they carried 1,370 gallons of fuel and were unable to get airborne with their Zenith Albatross (NX3622, not a Register airplane). They did not make another attempt.

R.O.D. Sullivan landed at Tucson Wednesday, June 5, 1929 at 12:30PM. He carried his wife and infant son as passengers in the Lockheed Vega NC891E. They were westbound from El Paso, TX to Santa Monica, CA. They stayed on the ground an hour before proceeding west. If you follow the airplane's link, you will find that this airplane was about a month old at the time it landed at Tucson.

Shortly after his landing, on September 3, 1929, Sullivan took a job with fledgling Pan American Airways (he remained a Lieutenant Commander in the Naval Reserve). He remained with PanAm through the 1930s and into the 40s. During that time he was First Officer on the Pan American Clipper that first transported U.S. airmail from California to Hawaii and return, April 18-22, 1935. Below, shared with us by site visitor Jeff Staines, is a U.S. postal cachet commemorating that flight.

Two-Way U.S. Postal Cachet, California to Honolulu and Return, April 18-22, 1935 (Source: Staines)
Two-Way U.S. Postal Cachet, California to Honolulu and Return, April 18-22, 1935 (Source: Staines)

Mr. Staines says about his cachet, " While searching through my ... collection of covers, I came across the First-Flight cachet of the Pan Am Clipper round trip from San Francisco to Honolulu back in 1935. Some thoughtful person had clipped a newspaper article about this flight and stuffed it inside this cover to remain hidden until today. Inside I discovered the ... article [further below] from the Allentown Morning Call dated April 24, 1935, printed just one day after the successful arrival of the Clipper at Alameda, CA on April 23rd. It describes the flight and contains a brief copy of the flight log, and shows photos of the flight crew, including a shot of First Officer R.O.D. Sullivan.... [The envelope displays] both direction cachets, with all the postmarks to show the dates and times of arrivals and departures of this historic flight.... Edwin C. Musick was Captain...." Below, the reverse of the cachet.

Two-Way U.S. Postal Cachet, California to Honolulu and Return, April 18-22, 1935 (Source: Staines)
Two-Way U.S. Postal Cachet, California to Honolulu and Return, April 18-22, 1935 (Source: Staines)

Below, the article cited by Mr. Staines that was folded inside this envelope. Note that the cachet above was one of 14,000 pieces of mail carried on the trans-Pacific flight, which was, according to Captain Musick, "negotiated without a thrill." Note mention of Fred Noonan in the bottom row. He was the navigator who lost his life along with Amelia Earhart during their global flight around the Earth.

Allentown Morning Call, April 24, 1935 (Source: Staines)
Allentown Morning Call, April 24, 1935 (Source: Staines)

An interesting video of the first exploration flight of the China Clipper is at the link (Vimeo video, 19 minutes; please let me KNOW if the link fails). This video was developed for the 75th anniversary of the trans-Pacific service. It documents the planning and supply of the island bases used as waypoints between San Francisco and Manila, the development of the bases, and the first survey flight. The film's epilogue documents the fates of the first crew and the Clippers through the years.

Undated News Announcement, R.O.D. Sullivan Obituary (Source: Site Visitor)
Undated News Announcement, R.O.D. Sullivan Obituary (Source: Site Visitor)


Over the next eight years, Sullivan became Captain and made 150 Atlantic crossings and 55 Pacific crossings, and logged more than 15,000 hours flying. His transport career ended on February 22, 1943. On that evening, while on landing approach at the mouth of the Tagus River, he crashed the Yankee Clipper, a Boeing B-314 flying boat (NC18603) near Lisbon Portugal. Sullivan suffered minor injuries.

But there were 24 deaths among the 39 passengers and crew. Among the injured passengers on the Clipper was singer/actress Jane Froman, whose 1952 movie, "With a Song in My Heart," told of the crash. She was on her way to Europe to entertain troops. The accident was the first in Pan-Am's trans-Atlantic service. The Civil Aeronautics Board report of the accident, released September 9, 1943, is at the link (PDF 719kB).

Sullivan was sorely shaken by this tragedy. Time Magazine of September 20, 1943 states (stiltedly) about Sullivan, "He left Pan American, left his country. Few weeks later airmen heard that Rod Sullivan was the master of a Portuguese coastwise steamer. More recently they heard that he had gone to Africa, was working for the Liberian American Development Co. on the steaming West Coast. No one knew for certain."

He remained a Lt. Commander in the Naval Reserve. Eventually he returned to his home in North Carolina. After WWII, he established ROD Sullivan, Inc., an electrical parts supply business. He died at age 62 of a heart attack sitting in his office, July, 1955. His obituary appeared, above, left, in an unidentified newspaper clipping provided by site visitor, R.S.


THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 03/02/11 REVISED: 02/19/13, 12/16/14

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I'm looking for information and photographs of Sullivan and his airplane to include on this page. If you have some you'd like to share, please click this FORM to contact me.
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