D.W. Tomlinson, Early Portrait, Ca. 1921 (Source: NASM)
D.W. Tomlinson was born at Batavia, NY, April 28, 1897. He was appointed to the US Naval Academy in 1914, graduating with the class of 1918, which was accelerated (WWI) and graduated on June 28, 1917.
Tomlinson's NASM biography folder (cited, left sidebar) has a lengthy oral transcript of an excellent interview with him performed at his Oregon home during September, 1985. Some of what follows is summarized from that interview and other sources cited.
He became a Naval Aviator (No. 2923) on August 11, 1921. He was an early believer that if aircraft could not fly at night or in bad weather, they wouldn't be very useful. Because of that belief, he became an early proponent of instrument guidance and flight. While in the Navy, he owned personally two (consecutive) JN4s and barnstormed at airshows on weekends. He was a Naval Aviator from 1920-22, then an instructor in the Department of Marine Engineering, U.S. Naval Academy from 1923-1925. He returned to Naval Aviation from 1925-1929.
By 1928-29, he was the leader of the "Three Sea Hawks", the Navy's first aerobatic team. The group was commonly referred to as the precursor of the "Blue Angels". They represented the Navy at the National Air Races at Los Angeles, September 8-16, 1928. Below, from the Bureau of Aeronautics Newsletter of October 3, 1928, is documentation of their performance.
Bureau of Aeronautics Newsletter, October 3, 1928 (Source: Webmaster)
The team members, shown in the photograph below, were, L-R, William V. Davis, Jr., Tomlinson, and Aaron P. "Putt" Storrs. Concurrent with his "Sea Hawks" duty, Tomlinson was the head of operations at Naval Air Station Anacostia, the Navy's pre-1943 flight test center.
"The Three Seahawks", (L-R) Davis, Tomlinson, Storrs, Ca. 1928-29 (Source: W.V. Davis, III)
William V. Davis, Jr. is of interest to us, because he is the navigator who flew with Art Goebel in the Travel Air, Woolaroc, from Oakland, CA to Honolulu, T.H. in August, 1927. Tomlinson was responsible for identifying Davis as THE man to do the job of navigation. Davis, Goebel and the Woolaroc placed first in what was called the Dole Race, sponsored by Hawaiian pineapple baron James D. Dole. An account of that race, and the roles played by Davis and Goebel, are in the book "Winners' Viewpoints" cited in the left sidebar.
Tomlinson was a military and transport pilot (certificate number 764). He gained fame in both venues. In 1928, as commanding officer of VF-6, he developed the dive bombing attack that coordinated multiple aircraft from different directions. This technique was applied and proved successful in WWII in the air battles over the Pacific. He also developed and pioneered the tactical operations use of towed sleeves for airborne gunnery practice, and the use of air-to-air gun cameras to record results of fighter-to-fighter combats.
On February 28, 1929, he resigned from the Navy and joined Maddux Airlines from 1929-1931. His NASM oral history states the reason for his resignation was that he was not allowed to travel to California after the death of his good friend and mentor Earl Daugherty. Interestingly, Daugherty is not the only Register pilot mentioned in his oral interview. It also cites Kenneth Whiting, Adolphus W. Gorton and James Doolittle.
Tomlinson landed twice at Tucson. His first visit was on Tuesday January 18, 1929. He was flying a Ford aircraft clearly identified as 95636 in the Register. About the only Web hits for "95636" have to do with Grizzly Flats, CA, whose address includes that zip code. A check of the FAA database shows the number N95636 belonged to a Cessna 172, which is now deregistered. To my knowledge there is, or was, no Golden Age aircraft with that registration number. If anyone has any ideas, please let me KNOW.
Regardless, he was flying a Ford for Maddux and he carried four passengers: Jack Wiles, J.A. McCabb, R.E. Young and Miss M. Bartlett. They were westbound from El Paso, TX to Los Angeles, CA. Note this flight was a month before Tomlinson officially resigned from the Navy.
New York Sun, February 23, 1929 (Source: NASM)
Between his first and second visit to Tucson, Tomlinson was involved in an incident on February 22, 1929 at the dedication of the new Grand Central Air Terminal (GCAT) at Glendale, CA (GCAT). The people involved, and their threaded connections with the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register are startling. Those connections are described below.
The incident was captured on film and the photograph is published on page 44 of this REFERENCE by John Underwood. That photo of the incident is pictured below, and the news article that describes it is at right.
I shared the news article with author Underwood and he had this to say about it, "That newspaper account isn't quite right. Tomlinson's Ford had off-loaded and they [passengers] should have cleared the area. Attendants should have seen to that, but they didn't and they were in Tommy's blind spot. He told about the incident in his book, 'The Sky's the Limit'."
Thankfully, there was no harm done to the auspicious group, which included Register pilots Art Goebel and Ruth Elder, Register passengers William B. Mayo (spelled Mayor in the article, Mayo was chief engineer at the Metal Airplane Division of the Ford Motor Company), Olive Mayo and Virginia Sullivan (see below).
Ten days earlier, these passengers arrived in Tucson westbound from Detroit, MI in Ford 5-AT-B NC9639 flown by Register pilot Larry Fritz. They and the airplane are signed in the Register on February 11,1929 at 3:00PM. (Note well that their travel to California with Fritz and the incident with Tomlinson described in the news article were two different events, on two widely separated dates).
They were on their way to California specifically for the dedication of the GCAT. They departed Tucson at 3:10PM, so we can imagine them arriving at Los Angeles sometime in the late evening. Among the non-Register passengers, the actress Priscilla Dean appears in the Cosgrove Collection on this site flying on Standard Airlines. She was the wife of Register pilot Les Arnold. The only persons mentioned in the article that are not connected with the Register in some way (that we know of) are fashion editor Peggy Hamilton and Mayor George Cryer.
If you look closely at the image below, you'll see a person crouching under the starboard horizontal stabilizer. We can't be sure if the airplane is still moving or not, or if that person is still in danger. I cannot recognize any of the people in the photograph. I left Mr. Underwood's caption on the photo.
Empennage "Nudge", February 22, 1929, Grand Central Air Terminal (Source: Underwood)
Tomlinson's second visit at Tucson was on Thursday, March 7, 1929. This time he flew the Ford 4-AT-B, NC7117. He carried six unidentified passengers across the El Paso to Los Angeles itinerary. He noted in the Remarks column of the Register, "from Mexico City".
Newark Star-Eagle, December 27, 1929 (Source: NASM)
In 1930, Tomlinson married Virginia Sullivan, a writer, whose work you can find referenced online in several places. Her prose appeared in popular magazines, and her stories were serialized in Sunday papers. Notice of their wedding, left, cited the best man as Register pilot and Pacific flyer Art Goebel. The bruising that Goebel and Sullivan (recall the February 23, 1929 article, above) received just a year earlier didn't seem to cloud their enthusiasm for the ceremony, which occurred about a year after the incident.
This marriage did not last long, as Tomlinson's NASM biographical file cites his marriage to Margaret Castellini of Cincinnati, OH on August 25, 1937.
Soon after he left the Navy, in 1930 Tomlinson wrote his semi-autobiographical book, The Sky's the Limit (cited, left sidebar). It is a readable volume, but tainted in spots with racist and sexist comments that would be unacceptable to an editor or publisher today.
In his book he dedicates chapter 2 to his experiences with a Curtiss Jenny he owned and flew while he was in the Navy. The chapter is titled, "A Gypsy and His Jenny."
Interestingly, we know the exact date when he acquired his Jenny, October 31, 1924. The bill of sale, below, comes to us courtesy of D. Walker, who himself flies a Jenny. See his Web site at the link.
Tomlinson's Bill of Sale for Purchase of Curtiss Jenny 2188, October 31, 1924 (Source: Walker)
At the link, you can find a photograph of Tomlinson's Jenny in this terrific composite photograph of the Navy participants in the 1928 National Air Races (scroll down the page to the last photo). His Jenny is at far left of the photograph, and Tomlinson stands in sunglasses over the "T" in October. Each pilot is identified under his image. You will see that this photograph represents a Who's Who of Register pilots.
Tomlinson's Jenny in "The Sky's the Limit," Page 26, 1930 (Source: Webmaster)
Further, his book, on page 26, exhibits two photographs of the Jenny, left. It was registered as NC2188, originally AS# 44305.
Continuing, Maddux Airlines, which, after a series of mergers, grew into Transcontinental & Western Air (TWA), kept Tomlinson in their employ as assistant to the president of TWA, 1931-1934. During 1934-35, as indicated in his NASM biographical folder, his responsibility was "Airline Pilot, TWA, Inc." and from 1935-1935, "Asst. to V.P. Operations."
From 1936-37, he was "Test Pilot TWA, Inc. & North American, Inc." His assignments at TWA during the 1930's took Tomlinson on many high altitude weather flights and transcontinental speed records with company aircraft. TWA had a reputation as a "pilot's" and "engineer's" airline, and was conspicuous in the 1930s for pioneering superior equipment and operating techniques.
For example, Tomlinson, along with Register pilots Charles Lindbergh and Jack Frye, were responsible for providing the specifications for an air transport aircraft to the Douglas Aircraft Company (Donald W. Douglas, Proprietor). The result of that collaboration was the DC-1 in 1933.
Cartoon, Ca. 1936 (Source: NASM)
On February 18, 1934, Eddie Rickenbacker, and a group of Register pilots, Jack Frye, Tomlinson, Larry Fritz, Paul E. Richter, Jr. and John Collings flew a prototype of the DC-1 from Burbank, CA, to Newark, NJ in a record-breaking 13 hours and 4 minutes.The DC-1 & 2, and DC-3, are commonly regarded as the aircraft that enabled commercial passenger travel finally to become viable, acceptable to the public and cost-effective. An undated and unsourced newspaper cartoon, right, summarized some of Tomlinson's pioneering activities for the airlines.
On May 18, 1934, the DC-2 production version of the DC-1 (and precursor of the DC-3) entered service on TWA's Columbus-Pittsburgh-Newark route. Six months later, on December 27, 1934, Jack Frye became President of TWA, Paul E. Richter, Vice Pres., Walt Hamilton, V.P. Maintenance, with managers Larry Fritz, and Tommy Tomlinson (as leader in "High Altitude Research" for over-weather flying). All these people are Register pilots or passengers (Hamilton), a testimony to the significant impact our signers made on early air transport.
Tomlinson's NASM biographical file contains several news items from around the time he was working with TWA's DC-1. The New York Times of May 16, 1935 headlined, "TO TRY FOR 6 AIR RECORDS." It describes Tomlinson's attempt to set closed-course records for 3,100 miles carrying 2,200 pounds, and 1,200 miles with a payload of 4,400 pounds. The triangular course of 621 miles had apexes at New York (Roosevelt Field), Washington, DC and Willoughby Spit, near Hampton Roads, VA. The article followed on the heels of his non-stop transcontinental record with the same airplane of 11 hours and five minutes.
The New York Times and the Herald Tribune over the next couple of days headlined the success of the attempts. Joseph Bartles (not a Register pilot) was Tomlinson's copilot. They average 169MPH. Below, the photo spread and flight log published in the Times of May 17, 1935.
Closed Circuit Flight Records, May 17, 1935, NY Times (Source: NASM)
Also in 1935, Tomlinson and the TWA Northrop Gamma NX13758 (with a turbo-supercharged engine) began the TWA High Altitude Research program. Below, from author Underwood, a photograph of Tomlinson (R) with Register pilot Frank Busch. The number at the bottom of the photo has unknown significance. The airplane was placarded "Overweather Experimental Laboratory". Although the exact date of the photo is unknown, it is probably circa 1935. Note the direction-finding loop antenna on top of the fuselage between the two men. Tomlinson's Navy, cross-country and high altitude flights are roughly summarized in the popular cartoon, above (undated and unsourced in his NASM folder).
D.W. Tomlinson (R) With Frank Busch, Date & Location Unknown (Source: Underwood)
"Overweather..." meant a generous margin above 15,000 feet, which was the ceiling of most cyclonic storms over the American plains states (convective storms, of course, go much higher). Tomlinson used the Gamma in a program of high flights, testing equipment betgween 25,000 and 35,000 feet. These flights were successful, and in 1936 TWA signed on with Boeing for their 307 Stratoliner, the world's first pressurized airliner. In 1940 the 307 went into service with TWA, its cruising altitude being between 20 and 25,000 feet.
Tomlinson, meanwhile, had returned to piloting for TWA between 1937-38. He went into management in 1939 as Chief Engineer, and in 1940 as VP Engineering.
On the eve of WWII in 1941 Tomlinson went back into the Navy, organizing Naval Reserve aviation training in the midwest. Later, after the outbreak of the war, based at Pearl Harbor, he commanded the Pacific operations of the Naval Air Transport Service (NATS), an "airline" which operated some 50 four-engine flying boats, about 150 C-54s, and hundreds of smaller twin-engine airplanes.
He did not like flying boats. The maintenance was diffcult, and night operations from the water were hazardous. During WWII, the Navy had 50 more large Martin Mars flying boats on order. In 1943, at a party in Admiral Nimintz's home at Pearl Harbor, Tomlinson met Artemus Gates, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Aeronautics. He gave Gates a lecture that the last thing NATS needed was fifty Martin Mars, and he extolled the virtues of the Douglas R4D, the Navy designation for the C-54 or DC-3. The Martin procurement was subsequently cancelled and procurement was reduced to six aircraft instead of fifty.
After "unification" of the armed services in 1947, NATS's operations were integrated with the Air Force's Air Transport Command, the two becoming the Military Air Transport Services (MATS). It was integrated only at the top echelons; otherwise the two services had their respective geographic spheres of interest.
When the Berlin Airlift started in the summer of 1948, Tomlinson took some of his Navy squadrons to Germany. The Navy squadrons had a significantly higher rate of utilization than Air Force squadrons in the Airlift. This is because the Navy squadrons were organized on an "industrial", i.e. airline, basis which Tomlinson had introduced to NATS via TWA during WWII. Maintenance was centralized and the squadrons did not "own" their aircraft. Concurrently, the Air Force retained the "military" system, in which everything, including maintenance, was structured around each squadron, resulting inevitably in redundancy and duplication. He retired from the Navy (for the second time, and officially) on August 1, 1951.
He was a member of the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences and the Society of Automotive Engineers. He was inducted into the Carrier Aviation Test Pilots Hall of Honor on August 31, 1995, just months before he flew West to his final horizon. Tomlinson died January 7, 1996, a year or so shy of his hundredth birthday.
THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 03/03/10 REVISED: 01/12/11, 09/09/15