Pilot Eyes

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This information comes from pilot Burcham's biographical file, CB-872000-01, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum, 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.


"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.


The thumbnail images on this page are used with permission from the archives of the San Diego Aerospace Museum

Each thumbnail has a database number, which you can use when you contact the Museum if you would like to have a full-sized, higher quality image sent directly to you. 

See the Museum’s ARCHIVES listings online to understand the scope of their holdings, and the procedures for acquiring prints.

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Milo Burcham

Milo Burcham was born in May 1903 in Newcastle, IN. Early on, Burcham sold burglar alarms of his own design to finance flying lessons from the O'Donnell School of Aviation in Long Beach, CA, where he eventually became chief instructor. Interestingly, on August 24, 1931 we find Milo's wife, Peggy Burcham, at Tucson as a passenger with Lloyd O'Donnell.

Burcham's claims to fame included barnstorming, competition in National Air Races, upside-down flying and other stunts, as well as being Chief Pilot for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation during the development of the P-38 Lightning fighter of WWII, and the YP-80 Shooting Star. This interesting link includes copies of 11 Lockheed company newsletters that were produced as P-38 training aids during WW II. In addition to 1940s-style sexist cartoon art, each issue includes a picture of a Lockheed test pilot in the text. Four issues include photographs of Register pilots, including Burcham, Tony LeVier and Joe Towle.


Below, from site visitor Joe Kranz, is a U.S. postal cachet postmarked August 31, 1934 commemorating the National Air Races for that year.

Milo Burcham, U.S. Postal Cachet, August 31, 1934 (Source: Kranz)
Milo Burcham, U.S. Postal Cachet, August 31, 1934 (Source: Kranz)

Burcham landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield flying Boeing Model 100, NC872H, January 29, 1934. He stayed overnight. Based in Long Beach, CA, he was solo eastbound to New Orleans, LA. Below, courtesy of the San Diego Aerospace Museum Flickr Stream (SDAM), is an undated photograph of Burcham in his Boeing.

Milo Burcham in the "Blue Flash," Date & Location Unknown (Source: SDAM)

He called his airplane the "Blue Flash". It was the civilian version of the military Boeing P-12-A. It was clearly recorded in the Register as having "NC" markings, but its designation by the manufacturer was "NX". You can see an image of his airplane here. Another image is here, but the designation is "NR". This airplane is now on display at the Seattle Museum of Flight. You can see a photograph of this airplane's cockpit at the Museum link, as well as read a history written about it. At the Museum it is painted in the livery of Army P-12 29-354.

Shortly before his visit to Tucson, Burcham flew a record flight INVERTED in December 1933. It happened like this: As a publicity stunt to make a name for himself early in his career, Burcham determined to win back the world’s inverted flight endurance record, then held by Lt. Tito Falconi of the Italian Air Service. In typical scientific fashion, Burcham first tested his reaction to remaining head-down for long periods by rigging a special test set-up on the front porch of his father-in-law’s house. He strapped himself into a chair that was then hoisted by a pulley to the inverted position. To confirm that his faculties were not impaired in any way, he would then read long passages from a book that his father-in-law was familiar with. In this manner, Milo determined that the human body soon adjusts to being upside down with no harmful or lasting effects. Over the course of the next several months, Burcham’s friendly duel with Falconi for the upside-down crown finally ended with Milo’s December mark of 4 hrs 5 min 22 sec, a record that stood for almost 60 years. A couple of years later, he flew his Boeing to victory in the National Aerobatics Championship of 1936 at the National Air Races in Los Angeles.

Popular Aviation, May, 1939 (Source: PA)
Popular Aviation, May, 1939 (Source: PA)


In 1939, Burcham went to work for Lockheed as a text pilot. In that capacity, he was assigned to England to oversee the assembly of 400 Lockheed Hudsons ordered by the British as they ramped up for the coming war. At rightis an article that describes that duty from Popular Aviation (PA) magazine, May, 1939.

Site visitor Mike Gerow sent me this image of Burcham at work. He says, "Attached is one of my favorite pix of Milo Burcham, squatting on the wing of the 5000th production P-38, which they painted firetruck red for some publicity shots on May 17, 1944. Got this photo from Lockheed public relations about 20 years ago. It was taken by company photographer Erik Miller on the ramp at Lockheed Air Terminal in Burbank, the same field Burcham crashed from later that year in the YP-80. Since this is a cropped in version of a Lockheed company photo, I think you could probably use it on your site if you wanted to, but maybe you need to give them a credit line." Certainly. Photo, below, courtesy of the Lockheed Corporation, with great thanks. A couple of other great images of Burcham taken by Mike's father are available at this link to the Russell T. Gerow Collection.

Milo Burcham, May 17, 1944

Milo Burcham died October 20, 1944 testing the Lockheed YP-80 Shooting Star. For images of him and a basic understanding of his activities in aviation, see this link.

Another site visitor had this to say about Burcham's fatal test of the Shooting Star:

"I just read your article on Milo Burcham.  When I was in the Army, a civilian coworker told me about being at Burbank to pick up a new B-17 and witnessing Milo's fatal P-80 accident.  The ship never left the ground, ran into a ditch at the runway threshold and exploded."

F.M. 03/18/06

I report from the same site visitor who provided the P-38 images:

"'The end came when Milo took off from the east-west runway at Lockheed Air Terminal and was forced into a low-altitude, down-wind turn, probably by power failure.' This excerpt from the Lockheed Star of 10/27/44 gives the accepted account of the crash of Milo Burcham."

M.G. 05/10/06

And, "As for the Burcham accident, my Uncle ... was a TWA check pilot in Connies and was in queue for takeoff at LAT when Burcham took off before him that day. It was 5:10 on a Friday afternoon and Burcham was getting set to give an impromptu airshow for Lockheed employees. It's pretty common knowledge around the area that the crash took place in a gravel pit about a mile north of the field. Burcham just missed clearing it, hitting the side of the pit about 3' below the rim. Burcham's parents and oldest son Gary, 14, witnessed the crash. Can't remember the nearest cross streets, but think it's Tujunga Blvd. and Valeria St. in North Hollywood."

M.G. 05/11/06


Here is another image of Burcham (courtesy of Mike Gerow) with the P-38 "Yippee" during his test pilot days at Lockheed. It really was RED! This image, and the one above, was taken 62 years to the day before the revision date (5/17/06) of this webpage.

Milo Burcham, P-38, May 17, 1944


Dossier 2.1.60

UPLOADED: 03/12/06 REVISED: 03/19/06, 05/10/06, 5/11/06, 05/12/06, 05/17/06, 11/29/06, 02/03/09, 07/04/11, 07/03/14, 11/28/14

The Register
Thanks to site visitor Mike Gerow for information and images of Burcham.
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