Pilot Eyes

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This information comes from the biographical information file for pilot Cantwell, CC-060200-01, 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.


Some of this information is from the "Blue Book of Aviation", Roland W. Hoagland, Ed., published in 1932 by The Hoagland Company, Publishers, Los Angeles, CA. 292 pp.

The cover of this handsome book is deeply engraved, and the fly leaves are printed with terrific art deco accents. Inside are brief biographies of contemporary aviation figures, as well as tables of various data.


Top image from Ruth Richter Holden Collection. Cantwell is standing in front of a Lockheed Vega.

Image, right, appears on the wall of Charlie Short's office at the Tulsa Municipal Airport. You can see it top row, just left of center in this photograph.


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Robert W. Cantwell was a frequent visitor to the Davis-Monthan Airfield. He landed eleven times between June 17, 1928 and August 22, 1932. As well, he is cited in the Blue Book of Aviation for 1932.

Robert W. Cantwell, date unknown

On all but two of his flights he carried passengers, some famous; some not. Three of his landings were in conjuction with, respectively, the 1928 National Air Tour (Ford Reliability Tour), and the 1928 and 1932 National Air Races. See also a photograph of his landing at Indianapolis, IN during the 1928 Air Tour at the link.

His aircraft of choice was the Lockheed Vega (8 of 11 landings). One, NC7952, he flew to Tucson while it was a Lockheed Company demonstrator, before it was purchased by Amelia Earhart and flown to numerous records.

Cantwell was born in Magnolia, AR on March 5, 1900. He was fast-tracked in his education. He was educated at grammar and high schools in Ft. Worth, TX until age 16, then went to Oklahoma A&M College, 1916-1918 graduating in 16 months, then to Baylor University for law, graduating in 1922. On August 28, 1923, he married Mary Ardena Robnett of Oklahoma City, OK.

During WWI he was trained in small arms in 1918, and was discharged in 1919 without seeing European service. In 1925 he was commissioned 2nd lieutenant in the Air Corps Reserve and promoted to 1st lieutenant in 1930.

Bob Cantwell With Unknown Woman, Date Unknown, From Charlie Short's Office Wall, Tulsa, OK
Bob Cantwell With Unknown Woman, Date Unknown, From Charlie Short's Office Wall, Tulsa, OK

From 1922 to 1927 he engaged in general flying in Oklahoma and Texas. In 1927 he became manager of the aviation department of the Erle P. Halliburton Co., Duncan, OK. From 1928 to 1930 he was operations manager for Halliburton's newly formed SAFEway Airlines, Tulsa, OK. SAFEway linked St. Louis, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Fort Worth. In 1931 he became general manager of Century-Pacific Lines, Ltd., with headquarters in Glendale, CA, as well as managing SAFEway until it was acquired by American Air Lines in 1936.

In 1936, he resigned SAFEway and accepted a flight captaincy with Pan-American Airways. He made 258 round trips between Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires along the high-altitude route over the Andes. He returned to the U.S. in 1939 and joined Consolidated Aircraft as flight captain. He made nonstop flights from southern California to New York and Ottawa, Canada. He also made several transoceanic flights for the delivery of Consolidated airplanes.

During WWII, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram of April 19, 1942 announced Cantwell's appointment as contract administrator at Consolidated Aircraft Corporation's new assembly plant. His job was to keep the U.S. government "happy" with Consair's Texas-built bombers.

It is during the late 1920s and early 1930s that we find Bob Cantwell at Tucson. His first and second landings were made with Lockheed Vega NC4097, owned by Erle Halliburton. The second visit, on July 10, 1928, was as a participant in the 1928 Ford Reliability Tour (see brief biographical quote, below, from this link). Follow this link for a short moving picture of NC4097 taxiing to the flight line during the morning of July 10th.

"Robert W. Cantwell served with the Infantry in the Great War, learned to fly in the Air Service Reserve, and was personal pilot for Oklahoma oilman Erle P. Halliburton. It was Halliburton’s first Vega that Cantwell and Lee Schoenhair [sic, the correct spelling is "Shoenhair"] flew in the 1928 tour. Later model Vegas served Halliburton’s air line, “Southwest Air Fast Express.” SAFEway was an aggressive organization, with Fords and Lockheeds fanning out in all directions from the airport at Tulsa; in 1929, called the world’s busiest air terminal. But Halliburton was unable to get a mail contract and sold out to American Airways. SAFEway vice president [Larry Fritz] tried to hold the gang together for another airline venture on a Canada, USA, Mexico route but the depression ended those dreams. Bob Cantwell worked for Century Pacific, then later he was back with his old boss, selling Halliburton Luggage, a trade name publicized by Erle’s globe-trotting writer cousin, Richard Halliburton. Cantwell worked for Douglas [Consolidated?] during the Second World War, died in Houston in 1967."

He made three landings with NX7429. This Vega is S/N 18, built on August 27, 1928. Painted yellow, it was raced by Cantwell in the 1928 National Air Races, plane #22, and won class C.

He made one landing each with Lockheed Vegas NC624E and NC658E. Both of these airplanes were bought by Erle Halliburton for SAFEway Airlines. His visits to Tucson on July 29, 1929 and April 10, 1930 with these airplanes were solo.

Cantwell landed three times flying Stinson aircraft. The last visit, on August 22, 1932, he was flying Stinson trimotor NC432M. An image of this beautiful airliner is available here. The context of the visit was related to the 1932 National Air Races from Burbank, CA to Cleveland that year.

The Stinson belonged to Century-Pacific while he worked for that company. He remarks that he is, "Riding herd on Cord Cup Race" "Natl Air Races". Interestingly, his passenger list includes "4 modocs". In the slang of the day, "modoc" was a pilot who talks about flying, but rarely flies (know any of those?).

The Cord Corporation were manufacturers of the Cord, Auburn and Duesenberg automobiles. The Cord Cup winners of the Atlantic and Pacific "wings" were fortunate indeed. Roy Hunt (Atlantic wing winner) walked off with an Auburn 12 Custom Speedster as well as a cup. And S.C. Huffman (Pacific wing winner) walked off with an Auburn Straight 8 Custom Speedster.

I saw one reference that Cantwell was "Business Management Representative, Manned Spaceflight Center, 1962", but could find no other information on that. Anybody know? As, mentioned above, he passed away in Houston in 1967.

I have no evidence that he ever put his law degree to use, and every bit of evidence that he followed his passion for aviation.


Dossier 2.1.67

THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 03/17/06 REVISED: 09/29/07, 06/26/09, 12/01/10

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