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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.


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

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John Cordner was born on January 4, 1893 in Bethany, NE. He died on March 5, 1944 in Prestwick, Scotland (see below). He was one of six children born to John Gilmore Cordner and Malissa Adella Kisor. The 1900 U.S. Census has them living together in Lancaster Precinct, NE. John Gilmore Cordner was identified as a farmer, although he was an architect and designed many homes and buildings in Lincoln, NE and Bethany, NE. The Cordner family immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1800's from Northern Ireland.  The Kisors orginally came from Hanover, Germany. There is no biographical file for Cordner at the NASM, so I'm hoping site visitors have INFORMATION to share with us about him.

The first information I have is that Cordner registered for the draft June 5, 1917. His draft registration card is below, courtesy of ancestry.com. He was described as "tall" with black hair. He was 24 years old, employed as a copper miner and a farmer. He enlisted in 1917 in the Army Air Corps and was sent to the field at Fort Still, OK.

J.H. Cordner, Draft Registration, June 5, 1917 (Source: ancestry.com)


The Havre Daily News-Promoter (MT), September 29, 1926 (Source:Woodling)



At age 27 (about 1920), he married Judith M. Anderson and they had two daughters, Betty Irene (1921-2013) and Lois Jean (1925-1989). Judith's obituary appeared in the Independent (Pasadena, CA), September 14, 1963. She apparently never remarried.

The 1930 U.S. Census cites their residence as 1915 So. Downing St., Denver, CO, which they rented for $35/month. According to Google Earth, their home still exists in what today appears as a quiet, well-maintained neighborhood. Cordner's occupation was listed as airplane pilot. By 1925, he had earned the rank of captain and was assigned with the National Guard at Pueblo, CO.


In 1926, Cordner carried air mail from Colorado Springs to Pueblo, CO. His, as well as other pilots' work was described in an article that appeared in the Colorado Magazine, May, 1943 (PDF, 480kB). A photograph of him and other pilots is on the second page of the article.


He did crash a mail plane and injure himself, as reported in the Havre Daily News-Promoter (MT) of September 29, 1926, left. On the same page of this newspaper a headline read , "Atlantic Coastline Stock Tumbles." A harbinger of Black Tuesday that would occur just a month later on October 24, 1929 and lead to the Great Depression.

Sometime during the early 1930s, Cordner went to work for U.S. Airways flying mail and people. On one hazardous fflight, the mail route between Denver and Kansas City, he ran into bad weather and his experience was documented in the Rocky Mountain News of January 16, 1933, below. In the end, the mail and his single passenger, another pilot, landed safely.

Rocky Mountain News, January 16, 1933 (Source: Site Visitor)


John Cordner landed at Tucson Thursday, November 21, 1935. He carried a single passenger, identified as "Shelton". They arrived in the American Gyro Crusader, clearly identified in the Register as NX14492. Curiously, the actual registration number for the airplane was NX14429, a transposition of the last two numerals. See the discussion at the link for the airplane. See also below for a brief biography of passenger Shelton.

Cordner was a founding member of The Daedalians (logo, upper left). At the time he signed our Register, he was his passenger Tom Shelton’s (who designed the Crusader, see below) test pilot. Based at Denver, CO, he and Shelton arrived Thursday from El Paso, TX . They were westbound to Los Angeles, CA. No reason was given in the Register for their flight, but see below.

In 1940, Cordner and his family lived in Pasadena, CA according to the U.S. Census. He lived with nine others, including his wife and two children, at 1265 New York Drive in a house owned by his brother-in-law, Fred Campbell. His occupation was identified as co-owner of the Carmel Premium Company. The other owner was his brother-in-law (who was married to Cordner's sister, Lois, namesake of his daughter). Cordner's mother was also a household member at age 79.

The image, below, is shared with us by friend of dmairfield.org, John Underwood. The image is of Cordner dated 1941. Mr. Underwood states that the purpose of the Crusader flight through Tucson was that Cordner and Shelton were, "... on the way to LA to negotiate with prospective manufacturers and owners, including [Howard] Hughes and Timm [Otto William Timm, of the Timm Airplane Company]."

John H. Cordner, 1941, Location Probably Palo Alto, CA (Source: Underwood)
John H. Cordner, 1941, Location Unknown (Source: Underwood)

He wears a uniform with the wings of the RAF and a "U.S.A." badge on his right shoulder. Cordner has no Web presence that I can find. I'm looking for clues here, so I hope you can help. If you have photographs or other information, please let me know at the link above.

Cordner's passenger Shelton, however, became an accomplished contributor to the aerospace industry in later life. This quote from the Colorado Aviation Historical Society outlines his creativity and career.

"Thomas Miles Shelton was born in Leadville, Colorado on April 12, 1902. His father was an engineer and had a business in Leadville where young Tom learned about working with metal and all of the tools he would later use to build planes.

"He graduated from Manual High School in Denver in 1921 and later attended the University of Colorado and the University of Denver. Tom soloed in Denver in 1934. At one time or another, he flew about 22 types of aircraft from the planes of the 1930's to the B-25 and A-20 WWII aircraft.

"Tom worked at the Curtiss-Wright Flying Service, Inland Aircraft Company of Denver, American Gyro Company, North American Aviation and North American Rockwell where he worked on the B-70 and SST programs.

"Tom was a resourceful and innovative consulting engineer. He held patents on many and diverse aircraft items, including an improved propeller hub, an early flight simulator for training pilots, rocket mounts for P-47 fighters, tube supports for the XB-70 supersonic plane and tooling, for aircraft production. He is also remembered as a fine instructor in an aviation technical school.

"Tom Shelton is probably best known for the Gyro Crusader airplane he engineered and built in Denver. This plane, a twin engine, twin boom cabin plane with retractable landing gear, was years ahead of its time. It was first test-flown by Ray Wilson (CAHOF - 1970) and attracted crowds wherever it went across the country. Its top speed of 210 mph was faster than the best Army pursuit planes of that day. Financing and legal problems eventually killed the program and the only example of the plane was dismantled and stored. In the early 1940's, the plane was accidentally destroyed in a hangar fire, leaving no usable parts.

"Tom passed away on August 14, 1991."

Cordner's obituary appeared in the Lincoln Star (NB), March 7, 1944, below. Cause of death was not cited, but, according to information at FindaGrave, he died of pulmonary thrombosis. He is buried at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial in England.

Capt. Cordner Dead
DENVER, March 7—(INS) Colorado airmen paid tribute today to the memory of Capt. J. H. Cordner, 51, a flier of World War I who pioneered the first Denver- to-Pueblo and Denver-to-Kansas City air mail flights back in the barnstorming days of 1926. Capt. Cordner was reported to have died Thursday at Prestwick, Scotland, where he was assigned to the British ferry command. He is survived by his wife and two daughters at Pasadena, Cal.

Cordner also appears twice in the Register of Peterson Field, Colorado Springs, CO.


Dossier 2.1.199

THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 03/05/10 REVISED: 12/31/13, 09/12/15, 05/09/16

The Register
I'm looking for more information about pilot Cordner, and photographs of him and his airplane airplane to include on this page. If you have some you'd like to share, please use this FORM to contact me.
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