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This information comes from the biographical file for pilot Depew, CD-247500-01, reviewed by me 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.


Depew has a good Web presence, including this one, and an early image here.

He was coauthor of a 1946 manuscript evaluating the German aircraft industry during WWII, available for sale here.


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R. Depew, ca. 1919

Richard H. Depew, Jr. was born May 20, 1892 at Plainfield, NJ.  Image, left, from his NASM dossier in Washington, DC. Another photograph of him is at the Klein Archive on this site.

Depew was born into privilege and attended local grade and prep schools.  He attended Cornell University, according to his NASM biographical information, and spent "2 1/4 years in M.E. Class 1913". It is not clear if he earned a degree.

He was determined early to fly.  In 1911 he went to France and enrolled at the Maurice Farman Flying School at Buc, France. There he learned to fly in a Farman pusher biplane with Renault engine.  He made his first solo flight on August 13, 1911.  He received his license on August 22nd and received French Federation Aeronautique Internationale Certificate # 641 on October 6th at age 19. 

He is undoubtedly one of the earliest pilots to land at the Davis-Monthan Airfield. His other ratings include the air transport license (#188 earned in 1928) and the Airplane & Engine Mechanic's certificate (#122 earned in 1928). At that time, the license number indicated the serial order in which the rating was conferred. Thus, he was the 188th transport pilot and the 122nd mechanic ever licensed in the U.S.

Depew landed once at Tucson on September 7, 1928.  He flew Fairchild 8003 and carried two passengers C.B. Alley and Frank Walton.  See the link for the history, additional flight activity at the Davis-Monthan Airfield, and final disposition of this interesting airplane. Based at Farmingdale, LI, NY the three were westbound from El Paso, TX to Los Angeles, CA.  Depew noted in the Remarks column of the Register, “Splendid field and service".  They stayed half an hour and were on their way again.

R.H. Depew, 1918

Image, right, is from 1918 during his military career when he was a flight instructor and test pilot at Plattsburg, NY, as well as test pilot at McCook Field, Dayton, OH. During this time he tested the first JN-4HM planes with 150HP Hisso engines at the Curtiss plant in Buffalo, NY. These aircraft had been built for the first airmail service to start between Washington, DC and New York City.

After his 1911 solo, and before and after his visit to Tucson, Depew was a serious career aviator. Below, from his dossier at the Smithsonian, is Depew's "Summary of Aeronautical Experience", including his military duties, through January 1937. The first sentence is impressive enough: "Since learning to fly 23 years ago, I have flown 128 types of airplanes, 3 types of autogiros, and a glider...." There aren't many contemporary pilots who can list that kind of experience.

Biography, page 1
Biography, page 2

From 1923-32 he was with the Fairchild Corporation at Farmingdale, Long Island, NY. He was Chief Pilot and Manager of flying operations for the Aerial Camera and Aeroplane and Motor Divisions. It was part of his job with Fairchild that brought him to Tucson in 1928. The airplane he was flying was for display at the 1928 National Air Races terminus in Los Angeles, CA.

Richard Depew, Jr., Date Unknown (Source: SDAM)


He became a member of the Caterpillar Club during the summer of 1929 when flying a passenger to Cleveland in a Fairchild 71. They encountered a storm west of Reading, PA and were forced to jump from 11,000 feet about 20 miles east of Johnstown, PA. Photograph, left, courtesy of the San Diego Aerospace Museum Flickr Stream (SDAM).

He left Fairchild in 1932 to test and demonstrate Pitcairn autogiros, where he remained until 1934. Although he probably did not test his autogiro (a 1931 model), he did know John Miller as a fellow member of Quiet Birdmen. During this period he was also a Vice-President in charge of flying for the Aviation Country Club at Hicksville, Long Island, NY. In 1934 Depew joined Beckwith Havens as a partner in the northeastern regional distributorship of Fairchild planes, with headquarters at Roosevelt Field, NY, where he remained until 1938.

Depew was a founding member of the Early Birds of Aviation, serving as president from 1944-1946. See this download for the key correspondence (two letters) from October 1928 leading to his becoming a charter member of the Early Birds. He was also a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers, National Aeronautic Association, Quiet Birdmen, Institute of Aeronautic Sciences and the American Legion. Richard Depew died unexpectedly of cerebral hemorrhage on January 28, 1948 at age 55 at his home in Garden City, Long Island, NY.

At the time of his death he had devoted all his adult lifetime to flying and aviation. He had been an active pilot for 36 years during which time he flew over 160 aircraft types, many of them initial test flights. He was an active participant in the National Air Races and Tours. His reputation was as a careful, cautious pilot who had few accidents. He had a rule that he did not want to be a notorious pilot, but just to be one of the oldest ones. Perhaps he did not become one of the oldest, but he was surely one of the earliest.


Dossier 2.1.80

THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 05/06/06 REVISED: 05/07/06, 01/26/08, 10/25/08, 11/26/14

The Register
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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.


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