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Some of this information comes from the biographical file for pilot Fornasero , CF-425000-01, reviewed by me in July, 2006 at 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.


An image of Ryan Chief Pilot Fornasero is among the Charles Cooper Photograph ad Document Collection.


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John Bernard Fornasero

Instructor, Civil Aeronautics Administration Official, Test Pilot

John Fornasero, High School Graduation, 1922 (Source: Fornasero Family)
John Fornasero, High School Graduation, 1922 (Source: Fornasero Family)

John Fornasero was born March 5, 1904 at Tulare, CA.  According to a brief and sketchy biographical statement in his NASM file (cited, left sidebar), he attended the National Automotive Engineering School, Los Angeles, CA from 1922-23, and the Ryan School of Aeronautics, San Diego, CA from 1928-29.  He was Chief Pilot and Instructor at the Ryan School of Aeronautics when he landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield and signed the Register.  He served in that role from 1929 to 1937, having also served as aircraft mechanic from 1929-30.  He took on the role of engineering flight testing for Ryan from 1934-37. See his image as cited in the left sidebar.

Fornasero landed at Tucson sometime between October 5 and October 14, 1930 flying Waco INF NC619Y.  He carried one passenger Thomas Ryan (no known relationship to Tubal Claude Ryan, Fornasero's boss back in San Diego).  They were based in San Diego, CA, but did not cite their itinerary.

Below are two photographs shared with us by site visitor Karen Comer. She found them at an antique shop in a tin full of an interesting assortment of old photographs and old European currencies. The Fornasero family confirms the identifications as follows. The first photograph shows Fornasero at left with an unidentified person in the middle, probably a student. The gentleman on the right is John's brother, Jim (James B.). If you can identify the center gentleman, please let me KNOW.

John Fornasero (L) and Others, 1930 (Source: Comer)
John Fornasero (L) and Others, 1930 (Source: Comer)

James Fornasero became an experienced air transport pilot himself. He worked for Capital Airlines from 1941 to 1960. On January 18, 1960 he crashed a Capital airliner in a Virginia forest killing all aboard including the crew. An article from the Muskegon (MI) Chronicle describing the crash is at the link.

The second photo is of the port side of the airplane, which we can now identify as NC313Y (not a Register airplane). The gentleman at center in the photograph above is in the back seat, probably for an instructional ride. The palms in the background suggest southern California. Compare the paint scheme of this airplane with the one just below, inset right.

John Fornasero in Front Cockpit of Great Lakes NC313Y, 1930 (Source: Comer)
John Fornasero in Front Cockpit of Great Lakes NC313Y, 1930 (Source: Comer)

A 1934 image of Fornasero with Claude Ryan can be found on p. 16 of this document. This link will get you an image of Fornasero in 1936 standing in front of a Ryan aircraft at the Ryan facility in San Diego. 

John Fornasero, Great Lakes Airplane, 1930 (Source: Fornasero Family)
John Fornasero, Great Lakes Airplane, 1930 (Source: Fornasero Family)

From 1937 to 1943, Fornasero worked for the Department of Commerce as Aeronautical Instructor and Flight Engineering Instructor.  He was responsible for examination of airmen and aircraft for certification, and for examination and flight testing of aircraft, components and accessories for Type Certification.  From 1941-43 he was Chief, Flight Test and Factory Inspection Branch, CAA Region 1, La Guardia Field, NY.

From May 1943 to March 1944 he worked for Fairchild Aircraft, Burlington, NC where he was Director of Flight Test and Delivery.  He was responsible for testing military aircraft and preparation of these aircraft for delivery to the Armed Services.

In March 1944 he went to work for Boeing Aircraft Co., Seattle, WA where he was identified in his NASM biography as a Project Test Pilot, performing engineering flight testing of Boeing’s aircraft.  He was with Boeing until 1948. His NASM biography ends here.


"Reach for the Skies", 2010 (Source: Fornasero Family)
"Reach for the Skies", 2010 (Source: Fornasero Family) Book Download: "Reach for the Skies", 2010

UPDATE OF 06/14/10 We are fortunate to have a first-hand account of the personal life and aviation accomplishments of John B. Fornasero. Thanks to his family (cited, right sidebar) for providing important information and images for this page.

Key to the update is this book written by John Fornasero's daughters. You may download it in its entirety at the following link (or click on the book cover at right). "Reach for the Skies" is a 90-year accounting of their father's truly American life that spans the immigration of his parents from Italy in 1877, to his death in 1967. It includes 39 black & white photographs. This PDF file (40.9 MB, 89 pages, including color covers) takes under two minutes to download, and is a great read.

Please note, the photographs of the Boeing B-17 on book page 37, B-29 on pg. 38, the B-47 with JATO on pg. 52 and the B-52 on pg. 62 are captured from the Web and used under the Fair Use Clause of the U.S. Copyright Law to illustrate the types of aircraft that John Fornasero was responsible for testing while employed at Boeing. The other 35 photographs in the book are in the Fornasero family collection, and are published therein for the first time.

Below is a tabular summary of John Fornasero's life distilled by your Webmaster from his daughters' book. Please direct your browser to the book download for more complete information.

Born March 5, 1904.

He was too young to serve during WWI. He was a student at the Tulare (CA) Joint Union High School at that time.

1923-24 After graduation from hight school, he attended the National Automotive Electronics School in Los Angeles, CA.

1928 Moved from Tulare to San Diego for flight instruction at T.C. Ryan Flying School.

1929 Hired as mechanic by Ryan.

John Fornasero, ca. 1930 (Source: Fornasero Family)
John Fornasero, ca. 1930 (Source: Fornasero Family)

October 23, 1929 Married to Elouise Cleveland Denbo. He continued to work for Ryan during the Great Depression.

June, 1931 He had accumulated 205 flight hours. A year later he was made Chief Pilot at Ryan.

July, 1931 Mapped Death Valley from the air.

1932 Promoted to Director of Training for Ryan School of Aviation.

October, 1936 Entered U.S. Army Reserved, commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant.

1937 Left Ryan and took post as Bureau of Air Commerce inspector, Washington, DC and La Guardia Field, NY.

June, 1939 Honorably discharged from U.S. Army.

John Fornasero, ca. 1957 (Source: Fornasero Family)
John Fornasero, ca. 1957 (Source: Fornasero Family)

March, 1943 Resigned from the CAA (Bureau of Air Commerce) and accepted a position with the Fairchild Airplane & Engine Co. Hagerstown, MD. He was based at Burlington, NC.

April, 1944 Takes position with Boeing Airplane Company, Seattle, WA. He was assigned to test the Boeing B-17G. He was 40 years old.

March, 1955 Resigns from Boeing.

July, 1955 Employed as Director of Flight Test with Rheem Mfg. Co., Downey, CA.

January 18, 1957 Quit flying due to heart condition. 7,558:55 accumulated flight hours.

Fall, 1957 Moved to Tucson, AZ with Rheem.

February, 1958 Resigns from Rheem.

July 6, 1967 Passes away.


John Fornasero, June, 1967 (Source: Fornasero Family)
John Fornasero, June, 1967 (Source: Fornasero Family)



Photograph, right, is the last image taken of J.B. Fornasero before his death. He died of his heart problems, which had caused him to cease flying a decade earlier. He was a young 63 years old. His first real employer, T. Claude Ryan and his wife Gladys, attended his funeral, as did many of his friends from Boeing and Rheem.

Please note, as of September, 2010, the private papers of John B. Fornasero, including photographs, documents and pilot log books will be donated to the Seattle Museum of Flight. After receiving and integrating the materials into the Museum's archival records structure, they will be available to qualified researchers.




Update of June 29, 2010 The following images are of John Fornasero's pilot log book for September-October, 1930. Thanks again to the Fornasero family for sharing these pages with us. These notations place Fornasero and his passenger in the Tucson area fying the Waco INF cited above. Now we know his date of landing at Tucson was October 6, 1930, because he and passenger Ryan flew from San Diego to Douglas, AZ that day.

Their most direct route eastward from San Diego would take them near Tucson, which would be a reasonable place to stop for needed fuel and a rest if they hadn't already done so at, say, Casa Grande, AZ. Douglas is just a short hop south of Tucson. Their elapsed time of 310 minutes is about right for their flight with a routing through Casa Grande and/or Tucson. Estimating that distance to be about 480 miles, that would put their average airspeed right around 92 MPH. Fornasero was a man of few words, as were most of the Register pilots. Without his notation in the Register, we wouldn't know from his pilot log book that he was flying NC619Y, and that he was carrying passenger Ryan.

John Fornasero, Pilot Log Book, October, 1930 (Source: Fornasero Family)
John Fornasero, Pilot Log Book, October, 1930 (Source: Fornasero Family)

It is still hard to guess the purpose of their cross-country flight. It is a little far for a simple student training exercise in cross-country navigation. It could have been a combination of a training exercise and a business trip, or perhaps a straight charter flight for passenger Ryan. The 6th of October was a Monday in 1930. They were away from San Diego until Wednesday at least, suggesting their journey was "on the clock" as far as Fornasero was concerned. October is a terrific time of year to fly in the southwest, so it may have been a pleasure flight for Ryan.

In 1930, their flight from El Paso to Carrizoza, NM would have been an easy flight to the north northeast. Today, that same route is covered with restricted airspaces associated with military operations at White Sands, Alamogordo and Roswell. Their final leg west from El Paso to El Centro, CA would have required fuel stops, too. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know from Fornasero's log where they might have landed. If they stopped at Tucson, they did not sign the Register the second time.

The log page below follows the one above for later in October. We can see that Fornasero was busy at the Ryan school giving rides and offering student training in a Ryan B-1 and Great Lakes aircraft (perhaps 313Y, pictured above). The Great Lakes could also very well be the one his is standing next to in the inset photo near the top of this page.

John Fornasero, Pilot Log Book, October, 1930 (Source: Fornasero Family)
John Fornasero, Pilot Log Book, October, 1930 (Source: Fornasero Family)

Notice that the passenger hops average just ten minutes each. He took 52 passengers on ten-minute hops between September 27 and October 25. His was a busy schedule in October, what with at least three days spent in a cross-country trip, as well as student training and test hops.

Below, the frontispiece from his pilot log, which documents his pilot certificate number and type. I enhanced the contrast of this image just a bit for better readability.

John Fornasero, Pilot Log Book, October, 1930, Frontispiece (Source: Fornasero Family)
John Fornasero, Pilot Log Book, October, 1930, Frontispiece (Source: Fornasero Family)


Dossier 2.1.87

THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 07/19/06 REVISED: 03/07/08, 11/25/08, 06/14/10, 06/29/10, 12/22/11

The Register
I'm looking for photographs of pilot Fornasero and his airplane to include on this page. If you have one or more you'd like to share, please use this FORM to contact me.
Thanks to both daughters and grandchildren of pilot Fornasero for providing the photographs at left, and for the information included in the update of June , 2010, including the book written by his daughters Janet and Barbara. Their book is included as a keyword searchable PDF download. I am grateful to them for giving us this insight into one of our most accomplished Golden Age, and beyond, pilots.
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