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Some of this information comes from the biographical file for pilot Gorton, CG-430000-01, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington, DC.

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A.W. Gorton, Date Unknown (Source: Heins)
A.W. Gorton, Date Unknown (Source: Heins)

Adolphus Gorton (according to some sources, and his family, he was nicknamed "Jake") lived a long and illustrious life in aviation on behalf of the U.S. Navy. Informal portrait, right, courtesy of Andy Heins.

Gorton was Naval Aviator number 1,720. He came into his own during the yeasty years that the Navy was building its air arm. He was on the leading edge of some of the most exciting, challenging and dangerous aspects of early Naval aviation.

Curtiss Marine Flying Trophy as Won by A.W. Gorton, 1922 (Source: Hagley Museum)
Curtiss Marine Flying Trophy as Won by A.W. Gorton, 1922 (Source: Hagley Museum)


Early on, Gorton represented the Navy at air races. The Navy’s participation in races, seen as a method of stimulating public and government interest in high speed fighter development, began with the 1921 Pulitzer. Participation continued in October, 1922 with the Curtiss Marine Trophy Race.  The 1922 event, held in conjunction with the National Air Races (NAR) in Detroit, was won by Gorton at an average speed of 112.6 MPH.  Other Navy pilots captured third and fourth places.

His feat was documented in The New York Times of October 9, 1922. Interestingly, in the same article, speed records set by Army pilots Russell Maughan and Lester Maitland were highlighted. Their speeds exceeded 200MPH, and the article, which describes early experiences with G-induced loss of consciousness, states, "... the limit of speed at which a man can travel throught the air and still manoeuver and control the plane which he pilots, has apparently been reached."

Above, courtesy of the Hagley Museum, Lammot du Pont, Jr. Aeronautical Collection, is a photograph of the Curtiss trophy Gorton won. The caption on the back of the photograph reads, "Presented by Glenn H. [Curtiss], this handsome trophy, of sterling silver and worth $5000, won by Lieut. A.W. Gorton of the U.S. Navy, was on exhibition at the Capitol on Monday. The trophy depicts a flying boat of the 12 passenger type shown in flight over the globe, supported on a base representing the sea, Neptune the ruler of the sea, the Viking boats of a thousand years ago and Columbus' The Santa Maria shown in the distance. The theme was conceived by Mrs. Henry Woodhouse and executed by Theodore B. Starr, Inc."

Gorton was also a member of the Navy's 1923 Schneider Cup racing team. Assigned A-6544 (not a Register airplane), a Navy Wright NW-2, flying race number 5, the airplane as well as Gorton's hopes sank before the race, because a piece of the failed propeller pierced a pontoon.

NAF XPN-4, New York Times, October 5, 1930 (Source: Webmaster)
NAF XPN-4, New York Times, October 5, 1930 (Source: Webmaster)


Regarding the statement above that Gorton was in on building the naval air arm, for perspective, in 1927, according to the Aircraft Yearbook, the Navy employed 758 officers in both the Navy and Marine Corps. There were 680 qualified aviators among them, with students numbering 75 to eventually take some of their places. Indeed, it was possible at the time to put all Naval flight and administrative officers in a modest-sized conference hall.


Besides his racing, in 1928 Gorton was a member of the crew that set seven endurance and distance records with a seaplane. Below, from, is a photograph of Naval Aircraft Factory (NAF) XPN-12 A-7383 (not a Register aircraft).

The NAF XPF-12, A-7383, Date & Location Unknown (Source:
NAF XPN-4, New York Times, October 5, 1930 (Source: Webmaster)

That success was built upon by the NAF building another series of seacraft classified as the XPN-4s. The New York Times of October 5, 1930 documented the intentions for the new class of aircraft, right.


Gorton's first visit to Tucson was near this time. He landed on April 6, 1928 in the Vought O-2U Corsair, A-7572. He carried a single passenger, Mr. Kean. Based at Philadelphia, PA, they were westbound from El Paso, TX to San Diego, CA. No purpose was listed in the Register for their trip.


Below, from the New York Times of July 22, 1928, the XPN-12 and the crew that flew it to its records: (L to R) E.C. Rieber (the pilot), Andrew Lowry, Elwood Townsend and Gorton. The quality of this image is low, because I had to splice it from two different newspaper pages.

XPN-12 Record Flights, New York Times, July 22, 1928 (Source: Webmaster)
XPN-12 Record Flights, New York Times, July 22, 1928 (Source: Webmaster)

This leads us to an interesting chapter in Golden Age fighter operations: hooking aircraft to moving, rigid airships. Gorton was credited with the first such hookup.  But Register pilot Frederick Trapnell perfected the skill and trained many in the art.  Please direct your browser to Trapnell's page for photographs of the process and a motion picture sequence showing a successful hook. Compare what you see at the link with the following description.

Gorton took the hooking act to the 1929 NAR at Cleveland. The New York Times of August 30, 1929 reported, "A.W. Gorton of the naval aircraft factory in Philadelphia contributed to the success of the big navy airship [Los Angeles]. Gorton flew a tiny Vought biplane up beneath the dirigible as the airship soared across the field flanked and followed by a convoy of non-rigid blimps from Akron and swarms of insect-like planes. Three times he tried to hook his "shepherd's crook," a steel contrivance built up about two feet from his upper wing, to a lattice-work metal trapeze that hung down seventeen feet from the bottom of the airship's hull, amidship.

"Gorton had to be accurate. On both sides of him hung the bulky gondolas housing two of the ship's Maybach engines. Three times he made the contact, but before the hook caught firmly it slipped off and the flier swung out into the air in a diving turn.

"On the fourth contact the hook gripped tightly. Gorton cut his motor to idling speed and the plane swung down out of the flying position. Inside the airship bluejackets, by means of apparatus that is still a navy secret, pulled the plane snugly against the hull."

Notably, these early hooks on the USS Los Angeles established the methodology for aircraft docking later, during the early to mid-1930s, with the USS Macon and USS Akron. Vought and Curtiss aircraft were the predominant fighters designed for the purpose.

After the hookup, the article went on to state that the Los Angeles came about to pass in review for the cheering crowd assembled. Its appearance in the sky over Cleveland did much to advertise the activities at the airport, causing traffic jams on inbound roads.

The article continues, "The watchers saw the little plane let go and come away and the cheering redoubled. A few minutes later it landed and Gorton climbed out. With him was Lieutenant C. M. Bolster of the Los Angeles, to whom the honor goes of being the first man ever to change from airship to plane in the air.

"'It was simple enough,' Lieutenant Bolster said. 'We would have done it before except that hitherto we haven't been able to pull the plane up close. Today I merely climbed though the hatch to the top wing, which was only three or four feet below the airship, and that is about all there is to it.'" It is worth mentioning that Bolster performed the transfer, slipping into the front cockput, in the face of a 45MPH wind, and without a parachute.

A.W. Gorton, Ca. 1942 (Source: Hallaren)
A.W. Gorton, Ca. 1942 (Source: Hallaren)


Gorton visited Tucson three other times, each time as pilot of the Ford 4-AT tri-motor NC8400. His first visit was solo on Tuesday, February 18, 1930. He was westbound from El Paso, TX to Los Angeles, CA. On his second visit, Monday, July 11, 1932, he was again westbound from El Paso to Glendale, CA. He carried four unidentified passengers. His final visit was on Tuesday, August 29, 1933. He was carrying Mr. & Mrs. A. H. Kudner from Glendale to El Paso and points east. He noted in the remarks column of the Register, "L.A. - New York."

Gorton's NASM biographical folder (cited, left sidebar) has no information about his personal or non-military flying life. It appears that sometime during the 1930s he departed the Navy and went into private industry with Arthur Kudner, Inc.

Please direct your browser to the page for NC8400 and you will discover the airplane was owned at one point by the Arthur Kudner company. Kudner lived in Maryland, where he had an airfield, Talisman Farm Airfield, on his property. According to the Freeman Web site, “It was originally established in the early 1930s by Arthur H. Kudner Sr., who is remembered as a publishing giant & founder of Erwin, Wasey and Company Ad Agency...."

Gorton was recalled to active duty near the beginning of WWII. Above is a photograph of him during that recall. Below, his assignment to command the new Banana River Naval Air Station in Florida. After WWII, Banana River became today's Patrick Air Force Base at Cape Canaveral. The archives of the U.S. Naval Museum at Pensacola, FL holds a base newspaper which celebrates the first year of Banana River operations. Please direct your browser there and examine page two for a biography of commanding officer Gorton. The Museum's description of this artifact ("Banana Peelings," vol. 2, no. 1, April 7, 1943) notes the following regarding the base, "Construction began on NAS Banana River, FL, which was developed as an outlying patrol plane base for Jacksonville, FL, on 28 February 1940. By July, PBM training was underway and in 1943 Banana River was made the preflight school for all training in the PBM Mariner. During World War II the base hosted a variety of activities, training Free French Naval Air Force officers, supporting a blimp detachment, and providing instruction for aerial navigators and personnel assigned to operate the LORAN navigation system. By March 1945, the station boasted 730 officers and 5,237 enlisted men. Following the war NAS Banana River became a testing area for long-range missiles."

New York Times, June 26, 1942 (Source: Webmaster)
New York Times, June 26, 1942 (Source: Webmaster)


Below, courtesy of site visitor, Ms. Hallaren, is a photograph from the same time period at Banana River. She states the photo is a, "... picture of Jake, Rosemary and their son Bill (retired Air Force Major Gen. William Gorton) with Gen. Mike O'Daniel and his wife Ruth. On the back of the photo was written, 'Leaving Banana River Naval Air Station.' I would say it was taken in 1945 based on a book I found called 'Banana River Sea Stories and War Diaries from a World War II Navy Base' written by Barbara Marriott." Mrs. O'Daniel in sunglasses holds a copy of the "New Yorker" magazine, while Mrs. Gorton wears wings as a pin at the top of her jacket..

A.W. Gorton (2nd from right), 1945 (Source: Hallaren)
A.W. Gorton (2nd from right), 1945 (Source: Hallaren

A.W. Gorton was born January 29, 1897. He died September 28, 1989 at Merritt Island, FL at age 92. He was an old, bold pilot.


Dossier 2.2.92

THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 09/06/11 REVISED: 03/24/13, 09/30/14

The Register

I'm looking for information photographs of pilot Gorton and his airplanes to include on this page. If you have some you'd like to share, please click this FORM to contact me.

Thanks to Guest Editor Bob Woodling for help researching this page.


Military Aircraft of the Davis Monthan Register, 1925-1936. 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. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author.


Winners' Viewpoints: The Great 1927 Trans-Pacific Dole Race is available as an e-book at the link. What was it like to fly from Oakland to Honolulu in a single-engine plane during August 1927? Was the 25,000 dollar prize worth it? Did the resulting fame balance the risk? For the first time ever, this book presents the pilot and navigator's stories written by them within days of their record-setting adventure. Pilot Art Goebel and navigator William V. Davis, Jr. take us with them on the Woolaroc, their orange and blue Travel Air monoplane (NX869) as they enter the hazardous world of Golden Age trans-oceanic air racing.


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