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


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


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Chester PIckup, Ca. 1930 (Source: McKeesport
Daily News)
Chester PIckup, Ca. 1930 (Source: McKeesport Daily News)



Chester Pickup (1902-1964) was a Pittsburgh, PA-based flyer. But, he got around. He was born at Kansas City, MO, April 10, 1902. The 1905 Kansas State Census listed him, at age 3, living with his father, James Wesley Pickup (age 37), mother Martha Ellen (Hagen) Pickup (28), siblings James I. (13), May (10) and Elvernon (7). The state Census did not list occupations for his father or mother. I have seen some entries that say his date of birth was 1896, but his death certificate, below, states 1902.

By way of explanation for this discrepancy, as an adult, his older brother, Elvernon, changed his name to Christopher Vernon Pickup. Searches for "C.H." vs. "C.V" Pickup sometimes yielded information for both brothers. "C.V." was born in 1896. Christopher, too, was a pilot, flying the early airmail out of Salt Lake City, UT and finally settling into airline work. A newspaper photograph of Christopher V. is over on Edson Mouton's page. Interestingly, the 1920 Los Angeles, CA city directory listed both Chester and Christopher living at 1702 and 1703 St. James Ct. Chester was listed as an "Aviator," and Christopher as a "Manager, Engineering Department" at the Mercury Aviation Company.

I could find no 1910 U.S. Census information for Pickup. The 1920 Census placed him at age 8 living in Kansas City, MO with his complete family. His father was employed as a "Blacksmith" with a "Plow Factory," and older brother James (now 18) was a "Machinist" in a "Machine Shop." This Census form was hard to locate, because his father's name was coded as "Pickut." Nine years later, the 1929 city directory for McKeesport, PA placed him living in the Myer Building, apartment 5. There was no indication of his occupation or marital status in that directory.

At some point in the 1920s he was married and then divorced. I found no information regarding to whom, or for how long, or if they had children. He also learned to fly. The 1930 U.S. Census placed him living as a lodger at 523 Ringgold St., McKeesport, PA. He was 27 years old and coded as divorced. His occupation was listed as "Aviation" at an "Aviation Field."

Near the time of the 1930 Census, Pickup was involved in a spectacular accident, which was reported originally in the May 2, 1930 issue of the McKeesport Daily News (PA), below. This article was reprinted in the Homestead & Miflin Township Historical Society (HMT) Newsletter, page 8, dated April, 2002, below.

McKeesport Daily News, May 2, 1930 (Source: HMT)
McKeesport Daily News, May 2, 1930 (Source: HMT)

Later that year, on September 2, 1930, he was involved in another accident that made the Pittsburgh Press (PA), below, left. This was a serious accident that left Pickup and his two passengers in critical condition.

Pittsburgh Press, September 2, 1930 (Source: Web)


The 1931 city directory for Homestead, PA cited Pickup living on "Bull Run." His occupation was cited as "Pilot" for the "Curtiss-Wright Flying Service."

About sixteen months after this accident, Chester Pickup appeared once in the Davis-Monthan Register, on Thursday, January 14, 1932 at 10:08PM. He flew an unidentified Travel Air carrying as his single passenger Stewart A. Reiss. They identified their home base as New York, NY. They arrived at Tucson from Douglas, AZ. They remained for two nights, departing January 16th at 12:15 PM eastbound for El Paso, TX. They noted "Resparation [sic] Equipment" in the passenger column. And therein lies the story and the reason for his and Reiss' flight through Tucson.

Because of national news coverage, we know precisely why Pickup and Reiss landed at Tucson. The San Mateo Times (CA) for Tuesday, January 12, 1932 reported the following.


McKEESPORT, Pa., Jan. 12.—(U.P)—Delayed by fog and two forced landings, a plane carrying special oxygen apparatus, took off from Bettis Field this afternoon for Tucson, Ariz. The plane was forced down near here today when it ran out of fuel after a flight from New York. It previously was forced to land at Coatesville, Pa., because of fog.

COLUMBUS, Ohio, will be the next stop. The plane was to refuel at Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, St.
Louis, Mo.; Springfield, Mo.; Oklahoma City, and Dallas, Texas.

Fly All Night
When informed through the United Press that the patient they are trying to reach might die by nightfall unless the oxygen chamber arrived, Pilot Stuart Reiss said: "I can scarcely hope to make Tucson before dawn. But we will fly all night to get there unless we receive word that it is too late."

Chester H. [sic] Pickup. Bettis Field, replaced Hubert Calloway, New York, as co-pilot. Calloway was to return to New York. It was indicated the 1800-mile trip would require about eighteen

TUCSON, Ariz., Jan. 12.—(IP)—
Dr. Allan K. Krouse, chief of the staff of Desert Sanitarium, where Miss Alice Hilliard is critically ill
with pneumonia, said late today that her condition was "relatively good."

Pickup and Reiss were chartered to fly what was described as an oxygen chamber to Tucson in order to aid breathing for a woman with pneumonia. Pickup was identified as the pilot at Tucson, probably because he flew the leg from Douglas. According to the Register, they landed at 10PM, rather than near dawn as estimated by Reiss in the article.

News coverage followed them around the country. The Cumberland Evening Times (MD) for Wednesday, January 13, 1932 reported their en route forced landing at Columbus, OH, below.

Plane Taking Breathing Machine
To Dying Girl Battles Weather

Columbus, Ohio, Jan. 13—(U.P.) Rushing west with an oxygen breathing chamber, two fliers from
New York, forced down here last night by bad weather, took off for Tucson, Arizona, shortly after 7
o'clock this morning.

The pilots, Stewart Reiss and Chester Pickup, bumped through thick weather between New York and Columbus all day yesterday. The oxygen chamber was started west when word was received in New York that Alice Hilliard, stepdaughter of Robert Bingham, publisher of the Louisville Courier- Journal was suffering from pneumonia and could not recover unless placed in the chamber.

Word received late yesterday, was that she had rallied and that arrival of the chamber no longer was a matter of life and death.

The Salt Lake Tribune (UT) of January 13th, below, documented the design of the oxygen chamber.

Airplane Speeds 'Change of Climate'
To Pneumonia Sufferer in Arizona

TUCSON. Ariz., Jan. 12 (UP) -- The mountain sped toward Mahomet [sic] tonight, and one more miracle of modern science was in the making. While Miss Alice B. Hilliard, 25, daughter of a prominent Louisville Ky. family, lay critically ill of pneumonia, a "change of climate" that may save her life was being rushed across the continent by airplane to her bed side.

It is in the shape of an "oxygen room" a light, collapsible chamber just large enough to hold a hospital
cot. Air-tight, the compartment furnishes oxygen to laboring lungs and washes the exhalations of carbon dioxide. It has been used with notable success in the east in the treatment of pneumonia cases.

Suffering from a pulmonary complaint. Miss Hilliard has been a patient at the Desert Sanitarium for the last three years. Several days ago she contracted pneumonia and fears were felt that her weakened lungs might be unequal to the new burden The 'room" was ordered last night from a New York hospital, and left early today by air express.

The Huntingdon Daily News (PA) for Thursday, January 14, 1932, below, reported the arrival of the "oxygen room" at Tucson, and the final outcome of its use.

Ft. Worth, Tex., Jan. 14.—
Pilots Stuart Reiss and Chester Pickup, flying with an "oxygen room" to Tucson, Ariz., to save the life of a young woman fighting for life against an acute pneumonia attack, look off for El Paso at 9:30 a.m. today. They were due in Tucson at 5 o'clock.

TUCSON, Ariz., Feb. 3—(UP) —
The body of Miss Alice Hilliard, 25, who died yesterday despite the aid of an "oxygen room" brought by airplane from New York was to be sent to her Louisville, Ky. home.

Aviators brought the oxygen chamber through tempestuous weather which delayed them three days only to find on their arrival that Miss Hilliard had improved so as apparently not to need the apparatus.
Several days ago, however, she weakened, and despite the use of the equipment she died yesterday.

Alas, Ms. Hilliard passed away from pneumonia on February 2nd.

The New York Times, January 27, 1932 (Source: NYT)
The New York Times, January 27, 1932 (Source: NYT)


It seems that pilot/co-pilot Reiss made part of his living transporting ill people or their equipment needs. The New York Times of January 27, 1932 reported his charter flight of a young woman, left. Note that the date of this article is just a couple of weeks after his and Pickup's trans-continental flight with the oxygen device.

In September, 1932, Pickup volunteered again to fly a rescue mission to save a family that had crashed their Sikorsky amphibian, "City of Richmond," in a Greenland fjord. The family had been rescued by a fishing boat and taken to land, but getting them to the U.S. was not going to happen as winter weather was setting in. The family, George R. Hutchinson, his wife, two children and four members of his crew were stuck. Their plight was reported in The New York Times and the Titusville Herald (PA) on September 15th. I could find no follow-on information regarding whether this rescue was performed by Pickup, or how the party made it back to the U.S..

Meantime, in Florida, the Curtiss-Wright Flying Service was establishing a base in Palm Beach, below.

The Pittsburgh Press (PA), February 23, 1930 (Source: Web)
The Pittsburgh Press (PA), February 23, 1930 (Source: Web)

Although not mentioned by name in this article, which appeared February 23, 1930, Pickup would soon be among the pilots working in Palm Beach teaching and flying charters. I left the unrelated photo and description of the Alexander "Bullet" and ask you to direct your browser to the biography of Al Mooney up in Colorado Springs for more information on the "Bullet."

I found an interesting example of international travel involving Pickup and a woman named Margaret identified as Mrs. Pickup. That example is below in the form of a U.S. Immigration form that documented their travel from West End, Grand Bahama to West Palm Beach, FL on Sunday, November 12, 1933. I could find no information defining his marital status at that time. One could read between the lines and come up with many reasons for this juxtaposition of day, date, location and people. But that is not our purpose.

U.S. Immigration Form, November 12, 1933 (Source: ancestry.com)
U.S. Immigration Form, November 12, 1933 (Source: ancestry.com)


Pickup's 1933 Flight to Grand Bahama (Source: aerofiles.com)
Pickup's 1933 Flight to Grand Bahama (Source: aerofiles.com)


Regardless, the airplane they flew was NC757W, a Keystone K-84 Commuter, S/N 333. This was a small, single-engined, four-place, closed cockpit biplane amphibian aircraft, manufactured in 1929. The type is illustrated at left.

I don't know exactly when Pickup moved to Florida (see below) but, on another U.S. Immigration form, he appeared among a list of U.S. citizens returning by ship from Havana, Cuba to Key West, FL aboard the S.S. Cuba on April 4, 1935. There was no indication on the customs form if his sea voyage was related to his aviation job.

Inez Ottie Robertson, Ca. 1919 (Source: ancestry.com)
Inez Ottie Robertson, Ca. 1910 (Source: ancestry.com)


Inez Ottie Robertson, Ca. 1910 (Source: ancestry.com)
Inez Ottie Robertson, Ca. 1910 (Source: ancestry.com)


At some point in 1935, Pickup married Inez Ottie Robertson (6/17/1900-3/1/1999). She had been married once before (ca. 1929), and would be married twice again (in 1944 and 1974) after she left Pickup. These two photographs are from ancestry.com.

A West Palm Beach, FL city directory the same year cited him and Inez living at 311 20th St, Apartment 1 in West Palm Beach. On Google Earth, that neighborhood today looks to be predominantly residential and light business. He was employed as an aviator with Roosevelt Flying Service (see article above). A separate Florida census for 1935 corroborated his residence in West Palm Beach. He was coded as 32 years old, and Inez was coded as 30 (although from her birth date she would have been 35).

Below is a photograph of Pickup and Inez dated about 1934, just before they were married. The logo on the side of the airplane suggests the photo was taken before he and Inez moved to Florida. The airplane was unidentified in the photograph (Stinson Detroiter?)

Chester Pickup and His Wife, Inez Ottie Robertson, Ca. 1934 (Source: ancestry.com)
Chester Pickup and His Wife, Inez Ottie Robertson, Ca. 1934 (Source: ancestry.com)

Below is another photograph of Pickup with Inez, ca. 1935, just after they were married, in Palm Beach. The unidentified airplane is a Loening amphibian, perhaps a C-2 model, probably flown by Roosevelt Flying Service. Pickup acquired a suntan in Florida.

Chester Pickup and His Wife, Inez Ottie Robertson, Ca. 1935 (Source: ancestry.com)
Chester Pickup and Wife, Inez Ottie Robertson, Ca. 1935 (Source: ancestry.com)


The Albuquerque Journal (NM), August 3, 1941 (Source: Web)
The Albuquerque Journal (NM), August 3, 1941 (Source: Web)



I believe Inez and pickup were divorced sometime between 1937 and 1940. Pickup married Martha E. Johnston in 1942 in Broward County, Florida. They divorced in 1945 in Dade County, Florida.

Popular Aviation, August, 1939 (Source: PA)
Popular Aviation, August, 1939 (Source: PA)


Meantime, his brother, Christopher V., was plying the west coast for United Air Lines (UAL). Pickup joined UAL and flew passengers. An article that appeared in Popular Aviation, August, 1939, right, had some fun with the surnames of three United employees. From the article, we learn that C.V. Pickup flew the United route between San Francisco and Los Angeles, CA, probably the Grand Central Air Terminal. Pilots Going and Quick were not Register signers.

According to his death certificate, below, Pickup was never a member of the military. However, another international travel document showed up in the form of a British immigration form wherein Pickup was a passenger on the British ship "Duchess of Bedford," that departed Montreal and docked at Liverpool August 10, 1940. He was among a group of nine other 30-something aviators that were the guests of Lord Beaverbrook, Air Ministry, London. An article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Monday, September 30, 1940, below, published upon his return, gave a hint of his activities in England.

Aviator's Return
Home from war-scarred England for a visit is Chester Pickup, one of Pittsburgh's first commercial aviators at Bettis Field, who put in 10 weeks over there ferrying warplanes from factory to the front. He visited the Bob Traders yesterday and then intended to go on to Los Angeles. Asked his opinion of Britain's chances, he said every one wanted to believe Hitler would be licked. "But personally," he added, "I wouldn't bet a nickel either way."

Also, an article, left, appeared in the Albuquerque Journal (NM) on August 3, 1941 that suggested Pickup was learning the army way of flying. Unfortunately, he ground looped his twin-engined bomber (type not specified) and damaged the underside.

These are the only pieces of evidence I found that Pickup ferried heavy aircraft for the military, or otherwise served as a civil pilot in a military setting. I also found, below, a staffing list for a Consolidated PBY-5 flight dated May 3, 1943. The airplane appeared to be owned by Consolidated Aircraft Corporation, Lindbergh Field, San Diego, CA. It had a full crew assigned, including Pickup as the captain. The navy number for the airplane, 08381, does not show up in the listings at Joe Baugher's site. I could find no reason for he flight, and no information regarding Pickup's employment or possible service contract with Consolidated.

C.H. Pickup Flight with Consolidated PBY-5, May 5, 1943 (Source: ancestry.com)
C.H. Pickup Flight with Consolidated PBY-5, May 5, 1943 (Source: ancestry.com)

After a hiatus for the remainder of WWII, the final two records I found were of a flight from Baraquilla, Columbia to Miami, FL on September 7, 1946, about a year after the war ended. He appeared to be a passenger on the flight with 13 other U.S. citizens. The flight was flown by Pan American World Airways and the airplane was not identified. I have no information as to the purpose of he flight.

The other record, below, documented a flight from Oakland, CA to Shanghai, China on December 10, 1946. Pickup acted as copilot for Register pilot C.N. Shelton, a well-known pilot among the Chinese people.

Pan American Clearance Declaration, December 10, 1946 (Source: ancestry.com)
Pan American Clearance Declaration, December 10, 1946 (Source: ancestry.com)

Chester Pickup left us eighteen years after his Shangai flight, on May 28, 1964 at Houston, TX. His death certificate is below. He apparently committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. I could find no reason or explanation for why he would take his own life. It appeared from the description that he was dead for a while before his body was discovered.

Chester H. Pickup, Death Certificate, May 28, 1964 (Source: ancestry.com)
Chester H. Pickup, Death Certificate, May 28, 1964 (Source: ancestry.com)

Pickup flew West carrying Transport pilot license T735, a very low number.



The Register

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








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