By Charles Roberts Hawks, Jr.

Introduction by Chuck (Charles Albert) Hawks:

My father wrote this brief synopsis of his life on January 30, 1988, at the request of his niece, Suzy Prichard, whose son Franz was writing a school assignment about an illustrious relative. It is not in a highly polished form because it was intended for reference purposes, not publication. Never-the-less, when Suzie gave me the original hand written manuscript, I thought it would be of sufficient interest to those interested in the history of the aero-space field to publish on the Naval, Aviation and Military History web site.

I have added notes in a few places to amplify references made by my father. These I have put in brackets and italics, thusly: [Note: my comments look like this.]

Let me apologize in advance for any inadvertent errors I may have introduced typing this into my word processor. My father's handwriting was not very good (like me, he wrote as if always in a hurry), and while in most instances I was able to figure out an illegible word from the context, in the case of people's names I sometimes had to guess at some of the letters. In certain cases I was forced to leave out a first or last name when I simply could not decipher the text.

Foreword - A letter to Suzie from C. R. Hawks

Enclosed is the "brief" chronology you requested. I have tried to make it as brief as possible and have avoided stories relating to many famous people I have known quite well, such as Howard Hughes, General L. C. Craigie, General Boyd, George Welch (1st U.S. "ace" at Pearl Harbor), General "Rosie" O'Donnel, Dick Bong (U.S. "Ace of Aces"), Chuck Yeager, Scott Crossfield, Donald Douglas, Jack Northrop, etc, etc, etc. The one exception (because it was so rare) is my tour with Charles A. Lindbergh.

I also have not spent much time on the 16 times during test flights when I really thought I was on my last flight. Neither have I discussed the two times I missed being on fatal crash flights because I didn't get there in time for the take off.

The personal episodes I have related are simply typical examples of the kinds of things that happened. I have also omitted the international hassles we had with the British regarding the "Comet," "Trident," and "Concorde."

    I hope this serves your purpose.
    Sincerely, Chas H.

Early Years and Education

I was born on January 24, 1911. I went to grammar school and high school in Iowa, South Dakota, Utah, and California, graduating from Los Angeles High School in June of 1929. After working a year to obtain money for college, I entered UCLA in September, 1930. I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, where I had transferred in order to complete my engineering degree, in June, 1935.

The title "Aeronautical Engineer" did not exist at that time, but I had been fortunate to study thin skin monocoque structures under Professor John Younger, and aerodynamics under Dr. K. D. Wood, both at Cal. Dr. Tymoshenkv taught me dynamics and Dr. Miles taught me conventional truss type structures, both on loan to Cal from Stanford University. My thesis determined "The effect of shear stress on the location of the elastic axis in thin skin metal, monocoque multiple span wing structures."

Start of Career

I started to work at Douglas Aircraft Co. in Santa Monica, California in July, 1935. At that time, Douglas had already developed the built the DC-1 and the DC-2 models, which together with the Boeing 247 were the first "thin skin" type transport aircraft built in this country and probably the first in the world. They represented a quantum leap unheard of in the early "truss type" metal aircraft such as the German Junkers JU-52 and American Ford Tri-Motor.

The design of the Douglas DC-3 and DST models was starting at Douglas and I was assigned the responsibility for the stress analysis of the outer wings for these aircraft. I also worked on the nacelle for the DF-151 (a huge metal flying boat at Douglas) and did re-design on the DC-2 wings to permit increasing the gross weight.

When the DC-3/DST prototype aircraft advanced to the structural test stage and then to the flight tests, I participated in both. I was assigned as Douglas laison engineer to facilitate certification by the U.S. government to permit their operation by the airlines in the U.S. and by foreign airlines, to carry passengers and cargo for hire.

During this period I also worked on numerous miscellaneous military aircraft projects such as the YOA-5, Douglas Dolphin amphibian, etc.

Shift to Government Work - Pre WW II

As soon as the DC-3 and DST aircraft began flying operations by TWA and American Airlines, their superior performance and quality were recognized and they were ordered by United Airlines, Pan American Airlines and other domestic and foreign airlines all over the world.

The government agency responsible for the determination of the airworthiness of civil aircraft at that time was the Bureau of Commerce. This agency later became the CAA and now is the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). They decided that they needed an engineer who was familiar with these new types of aircraft and I was selected for that position.

From late 1936 to 1941 I worked for the government on the evaluation on many civil aircraft models being built on the west coast, including those by Boeing, Convair, Lockheed, Douglas, Ryan, North American (later Rockwell), Northrop, Vultee, Hughes, Hiller, etc.

The determination that an aircraft design is safe involves several different technical fields. Basically, these are:

  1. Structures
  2. Propulsion
  3. Systems and Equipment
    a. Electrical
    b. Hydraulic
    c. Pneumatic
    d. Radio and Communications
    e. Electrical
    f. Auto pilot, Auto land, etc.
    g. Fire protection
    h. nuclear
    i. Rocket
    j. Ice protection
  4. Flight Test
    a. Test pilots (engineering)
    b. Flight test engineers
  5. Quality Control
    a. Aircraft inspection - safety
    b. Manufacturing process

I learn to fly

Of all of these different specialized fields, the one which requires specialized training different from all of the others is that of engineering test pilot. It simply is not possible to successfully supervise test pilots unless you are a pilot and they know that you are. I knew that if I wanted to advance to a leadership role in this complicated business I must learn to fly.

I started flying lessons at my own expense on January 28, 1940. I took my flight test and received my pilot's license on March 3, 1941. After that I was checked out in government airplanes and could fly them on business. Later on this enabled me to fly any airplane, including turbo prop, jet, etc. during FAA flight tests to evaluate controversial points where FAA and company test pilots disagreed. [Note: During his career, my dad made it a point to fly all of the airplanes he certificated.]

Active Duty in WW II

When World War II began I was the CAA project engineer on the Lockheed Constellation, which was in the design stage at that time. This was the first successful large pressurized aircraft developed in the U.S.

I had received a commission in the U.S. Army through the ROTC program at Cal Berkeley and I was a first lieutenant, a platoon commander in the Army Reserve Corps. After Pearl Harbor, the Army Air Corps decided they needed aeronautical engineers more than they needed machine gun platoon commanders. [Note: A good thing for my father. During the war his entire former platoon was wiped out, including the new C.O.]

On Friday, April 17, 1942 I was interviewed by USAAF General Bradshaw. On Saturday, April 18, I received a wire transferring me to the Army Air Corps. On Sunday, April 19, I received orders to report to General Bradshaw on active duty in the USAAF on Monday, April 20, 1942. From Friday as Constellation engineer for the CAA, I was abruptly changed to 1st Lt., USAAF assigned to Air Material Command, Engineering Division, Wright Field (Ohio), with station assignment the 13 western states!

It was an extremely busy and critical time for the U.S. We were losing the War on both the European and Pacific fronts and our aircraft were not as good as either the German or Japanese aircraft. My first job was to report directly to the commanding general of the Engineering Division, USAAF, all problems, delays and the status of all research and development projects in my area. Also, I was to perform any and all special assignments he gave me. Quite an assignment for one lone first lieutenant!

I pitched in and tackled the enormous assignment as best I could. As I became acquainted with all of the projects I had, and established my office with the many contractors on the west coast, all kinds of things began to happen. Very quickly Wright Field began to ask for many things, from "on the spot" design of rocket rails for anti-submarine weapons (plus flight test of these which almost cost me my life), to decisions involving millions of dollars over the telephone.

It was exciting, important, high pressure work and I loved it. During my total tour of active duty in WW II I never served under a boss of less rank than Brigadier General and most of my supervisors were Major Generals or Lieutenant Generals. Promotions for me were as fast as possible because higher rank was needed to properly deal with top officials of industry, foreign governments and dignitaries from our own government. My office rapidly grew from one secretary and me to over 100 officers and civilian engineers and scientists.

We had our own fleet of C-45 (twin engine Beechcraft) and T-6 airplanes plus automobiles, etc. I had close daily contact with many important people such as Donald Douglas (my old boss), Howard Hughes, Jack Northrop, Robert Courtland Gross of Lockheed, Reuben Fleet of Convair, Allen of Boeing, Senator H. S. Truman (who later became President), Dr. Clark Millikan of Caltech, Dr. Bridge of MIT, Dr. Vaughn Kurman and many others, including military leaders from the UK and Canada.

We worked on everything from superior fighters (P-38, P-51 and P80 are notable examples), bombers (B-25, B-26, B-29 and others), various aerial weapons (cannons, rockets, etc), the Hughes "Spruce Goose" and the modification of the B-29's to carry atomic bombs to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. [Note: I wish my dad had written about some of his wartime experiences; particularly fascinating to me were his stories about the P-38 shock stall (compressibility) dive problem and the "piggy back" P-38 he flew some very hairy tests in as flight test engineer.]

First Flight in a Jet

On September 2, 1944 I had the pleasure and honor to be the second USAAF officer to fly in a jet airplane. The first was my boss, Lt. General L. C. Craigie. The airplane was the super secret first jet ever built in the U.S., the XP-59A. The flight took place at our remote secret base at Muroc (later named Edwards AFB). [Note: the XP-59A wound up in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., where my dad and I saw it many years later. When we looked into the cockpit, I could tell he was surprised; he then pointed out to me some engineering notes he had made on the inside skin of the airplane during his early flight in this very aircraft, still visible after all these years.]

End of WW II and return to CAA

I had no time for leave during WW II. I returned to civilian life on June 14, 1946 and was appointed Deputy Chief of the Aircraft Engineering Division. My military contacts were very helpful to me in this position.

New civilian pressurized transport aircraft were just being developed for the first time and they were intended to safely and efficiently fly large numbers of people at higher speed, high altitude and above most of the weather. The airplanes involved were the Douglas DC-6 series, Lockheed Constellation series, Boeing 377 [Note: the "Stratocruiser"] and Convair 240.

During the flight testing of the DC-6, I participated in the very first flight United Airlines ever made to Honolulu, Hawaii. The flight was made in the prototype experimental version of the UAL version of the DC-6. The crew consisted of Douglas pilots and engineers, CAA pilots and engineers, and UAL crews being checked out in the airplane. We made landings on five islands to determine whether the DC-6 could use these airports as destinations or alternate airports and to submit the airplane to accelerated operational testing. On the way back from Honolulu, we had a loud bang in the outboard engine and a fire the extinguishing system would not put out. We radioed our predicament and soon had a U.S. Coast Guard B-17 air-sea rescue airplane flying along side to help us out if we had to ditch the DC-6. We were still 300 miles west of San Francisco over the Pacific. We staggered in to San Francisco on three engines and got on the ground before the wing burned off. The fire was extinguished on the ground.

Later on I had the pleasant experience of participating in a similar accelerated service test flight in the first Boeing 377 airplane scheduled for delivery to Pan American. This time all flights were free of failures and we set a record on our flight home.

Accident on Temporary Active Duty with the USAF

During this period I was a civilian, but still had active reserve military status. A number of engineers and scientists who had been on active duty as Air Force officers were also on active reserve status, but worked at Douglas, Convair, Lockheed, North American, or Northrop as civilians. This group was formed into an Air Force Research and Development group by active reserve training, and I was appointed the C.O. [Note: by this time my dad had been promoted to Lt. Colonel]

A number of us who had worked on the Northrop YB-49 tail-less airplane [Note: the famous "Flying Wing"] and the Convair XB-36 bomber were ordered on a two week tour of active duty to participate in a conference at Wright Field to determine which airplane should be put into production as the first SAC (Strategic Air Command) bomber. The Air Force sent a C-47 (DC-3) with a crew of three from Wright Field to Long Beach to pick us up and to ferry us to Wright Field for our conference. There were 19 officers from my group, making a total of 22 onboard the aircraft.

We encountered bad weather and we were attempting to land at Chanute Air Force Base for fuel in very dense fog. While attempting a GCA (Ground Controlled Approach) we undershot the field and flew into the main electrical power lines for the Champaign urban area and crashed, killing the crew from Wright Field and one of my group. Most of us received serious injuries. Our airplane plowed through two empty two-story wooden barracks buildings and a large concrete incinerator before coming to rest. We were rescued from the wreckage by young Air Force non-coms who were students at Chanute and were sleeping in near by barracks. We crashed at 10:39 PM CST on October 24, 1948. [Note: My dad was trapped inside of the wrecked airplane with one shoulder badly broken and his foot pinned under a collapsed seat. He could smell gasoline everywhere and expected the airplane to explode into flames at any instant. He was attempting to fish his pocket knife out of his pocket with his unbroken hand and arm so that he could cut off his own foot to free himself when the young airmen arrived and rescued him.]

Continue to Part 2

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Copyright 1988, 2004 by Charles Hawks. All rights reserved.

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