Friday, December 18, 2009

Roscoe Turner 1895-1970

Roscoe Turner was born in Corinth, Mississippi, the eldest son of a poor but respectable farmer. He came to realize that he did not want to be a farmer and found that he was attracted to mechanical devices instead. He was an inveterate tinkerer with automobiles until he discovered aircraft in 1913. Here he found his calling. When America entered World War I, he applied for pilot training but was turned down because he did not have a college education (he had reached tenth grade before dropping out). Because of his background with automobiles, he was given driver duties in the Army. As the need for pilots grew, the education requirements were lowered and he was trained to be a balloon observer. Privately, however, he was able to receive aircraft pilot training. Although he is mentioned to be distributing leaflets over German tranches in Sopwith Camel at 8th of August 1918 and occasionally being brought down by Ernst Udet; the war ended before he saw combat and he was discharged as a First Lieutenant in 1919. With his discharge payment, he purchased a surplus aircraft and spent the 1920s "barnstorming".
The first half of the 1920s saw Turner living the gypsy life; teaming up with other ex-Army fliers to perform shows across the American midwest and south. It culminated in 1923 when he was arrested and jailed on the charge of receiving stolen property. He had unwittingly bought a stolen airplane from a Marine. He served some months of his sentence and was released on parole. He later applied for and was given a full pardon from President Coolidge. He saw there was no future in barnstorming and realized that his fame was in the west. It was during this time he became notable for his Nevada Airlines, flying wealthy women to Reno, Nevada, to obtain their divorces. He was granted the title of Colonel in the Nevada National Guard by the Governor of Nevada for his efforts. This title he kept proudly until his death. He also worked for a time as a stunt pilot for the movies. His Sikorsky S-29 stood in for a German bomber in Howard Hughes' movie Hell's Angels. When the 1920s ended, Turner became involved in air racing.
Turner set the east to west transcontinental airspeed record at 12 hours and 33 minutes, from New York to Burbank, California, on November 14, 1930. Turner bettered by two hours and 17 minutes the former mark set by Frank Hawks. He also won the Bendix Trophy in 1933 and the Thompson trophy in 1934, 1938 and 1939. He was well on his way to win the 1936 Thompson when engine failure forced him out. He retired from racing after the 1939 Thompson race claiming that, at the age of 44, he was too old to race anymore.He was sponsored by many companies but he is probably best known for his endorsement of the Gilmore Oil Company. They provided him with a lion cub named "Gilmore" for publicity; complete with a cub-sized parachute, Turner would frequently take "Gilmore" on tour with him. (Gilmore Oil Company was later absorbed by the Socony-Vacuum company, which itself was later to become the Mobil company). When Gilmore died in 1952, his body was stuffed, mounted and put on display in the Turner home. Currently, Gilmore is owned by the Smithsonian Institution who keep his carcass preserved in cold storage.
Turner established a flying school during World War II that, ultimately, trained some 3,000 pilots.

Later in life, Turner founded the Roscoe Turner Aeronautical Corp, a large fixed base operator in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1947, the CAB granted authority to operate Turner Airlines, later renamed Lake Central Airlines.

He was also an honorary official with the Indianapolis 500 car race for many years