Milo Burcham was born in May 1903 in Newcastle, IN. Early
on, Burcham sold burglar alarms of his own design to finance
flying lessons from the O'Donnell
School of Aviation in Long
Beach, CA, where he eventually became chief instructor.
Interestingly, on August 24, 1931 we find Milo's wife, Peggy Burcham,
at Tucson as a passenger with Lloyd O'Donnell.
claims to fame included barnstorming, competition in National
Air Races, upside-down flying and other stunts, as well as
being Chief Pilot for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation during
the development of the P-38
Lightning fighter of WWII, and the YP-80 Shooting Star. This interesting link includes copies of 11 Lockheed company newsletters that were produced as P-38 training aids during WW II. In addition to 1940s-style sexist cartoon art, each issue includes a picture of a Lockheed test pilot in the text. Four issues include photographs of Register pilots, including Burcham, Tony LeVier and Joe Towle.
Below, from site visitor Joe Kranz, is a U.S. postal cachet postmarked August 31, 1934 commemorating the National Air Races for that year.
Milo Burcham, U.S. Postal Cachet, August 31, 1934 (Source: Kranz)
at the Davis-Monthan Airfield flying Boeing Model 100, NC872H,
January 29, 1934. He stayed overnight. Based in Long
Beach, CA, he was solo eastbound to New Orleans, LA. Below, courtesy of the San Diego Aerospace Museum Flickr Stream (SDAM), is an undated photograph of Burcham in his Boeing.
Milo Burcham in the "Blue Flash," Date & Location Unknown (Source: SDAM)
He called his airplane the "Blue Flash". It was
the civilian version of the military Boeing P-12-A. It was
clearly recorded in the Register as having "NC" markings,
but its designation by the manufacturer was "NX".
You can see an image of his airplane here.
Another image is here, but the designation is "NR". This airplane is now on display at the Seattle Museum of Flight. You can see a photograph of this airplane's cockpit at the Museum link, as well as read a history written about it. At the Museum it is painted in the livery of Army P-12 29-354.
Shortly before his visit to Tucson, Burcham flew a record
flight INVERTED in December
1933. It happened like this: As a publicity stunt to make
a name for himself early in his career, Burcham determined
to win back the world’s
inverted flight endurance record, then held by Lt. Tito Falconi
of the Italian Air Service. In typical scientific fashion,
Burcham first tested his reaction to remaining head-down
for long periods by rigging a special test set-up on the
front porch of his father-in-law’s house. He strapped
himself into a chair that was then hoisted by a pulley to
the inverted position. To confirm that his faculties were
not impaired in any way, he would then read long passages
from a book that his father-in-law was familiar with. In
this manner, Milo determined that the human body soon adjusts
to being upside down with no harmful or lasting effects.
Over the course of the next several months, Burcham’s
friendly duel with Falconi for the upside-down crown finally
ended with Milo’s December mark of 4 hrs 5 min
22 sec, a record that stood for almost 60 years. A couple
of years later, he flew his Boeing to victory in the National
Aerobatics Championship of 1936 at the National Air Races
Popular Aviation, May, 1939 (Source: PA)
In 1939, Burcham went to work for Lockheed as a text pilot. In that capacity, he was assigned to England to oversee the assembly of 400 Lockheed Hudsons ordered by the British as they ramped up for the coming war. At rightis an article that describes that duty from Popular Aviation (PA) magazine, May, 1939.
Site visitor Mike Gerow sent me this image of Burcham at
work. He says, "Attached
is one of my favorite pix of Milo Burcham, squatting on the
wing of the 5000th production P-38, which they painted firetruck
red for some publicity shots on May 17, 1944. Got this photo
from Lockheed public relations about 20 years ago. It was
taken by company photographer Erik Miller on the ramp at
Lockheed Air Terminal in Burbank, the same field Burcham
crashed from later that year in the YP-80. Since this is
a cropped in version of a Lockheed company photo, I think
you could probably use it on your site if you wanted to,
but maybe you need to give them a credit line." Certainly.
Photo, below, courtesy of the Lockheed Corporation, with
great thanks. A couple of other great images of Burcham taken
by Mike's father are available at this link to the Russell
T. Gerow Collection.
Milo Burcham died October 20, 1944 testing the Lockheed
YP-80 Shooting Star. For images of him and a basic understanding
of his activities in aviation, see this link.
Another site visitor had this to say about Burcham's fatal
test of the Shooting Star:
"I just read your article on Milo
I was in the Army, a civilian coworker told me about
being at Burbank to pick up a new B-17 and witnessing
Milo's fatal P-80 accident. The ship never left
the ground, ran into a ditch at the runway threshold
I report from the same site visitor who provided the P-38
"'The end came when Milo took off
from the east-west runway at Lockheed Air Terminal
and was forced into a low-altitude, down-wind turn,
probably by power failure.' This
excerpt from the Lockheed Star of 10/27/44 gives the
accepted account of the crash of Milo Burcham."
And, "As for the Burcham accident, my Uncle ... was
a TWA check pilot in Connies and was in queue for takeoff
at LAT when Burcham took off before him that day. It
was 5:10 on a Friday afternoon and Burcham was getting
set to give an impromptu airshow for Lockheed employees.
It's pretty common knowledge around the area that the
crash took place in a gravel pit about a mile north
of the field. Burcham just missed clearing it, hitting the side of the pit about 3' below the rim. Burcham's
parents and oldest son Gary, 14, witnessed the crash. Can't remember the nearest
cross streets, but think it's Tujunga Blvd. and Valeria St. in North Hollywood."
Here is another image of Burcham (courtesy of Mike Gerow)
with the P-38 "Yippee"
during his test pilot days at Lockheed. It really was RED!
This image, and the one above, was taken 62 years to the
day before the revision date (5/17/06) of this Web page.
UPLOADED: 03/12/06 REVISED: 03/19/06, 05/10/06, 5/11/06,
05/12/06, 05/17/06, 11/29/06, 02/03/09, 07/04/11, 07/03/14, 11/28/14