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Sun, Feb 03, 2008

Gone West: WWII Test Pilot John W. Myers

Legendary "Maestro" Flew Northrop Wing, P-61

John W. Myers, businessman and renowned World War II test pilot of extraordinary skill, has died. He was 96. Myers passed away in his sleep Thursday at his home in Beverly Hills, reports the Los Angeles Times.

"For us, he was a legend of legends," said hotel magnate and pilot Baron Hilton. "He was truly a pioneer and inspired many test pilots, who looked up to him as their idol."

General Chuck Yeager, Bell X-1 test pilot who met Myers in 1945, agreed. "He was about ten years older and a role model for all of us pilots," Yeager said. "We always looked up to him."

John Westcott Myers was born June 13, 1911. His father, Louis W. Myers, became Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court and partner in the law firm O'Melveny & Myers.

His passion for airplanes began in 1930 while still an undergraduate at Stanford University. He was a quick study. After a ground school course, he taught himself to fly, making both his first flight and first solo flight in one hop.

Myers graduated from Stanford with a political science major in 1933 and from Harvard Law in 1936. He entered his father's law practice, but was drawn away to become assistant general counsel at Lockheed. He occasionally ferried airplanes to New Orleans and New York for overseas delivery.

In 1941, he became chief engineering test pilot at Northrop, testing the first flying wing prototypes. While testing the XP-56 (above) in September 1943, the airplane displayed reasonable handling characteristics, but when a tire blew, it did backflips 75 feet in the air and crashed. Myers, in a polo helmet, was thrown clear and only suffered minor injuries.

In 1944, Myers traveled to the South Pacific to demonstrate the new P-61 "Black Widow" night fighter (below) for US Army Air Corps pilots, who were apprehensive about flying a fighter the size of a medium bomber.

It was during that time that Myers' extraordinary skill as a pilot earned him the nickname "Maestro." Charles Lindbergh flew with Myers in the P-61, and later praised his quick actions in saving them from a landing collision.

After the war, Myers was senior vice president and director for Northrop.

In 1954, he became chairman and principal stockholder of Pacific Airmotive Corporation, and in 1970, formed Airlite, an FBO at Long Beach Airport which he later sold to Toyota.

In the course of his career, Myers flew an incredible number of aircraft, and later purchased his own surplus P-61.

"He was such a gifted pilot, and would rather fly than anything else," said his friend Bill Tilley. At 89, Myers took Tilley flying in his Citation jet... and treated him to a barrel roll.

He flew the jet until he was 90, and his jet helicopter until he was 93.

Maestro Myers, we salute you.

FMI: www.smithsonian.org 

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