Capsule Biographies

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Born January 1, 1895. Died September 1, 1954.

Of all the pilots who used Curtiss Field as a base in the early '20s, few were more skilled—or more colorful—than Bertram Blanchard Acosta. "He could have flown a barn door if it had wings," says Paul Rizzo, a former flight instructor who knew Acosta well. But Acosta, a test pilot for Curtiss, also had a reckless streak that earned him the title, "Bad boy of the air." He delighted in flying under bridges and rolling a wheel over the roofs of Manhattan skyscrapers as he passed overhead, and on more than one occasion his license was suspended for "stunting."

A passenger once casually asked him what time it was. "I don't know, but I'll find out," Acosta answered and headed for Manhattan, where he buzzed the clock tower of the Metropolitan Life building. ("That story is absolutely true!" Rizzo claims.) On the ground, Acosta's love of women and alcohol repeatedly landed him in hot water (SEE Lighter Side), and occasionally in jail. He was divorced twice, the second time, newspapers reported, after his wife discovered love letters from a woman who claimed she was carrying his child.

However, Acosta's reputation as a pilot didn't suffer. As a Curtiss test pilot, he won the 1921 Pulitzer race and set a new speed record of 197.8 mph. In April 1927, he and fellow flier Clarence Chamberlin set a joint endurance record of 51h:11m:25s. Then, less than two weeks after Charles Lindbergh's historic crossing of the Atlantic, Acosta flew from Long Island to France with Commander Richard Byrd.

In 1936, Acosta signed on as anti-Franco mercenary during the Spanish Civil War to organize a six-man "Yankee Squadron." After he returned to the USA, his drinking worsened and, in December 1951, he collapsed in a New York City saloon. He was taken to a hospital, where it was discovered that he had tuberculosis, and three years later died in a Colorado sanitorium at age 59.

Bert Acosta is one of 14 aviation pioneers laid to rest in the Portal of the Folded Wings next to Burbank Airport.


Born at London, England, 1890. Died 1969.

Arcier emigrated to the US and became an American citizen in 1929. As an aircraft designer and engineer, he worked for a number of aircraft companies, including Wittemann (1919-25), Fokker (1925-28), General Airplanes Corp (1928-30), and Waco Aircraft Co (1930-47). Also was a science advisor at Wright-Patterson AFB from 1948 until his retirement in 1963, and continued his association with the USAF until 1968.


Born at Walton KY, October 26, 1904. Died March 5, 1999.

John Leland "Lee" Atwood, the son of a minister and educator, attended Wayland Baptist College in Plainview TX. He earned his Bachelor's degree from Hardin-Simmons University and took postgraduate engineering courses at the University of Texas, then worked as a junior engineer with the Army's Aircraft Branch at Wright Field. He later joined a fledgling aircraft manufacturer in Okay OK. The new company built a low-wing sportplane, but did not survive the Depression.

Atwood then was hired by Douglas Aircraft Co in Santa Monica, where he helped design the XTBD, a folding-wing torpedo bomber, and the Douglas DC-1 transport. He also helped upgrade the design to the DC-2 production version. He followed Dutch Kindelberger to fledgling North American Aviation in 1934 and became its chief engineer, then assistant general manager in 1938 and, in 1941, became first vice president of the company. He was elected president of the company in 1948 and, in 1960, became chief executive officer.

In 1937, Atwood's design won the USAAC competition for a new kind of basic combat trainer with the attributes of a combat aircraft, the result being the BC-1. When the designations of Army aircraft were changed in 1940, the BC-1A became the AT-6 Texan, the most famous of all trainers—nearly 16,000 were built. Following this were other equally famous warcraft, P-51 Mustang and B-25 Mitchell. After WW2, Atwood led his company into the jet age with production of F-86 Sabrejet and its follow-on F-100 Super Sabre, B-45, X-15, and many other notable aircraft, then into the space age with the Apollo, Saturn, and space shuttle programs.

In 1962, he succeeded Kindelberger as chairman of the board. When North American merged with Rockwell-Standard in 1967, Atwood was named President and CEO of the new North American Rockwell Corp, retiring from this post in 1970, but remaining as a member of the Board of Directors and senior consultant. (— North American Co P/R)

Enshrined in National Aviation Hall of Fame 1984.