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John H. Towers

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Pioneer Aviator

Champion of Naval Air Power

Born Rome, Georgia

January 30, 1885—April 30, 1955


John Henry Towers graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1906 and requested to be assigned to aviation duty. He was taught to fly by the first Naval Aviator, Lt. Theodore Ellyson, and qualified as Naval Aviator Number 3 in September 1911.

At the Navy’s first aviation camp in San Diego, Lt. Towers conducted the first testing associated with development of the original Curtiss seaplanes. On October 12, 1912, at Annapolis, Maryland, he established a world endurance record, when he remained airborne in the Curtiss A-1 for 6 hours 10 minutes 35 seconds.

In every chapter in the development of Naval Aviation, John Towers was there. He commanded the first aviation station, the Pensacola Base that became the flight training school for Navy pilots. He commanded the Navy's aviation forces during the occupation of Vera Cruz in 1914. He had also developed the Naval Aviators badge, which has been worn so gallantly by so many. As senior aviator in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations during World War I, his astute planning and leadership guided U.S. Naval Air Forces.

In 1919, he was able to return to a plan he first conceived in 1914: to organize, train, and lead the first transatlantic air crossing. Although his own ship was forced down at sea, he accomplished the unique feat of sailing the aircraft several hundred miles to the Azores. One aircraft of the flight, the NC-4, completed the mission to Europe.

Between the wars, John Tower’s career paralleled the growing strength of Naval Aviation and he became the first Naval Aviator to achieve flag rank as Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics in 1939. He organized the expansion of the Navy from 2,000 to nearly 10,000 aircraft and directed Naval Aviation in the opening period of World War II.

Insistence on leading a combat command resulted in his appointment as Commander Naval Air Forces Pacific Fleet where he directed the expansion of the carrier forces and led the air arm of the largest fleet ever assembled in history. His contributions were in large measure responsible for the victory in the Pacific. On December 1,1947, after 45 years of dedicated service to his country Admiral John H. Towers retired from active service.

Invested 1973 in the International Aerospace Hall of Fame

From "These We Honor," The International Hall of Fame; The San Diego Aerospace Museum, San Diego, CA. 1984

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Updated: March 12, 2004