A brief history of William Barton Bridgeman

By Willie Bodenstein

Born on 25 June 1916 American, William Barton Bridgeman whose father was a barnstormer flew PBY flying boats in the New Guinea/Australia theatre during WWII and later flew as a test pilot the Douglas Aircraft Company. Bridgeman was raised in Malibu, California by his paternal grandmother and majored in geology in college, receiving his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California.

He enlisted in the United States Navy to attend flight school at Pensacola. He graduated and was commissioned in 1941, and was sent to Pearl Harbor, where he experienced the Japanese attack on 7 December.

Upon leaving the Navy in 1947, Bridgeman joined Southwest Airways (a local West Coast airline that eventually became Pacific Air Lines, not to be confused with today's Southwest) to fly DC-3s on the San Francisco-Seattle route. Bored with the airline routine, he left in 1949 to join Douglas as a production test pilot to certify A-1 Skyraiders off the assembly line before their delivery to the Navy. A few months later, he accepted an offer to take over the test program of the D-558 II Skyrocket, one of the world's first supersonic research aircraft.

While working for the Douglas Aircraft Company, testing experimental aircraft for the United States Navy he met Chuck Yaeger who had recently broke the sound barrier in the Bell X15. In July 1951, the USN announced that the D-558-II Skyrocket piloted by Bridgeman had broken Norris's record and had "attained the highest speed and altitude ever recorded by a piloted plane". On 15 August of the same year, he set a world record with a speed of Mach 1.88 and an unofficial record height of 79,494 feet (24,230 m).

He was an astronaut candidate for the United States Air Force Man In Space Soonest program, but the program was cancelled on 1 August 1 1958, and replaced by NASA's Project Mercury.

Retiring from Douglas after the completion of the test program He went on to fly other Douglas test programs including the X-3 Stiletto, a promising but ultimately unsuccessful design. In 1955, he recounted his experiences test-flying the Skyraider and Skyrocket in a successful memoir, The Lonely Sky, written with Jacqueline Hazard, whom he married shortly after the book was published.

Bridgeman eventually moved to Grumman Aircraft where he conducted test programs of commercial aircraft, then pursued a career in commercial real estate. On 29 September 1968, he was the pilot of a routine air-taxi flight from Los Angeles to Santa Catalina Island when his Grumman Goose amphibian went down in the Pacific Ocean. His body was never found.

Chapter 322 April 2023 Fly in to Fly Inn Estates

Aviation Personalities

Copyright © 2024 Pilot's Post PTY Ltd
The information, views and opinions by the authors contributing to Pilotís Post are not necessarily those of the editor or other writers at Pilotís Post.