Benjamin O. Howard
better known to all of us as Ben Howard, was, as you all know and I but
remind you, a rather quiet, wistful and introspective chap with a limp
in his later days. But I also hasten to note that he was a completely
original individual. There probably never was nor will there ever be
another human being as interesting as Benny, as intelligent, as
exasperating, or as lovable.
He was born one year after
the Wrights' first flight at Kitty Hawk, but only 20 years later this
man with only a grammar school education flew an airplane he had
designed and built himself. That was in 1924 and yet by 1930 he built
the smallest racing airplane ever built, which he called "Pete" and
managed to place third with it in the National Air Races.
That was the start of an
amazing career designing and building racing airplanes. The greatest and
probably the most successful one he or anyone else built in those days
was Ben's "Mr. Mulligan". Among many exploits with this beautiful
airplane the outstanding one was Howard's winning the 1935 Thompson
Our dear friend about this
time commenced building and designing other light airplanes to which he
gave the basic designation "DGA". Damn Good Airplane. And they are just
Ben and his wife, dear to
us all as Mike Howard, were both nearly killed by a propeller failure
over New Mexico in "Mr. Mulligan" when they were well in the lead in the
Bendix Transcontinental Race in 1936.
Both recovered from most
serious injuries but Ben lost a leg and gained a life-time limp in this
That, however did not slow
this pilot's progress very much. (See
Supermen~Junior by Jim Ray, below). He flew airmail and passenger
transports, became an outstanding test pilot and was recognized by
aircraft designers as a natural aeronautical engineer. Benny was said to
be an aviators aviator, and was also credited as a man who from natural,
inborn ability, could frequently spot flaws designed by the most
competent graduate engineers.
And with all the many
marvelous accomplishments of this man as a pilot, as a designer of
airplanes, a builder of airplanes, and in recent years manager of his
own manufacturing company, Ben never lost his charm, his warmth, or his
To be with Ben and his fine
helpmate Mike, just shooting the breeze over a highball was always the
most pleasant occasion a friend could wish for. Where his sharp and
incisive mind could cut deeply into anyone with pretense, he never had
anything but kindly feelings and warm relations with those he loved. And
there are many of them here today and many who have preceded Benny on
his present journey.
He will always be known and
forever respected by all aviation minded people. He has now joined the
great company of the really great ones in aviation, those zealots and
heroes who have preceded him to Valhalla.
Donald W. Douglas, Sr.
in Clayton, Missouri,
became interested in flying at an early age. A ride in a Jenny
convinced Gordon he wanted to fly. He later worked as a welding
instructor at an aircraft school at St. Louis where he met Benny Howard.
When the school closed, Benny Howard asked Gordon for some help in
designing and building the first racer "Pete". The combination of Benny
Howard’s gift to make things go fast; (he called it go-grease) and
Gordon's practical skills produced "Pete" , "Ike" & "Mike" and Mr.
Mulligan, all winners. Gordon would build his own racer in 1932 which he
The test pilot crashed the
Redhead on its first flight and the aircraft and engine had to be
rebuilt. After rebuild Gordon asked an airline pilot by the name of Lou
Bowen to race the craft at Cleveland in 1932 Bowen was doing well in a
race when a bearing started to seize and they were out of the race and
out of the money. In 1933 at Los Angeles, Gordon decided to fly the
Redhead himself and won , three third places and a fifth. Later in 1933
at Chicago he took two seconds and a third. In 1934 at Omaha, Gordon won
the 50 mile free-for-all but damaged the Redhead on landing. It never
raced again. In 1935 Gordon flew as Benny Howard’s co-pilot in Mr.
Mulligan, winning the Bendix Race.
Printed in BOYS' LIFE in July 1947
(Published by THE BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA)