Edmund T. Allen
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Edmund T. Allen
Edmund Turney Allen
Edmund Turney Allen (4727306297).jpg
Born(1896-01-04)January 4, 1896
DiedFebruary 18, 1943(1943-02-18) (aged 47)
Cause of deathAircrash
Other namesEddie Allen
CitizenshipUnited States
EducationUniversity of Illinois (two years)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (two years)
OccupationAeronautical engineer
Known forAircraft flight testing
Home townSeattle, Washington

Edmund Turney Allen (January 4, 1896 - February 18, 1943) was a pioneer of modern flight test who flew for nearly every major aircraft manufacturer and took some of the most famous planes of all time up for their first flights.[1]

Early life

Allen was born in Chicago, Illinois on 4 January 1896. He had to work for three years after his father died to support his family. He then finished one year at the University of Illinois.


World War I

When the United States entered World War I, he enlisted in the US Army Signal Corps as a lieutenant. He initially served as an instructor pilot but then was sent to the British flight test center in England to learn flight testing techniques. Before the armistice in November 1918, he returned to the US Army's flight test center at McCook Field, Ohio, to apply his flight experience and overseas observations. After the armistice, he became the first test pilot for the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics at Langley Field, Virginia. In 1919, he returned to the University of Illinois for a year and then studied aeronautical engineering for two years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[2][3]

Between the wars

From 1923 to 1925, he worked as a freelance test pilot and also worked as a civilian test pilot at McCook Field. From July 1925 to mid-1927, he flew rebuilt de Havilland DH-4s as an airmail pilot for the Post Office Department over the treacherous Rocky Mountain routes between Cheyenne and Salt Lake City, sometimes under extremely adverse conditions. On 1 September 1927, when the Post Office got out of the flying business, Allen joined Boeing Air Transport, flying Boeing 40As as an airmail pilot on their new Chicago to San Francisco run. Over the next five years he began to do more and more test flying, particularly for Boeing Airplane Company, an affiliate of the Boeing Air Transport which later became United Airlines. In 1929, Allen was one of several pilots, including Melvin N. Gough, William H. McAvoy, and Thomas Carroll, NACA trained "in stability and control research techniques, including the ability to reach and hold equilibrium flight conditions with accuracy. As with all good research test pilots, the NACA group worked closely with flight test engineers and in fact took part in discussing NACA's flying qualities work with outsiders. All of this helped lay the groundwork for the comprehensive flying qualities research that followed." [4] By 1932, Allen was a highly respected independent test pilot and consulting aeronautical engineer.[3]

As a freelance pilot, Allen was the first to fly several types:

He was also involved in the test flying of the Douglas DC-1[11] and the Consolidated XPB2Y-1.[12]

World War II

In April 1939, Boeing gave Allen a permanent position as the head of the company's Research Division, and direct charge of all flight testing and of aerodynamics and wind tunnel research. In this position, he made the first flights of the:

Even his position at Boeing did not stop the Army Air Force from borrowing Allen for the first flight of the Lockheed C-69 Constellation on 9 January 1943. He also piloted the first flight of the Curtiss-Wright CW-20 on 26 March 1940.[2][3]

Allen did not fit the image of the daredevil test pilot Hollywood promoted. He was very slender, and some described him as frail. He considered himself an engineer as well as a pilot, and insisted the test pilot should be involved in the development of new aircraft, not just fly them. Allen developed a systematic approach to flight testing and set standards that are the basis for modern flight testing.[15] He also formed a dedicated flight-test and aeronautical research organization at Boeing and insisted that the company develop its own high-speed wind tunnel, an idea directly responsible for Boeing being in position to take the leadership in the development of large swept-wing jets.[15]

In 1940, Lockheed built a wind tunnel with the same test section size and speed capability as the University of Washington's wind tunnel. Boeing, realizing they needed a dedicated, in-house wind tunnel, copied Lockheed's design. Theodore von Kármán intervened and recommended the Boeing wind tunnel be designed for airspeeds near the speed of sound. Allen argued for such a wind tunnel and received authorization to build a tunnel, despite the cost estimate of $1 million. Having a wind tunnel (the Boeing Transonic Wind Tunnel) with this capability was directly responsible for Boeing being able to create such designs as the B-47 Stratojet and the 367-80.[16]

B-29 Superfortress crash

As the United States became involved in World War II, Boeing was awarded a contract to build one of the most technologically advanced airplanes of the war, the B-29 Superfortress. On 21 September 1942, Allen took the first XB-29 on its initial flight and continued as the program's chief pilot. The second prototype first flew on 30 December 1942, this flight being terminated due to a serious engine fire. On 18 February 1943 the second prototype also experienced an engine fire, which was extinguished, but a second fire erupted. Two crewmen bailed out as the plane narrowly missed downtown Seattle skyscrapers on its approach to Boeing Field, but their parachutes did not deploy in time and they were killed. The aircraft crashed into the Frye Packing Plant just short of the runway, killing Eddie Allen, eight other crewmen and 19 workers in the meat-processing factory.[3][17]


On 23 April 1946, three years after Eddie Allen's death in the crash of XB-29, he was posthumously awarded the Air Medal -- an honor rarely bestowed upon a civilian -- by direction of the President of the United States.

Eddie Allen's contributions were recognized with some of aviation's greatest awards, including the very first Octave Chanute Award in 1939. On 17 December 1942, he presented the prestigious Wright Brothers lecture, "Flight Testing for Performance and Stability." He was posthumously awarded the Daniel Guggenheim Medal in 1943, the citation for which read: "For major contributions to aeronautics leading to important advances in airplane design, flight research, and airline operation; particularly for the presentation of new methods for operational control and for the development of scientific and systematic methods in the flight testing of aircraft for basic design and performance data." [18] The Boeing Company dedicated its high-speed wind tunnel and aeronautical research laboratories to him. Those facilities are still known today as the Edmund T. Allen Memorial Aeronautical Laboratories.[2]


  1. ^ "Edmund T. "Eddie" Allen". National Postal Museum. Retrieved 2012. Airmail pilot Edmund Turney "Eddie" Allen was born in Chicago, Illinois on January 4, 1896. Prior to his airmail experience, Allen flew as a test pilot for a series of organizations and companies. He attended the University of Illinois and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Eddie Allen, the dean of test pilots Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Eddie Allen and the B-29 Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  4. ^ Abzug, Malcolm J., and Larrabee, E. Eugene. Airplane Stability and Control: A History of the Technologies That Made Aviation Possible. Second Edition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2002, Library of Congress card number 200105284, ISBN 0-521-80992-4, pp. 21-22.
  5. ^ a b Allen, Richard Sanders, The Northrop Story; 1929-1939, Orion Books, 1990.
  6. ^ Yenne, Bill, Boeing; Planemaker to the World, Crescent Books, 1983.
  7. ^ Edmund T. Allen; Pathfinders Awards 1983 Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  8. ^ Then Notes From 1933 Wichita Eagle Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  9. ^ Szurovy, Geza, Wings of Yesteryear: The Golden Age, Motorbooks Classic, 1998.
  10. ^ Lordship in World War II Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  11. ^ The Beginning of an Era The DC-1 Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  12. ^ "Test Flying the Sky Giants" Popular Mechanics May 1939
  13. ^ Phillips, Edward H. Stearman Aircraft; A Detailed History, Specialty Press, 2006.
  14. ^ Herman, Arthur. Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II (New York: Random House ), pp. 296-302. ISBN 978-1-4000-6964-4.
  15. ^ a b "Boeing Frontiers Online".
  16. ^ Cook, William H., The Road to the 707, TYC Publishing Company, 1991.
  17. ^ Herman, pp. 296-302.
  18. ^ http://www.guggenheimmedal.org/Medalist%20PDF/MEDALIST%20FOR%201943.pdf

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