Ernest Emery Harmon

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Captain Ernest Emery Harmon

Captain Ernest Emery Harmon, Army Air Corps (February 8, 1893, Fort Worth, Texas - August 27, 1933, Stamford, Connecticut) was an aviation pioneer. Lesser known than many of the major figures of early flight, his significant contributions during the golden age of aviation (aka the interwar years) resulted, by an act of Congress (June 23, 1948), in the naming of Ernest Harmon Air Force Base in his honor. Dedication ceremonies occurred on August 13, 1949, at the base in Stephenville, Newfoundland.[1]

Earns his wings[edit]

Harmon earned his wings in May 1918 at Gerstner Field, Louisiana, where he went on to become a flight, gunnery, and bombing instructor. Later (after a hurricane devastated Gerstner Field) Harmon was transferred to Wilbur Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. During his career in the Signal Enlisted Corps, and the Army Air Corps, he also spent time at Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., France Field, Panama Canal Zone, and Mitchel Field, Long Island.

The "Round-the-Rim" flight[edit]

From July 24 to November 9, 1919, Lieutenant Harmon piloted the first ever flight around the continental United States, four years before John A. Macready and Oakley G. Kelly flew the first non-stop transcontinental flight across the United States, and eight years before Charles A. Lindbergh's historic Atlantic Ocean crossing. Also on the flight was his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Rutherford Hartz, and two mechanics, Sgt. Jerry Dobias and Sgt. Jack Harding. Original plans called for a second pilot, Lt. Lotha A. Smith, but due to an injury that resulted from a crash landing in Jay, New York, he was forced to abandon the high risk mission shortly after it began. This left pilot Ernest "Tiny" Harmon (he was 6 feet 3 inches) with the primary responsibility of assuring the successful completion of the 3-month-long mission. The pioneering flight was monitored by the entire nation, and generated front-page headlines in newspapers across the country. Often landing in farmer's fields, when no airstrip was available, the Round-The-Rim flight set an unprecedented milestone during the formative years of winged flight. The efforts of the R-T-R crew resulted in helping to establish, and improve landing strip markings and design, navigation and mapping standards, and basic aviation communication. Among the many objectives of the flight were to prove aircraft endurance over long flights, establish new air fields, generate enthusiasm for commercial and military aviation, and to inspire new recruits into military aviation service.[2]

Aviation records[edit]

On February 19, 1919, Lieutenant Harmon set an air speed record flying a 400 hp LePere aeroplane from Washington, D.C. to New York City, achieving 165.1 miles per hour (265.7 km/h) and covering the distance in 85 minutes. After the flight, his passenger, Lt. Col. R.F. Hartz said Lt. Harmon "burnt the air" in order to accomplish the unprecedented feat.

On June 30, 1919, Harmon flew a Martin MB-1 bomber non-stop from the Martin factory in Dayton, Ohio to Washington D.C., covering the 390 miles (630 km) in three hours and 45 minutes, yet another speed record for him at the time.

On October 14, 1925 at the International Air Races, at Mitchel Field piloting a Huff-Daland bomber, Harmon won the Detroit News Transport Trophy and $1000 in Liberty bonds by achieving a speed of 119.91 miles per hour (192.98 km/h).[3]

Wife sets record[edit]

On May 30th, 1919, Harmon's wife, Harriette Alexander Harmon, was a passenger on one of his flights from Bolling Field in Washington D.C. to Hazelhurst Field ( aka Mitchel Field ), Long Island. This flight, which took off at 11:10 am and lasted two hours and forty five minutes, established Mrs. Harmon as the first woman ever to fly from the nation's capital to New York City. Other passengers included Col. Robert E. O'Brien, Col. William C. Sherman, and Maj. Raycroft Walsh. [4]

Other notable flights[edit]

Lieutenant Harmon was the first pilot ever to fly the giant L.W.F "Owl" Bomber with its three 400 hp Liberty motors.

In 1924, Harmon piloted the infamous Barling Bomber. He took off from Mitchel Field and crash landed literally across the street in Roosevelt Field, Long Island. After the flight, he deemed the Barling Bomber as "not yet airworthy".[5] Ultimately in 1928, General Hap Arnold ordered the plane destroyed due to its inferior and unsafe design.

In 1926, Harmon, with his bombardier Harold George, won the bombing contest in the "heavier than air bomber" category at the international air races in Philadelphia.[6]

Aviators trained by Harmon[edit]

While Capt. Harmon met an untimely death in an aviation accident in 1933, he is credited with having recruited, and mentored the careers of many individuals who went on to become heroes, and leaders in the United States military. In 1924, Harmon saw promise in a young University of Maryland football quarterback named Pete Quesada. Harmon took Quesada flying out of Bolling Field in Washington D.C. and successfully recruited him on the same day into the Army Air Service.[7] Harmon, himself a former football player at Bethany College, West Virginia, had an ulterior motive in recruiting Quesada into the Air Service. It was to include Quesada on the Air Service football team at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas while he was in flight training. Later in his career, Gen. Pete Quesada, and his Ninth Air Tactical Command, led the air invasion on D-Day (June 6, 1944 aka "Overlord") during World War II. Lt. Gen Pete Quesada is widely recognized as having developed the strategy of proving the successful use of tactical "close air support" to ground troops during combat.

In 1918, while an instructor at Gerstner Field, Louisiana, Harmon trained the controversial Lieutenant Edmund G. Chamberlain who was reported to have shot down five enemy aircraft in one day during the first World War.[8]

Commanding officer[edit]

In June 1932, Harmon was promoted to captain and was assigned commanding officer of the 5th Observation Squadron at Mitchel Field, Long Island.

Lackland Air Force Base[edit]

Harmon Drive at Lackland Air Force Base is named in Captain Harmon's honor.

Documentary Video[edit]

A documentary video about Captain Harmon's family, career, and pioneering contributions to early aviation can be viewed by searching for "Ernest Emery Harmon" in YouTube, or at this link:


  1. ^ Feeney, William D. (1963). In Their Honor - True Stories for Whom United States Air Force Bases Are Named. Meredith Press. pp. 80–91. 
  2. ^ Seymour, Miriam O. (2002). The Around The Rim Flight. M.H. Press. ISBN 0-917882-52-0. 
  3. ^ The Detroit News, Harold J. Wymer, October 14, 1925
  4. ^ "In Their Honor", Meredith Press, 1963, p.83
  5. ^ Captain Ernest Emery Harmon - A biographical sketch by Terry Harmon, 1962, on file in the United States National Air and Space Museum
  6. ^ U.S. Airforce Biographical Dictionary by Col. Flint O. Dupree, USAFR, 1965, Franklin Watts, Inc., Library of Congress Card Catalog Number: 65-11718, p. 98
  7. ^ Overlord - General Pete Quesada and the triumph of tactical air power in World War II, by Thomas Alexander Hughes, 1995, Simon & Schuster, Inc., ISBN 0-02-915351-4, pp. 21-23
  8. ^ New York Times Sept. 16, 1918


  • Maurer, Maurer (1987). Aviation in the U.S. Army, 1919-1939 (PDF). Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History, United States Air Force. pp. 25–27. ISBN 0-912799-38-2. LCCN 87012257. OCLC 15661556. Retrieved July 20, 2013. 
  • "The Story of the U.S. Airforce" by Robert D. Loomis, 1959, Random House, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 59-8476, pg 54
  • "The Best of Wings" by Walter J. Boyne, 2001, Brassey's, Inc., ISBN 1-57488-368-2
  • "Aircraft Year Book" issued by the Manufacturers Aircraft Association, 1919

External links[edit]