Jack Valentine Woolams (1917–1946) - born on Valentine's Day, attended the University of Chicago for two years before joining the United States Army Air Corps. He served on active duty for approximately eighteen months, after which he returned to the University of Chicago and graduated with a degree in economics in June 1941.
Career and flight records
Woolams joined Bell Aircraft later that month and was soon transferred from the test flight division to the experimental research division. In September 1942, he became the first person to fly a fighter aircraft coast to coast over the United States without stopping. In the summer of 1943, he set a new altitude record of 47,600 feet. He became chief test pilot for Bell in 1944, and was the first to fly the Bell X-1 and the only one to pilot the plane at the Pinecastle facility in Orlando, Florida.
Author Sterling Michael Pavelec records that Woolams once joined a group of trainee pilots while flying the experimental P-59 jet airplane. The trainees, surprised to see a plane flying without propellers, were astonished to see Woolams flying the plane wearing an old Halloween gorilla mask, a bowler hat and smoking a cigar. Woolams waved at them and flew away.
Death and legacy
Woolams' career ended abruptly on August 30, 1946. He was killed during a practice flight for the upcoming National Air Races in Cleveland, that were to occur the next day. Jack had flown back to western New York and the Bell Aircraft Plant in Wheatfield, NY, where the P-39 had been built at the Wheatfield plant but was owned by an organization known as Skylanes Unlimited. Woolams and the P-39 Airacobra returned to Niagara Falls on August 29, from Cleveland, after obtaining a disappointing qualifying speed of 392 mph. Woolams was testing the red plane over Lake Ontario, late in the afternoon, possibly at speeds of up to 400 mph. It suddenly and inexplicably crashed into the water, breaking apart upon impact. His body was recovered 4 days later.