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Herbert O. Fisher
Herbert O. Fisher
Full name Herbert Owen Fisher
Born (1909-03-06)March 6, 1909
Erie, Buffalo, New York
Died July 29, 1990(1990-07-29) (aged 81)
Chilton Memorial Hospital, Kinnelon, New Jersey
Cause of death congestive heart failure
Nationality United States of America
Spouse Emily Fisher (nee Yucknat)
Aviation career
Known for Test pilot, Administrator
Air force United States Army Air Corps
Battles World War II
Awards Air Force Air Medal

Herbert O. Fisher (March 6, 1909–July 29, 1990), was an American test pilot and an aviation executive, overseeing aviation projects at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He worked for the Curtiss-Wright Corporation in engineering, flight testing, public relations and sales in the years before, during and after World War II. He had tested more than 4,000 military aircraft and helped develop the reversible propeller for use as a brake. Fisher flew as a pilot for over 50 years, racking up 19,351 accident and violation free hours.

In World War II he went to the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations to train members of the Flying Tigers on C-46 transports and P-40 fighters. Although he was a civilian, Fisher flew scores of combat missions. President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented him the Air Force Air Medal in 1944, making him the first living civilian to receive the honor.

Early years[edit]

Fisher was born on March 6, 1909 at Erie, Buffalo to Harold O. Fisher and Emma Rose Fisher (nee Wortley). At the age of 16, he had his first flying experience at the hands of a barnstormer, and was "hooked" on flying. After completing two years at college, Fisher began to explore aviation as a career.[1]

Aviation career[edit]

Herbert O. Fisher in center, c. 1940
Curtiss Hawk 75N
Curtiss company executives, with Fisher (at center), indicating the highly-decorated P-40N,[N 1] the firm's 15,000th fighter, November 1944.

Fisher's aviation career began with his signing up with the United States Army Air Corps in 1927. becoming a member of the 309 Observation reserve squadron, Schoen Field, Ft. Benjamin, Harrison, Indiana.[3]


After leaving the military in 1933, Fisher joined Curtiss-Wright, and was assigned to test pilot duties. In checking out aircraft off the production lines, on his first day, he flew 10 aircraft. During his 15 years with Curtiss-Wright, Fisher recorded thousands of test flight hours in the Curtiss C-46 Commando, Curtiss P-36/Model 75 Hawk, Curtiss SB2C Helldivers, Curtiss P-40 Warhawks and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighters plus almost all other manufactured military propeller types. He flew 2,498 P-40s in his role as a production test pilot.[1] [N 2]

During World War II, Curtiss-Buffalo manufactured hundreds of P-47s along with its own transports and fighters. During 13 months overseas, Fisher assisted the Engineering and Operation section of the Air Transport Command in the technique of flying and maintaining the C-46 transports. He lectured and conducted P-40 flight demonstrations to almost every fighter base in the CBI, Middle East, North and Central Africa.[3]

In 1942, Fisher appeared as one of the pilots subbing for John Wayne in Republic Studios' Flying Tigers. He was again at the controls of a P-40.[4]

Despite his being a civilian test pilot, Fisher flew as many as 50 missions to prove the P-40 under combat conditions. He was the first living civilian to be awarded the Air Force Air Medal by the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. This coveted award was presented because Fisher was credited with saving hundreds of pilots and passengers' lives as well as aircraft due to the operational procedures which he suggested be incorporated by the Commanding General of the theatre.[1]


At the end of World War II, Fisher transferred to Propeller Division, Caldwell, New Jersey, where he served as the Chief Pilot. One of his important assignments was to assess the full potential of propeller-driven aircraft.[5]


Supersonic flights[edit]

After test flights of a P-47C on November 13, 1942, Republic Aviation issued a press release on December 1, 1942, claiming that Lts. Harold E. Comstock and fellow test pilot Roger Dyar had exceeded the speed of sound.[6] In response, Fisher later observed, “We knew about Mach 1 going clear back to the P-36 and the P-40 ... Nothing could go 600 mph in level flight, but pilots were beginning to dive fighters. We ran into compressibility back in ’38.”[7]

The desire to develop a propeller that maintained its efficiency at transonic speeds led the Curtiss Propeller Division to design and test several different concepts, including a three-bladed "scimitar" design. Utilizing a specially modified P-47D-30-RE on loan from the USAAF, Fisher undertook 100 high mach number precision dives from 38,000 feet at speeds from 500 to 590 miles per hour.[N 3] The typical fight began above 35,000 ft. when Fisher would push over into a steep dive, allowing his airspeed to build beyond 560 mph (true airspeed).[9] He would then execute a pullout at 18,000 ft.

Some of the tests proved hazardous with flexing of the blades on the ground causing concern. The most serious incident occurred in August 1948, when a rupture of a high pressure oil line while at 590 mph over Allentown, Pennsylvania, led to an emergency "blind" landing, with the entire aircraft coated in black oil.[10] Several of these dives resulted in speeds of Mach .83, one occurring on October 27, 1949, the fastest speeds a P-47 could attain.[11]

During the test program, Fisher brought his son, Herbert O. Fisher Jr., along for a Mach .80 dive. The youngster was touted as "the world's fastest toddler".[12]

Reversible pitch experiments[edit]

Fisher also conducted a program designed to allow aircraft to descend rapidly. It involved reversing all four propellers simultaneously in f1ight. On a Douglas C-54 Skymaster transport, the extremely high sink rates of up to 15,000 feet per minute in 4 seconds after reversal, produced a safe method of rapid descent for airliners. The flight would start at 15,000 ft., three miles from the airfield before push over, landing and coming to a full stop in one minute and 50 seconds. Fisher wrote that forward airspeed was well within normal parameters (200 mph) with there was no decrease in controllability.[12]

Fisher conducted nearly 200 of these high rate/low speed descents and demonstrated the technique for Hap Arnold and Dwight Eisenhower in 1948. For the latest pressurized airliners and combat aircraft that operated at high altitudes, this was an effective method of safely dumping altitude in the event of an emergency. Fisher was also instrumental in developing the use of reversing pitch to rapidly slow an aircraft, which allowed them to land safely on shorter runways, and in general, greatly reduce the incidence of runway overruns.[3]

Later, flying a U.S. Navy Grumman F8F Bearcat fighter, Fisher developed a way to fly zero g, vertical dives. From 20,000 ft, the F8F would be nosed down into a vertical dive, while he simultaneously reversed the propeller pitch. This technique allowed a controlled vertical dive at rates of descent that varied between 30,000 and 37,000 fpm.[12]

Later career and associations[edit]

After leaving Curtiss-Wright in 1952, Fisher worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for 23 years. As head of aviation-industry affairs, he evaluated requests for aircraft to use airports in the New York metropolitan region, checking out numerous aircraft from wide-body airliners to the executive jets. He retired in 1975.[13]

Other positions Fisher filled included Director of Aeronautics for Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and instructor at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where he held a Doctorate of Aeronautical Science and was a member of their International Advisory Council. Fisher was also a councilman and police commissioner in Caldwell, New Jersey, and was on the New Jersey Civil Air Defense Advisory Council.[13]

Awards and honors[edit]

Fisher was a charter member and Past President of the P-47 Thunderbolt Pilots Association, founder and first President of the P-40 Warhawk Association, Past President of the CBI Hump Pilots Association. He was inducted into the OX5 Hall of Fame at the same time as Charles Lindbergh, received the China-Burma-India Veterans Association's Americanism Award, the General "James Doolittle Fellow" Award presented by Barry Goldwater.[3]


At age 81, Fisher died on July 29, 1990, after suffering congenital heart failure.[13]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ The Curtiss P-40N, representing the 15,000th Curtiss fighter built, was emblazoned with the insignia of all 28 air forces with which Curtiss fighters had served during World War II. [2]
  2. ^ In 1976, Fisher flew a P-40 again to make it an even 2,500 flights in the type.ref name="Barlett"/>
  3. ^ In a bit of grim humor, British test pilot Eric Brown said diving the P-47 at anything over Mach 0.74 was called "The Graveyard Dive".[8]


  1. ^ a b c Hansen. Lee."Herb Fisher: Career of Derring-do." Daytona Beach Morning Journal, August 21, 1975.
  2. ^ "1944 Curtiss P-40 Warhawk." Retrieved: June 14, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d "Herbert O. Fisher biography." P-47 Pilots Association. Retrieved: June 14, 2013.
  4. ^ Maurer, Neil L. "Letters from the Editors." CBI Roundup, Vol.34, No. 8, October 1979.
  5. ^ Bartlett, Kay. "Daring old men in the ir flying machines." Milwaukee Journal, November 16, 1976.
  6. ^ Hammel 1983, pp. 275–280.
  7. ^ Wilkinson, Stephan. "Mach 1: Assaulting the Barrier." Air & Space magazine, December 1990.
  8. ^ Brown 1994, p. 145.
  9. ^ Hallion 1981, pp. 205–206.
  10. ^ Hallion 1981, p. 206.
  11. ^ McKinney, Kevin. "Review: Adventures in Flying by Jack Elliott/" Atlantic Flyer, January 2010. Retrieved: June 14, 2013.
  12. ^ a b c Jordan, C. C. "Pushing the envelope with test pilot Herb Fisher". Planes and Pilots of WW2, 2000. Retrieved: June 14, 2013.
  13. ^ a b c "Obituary: Herbert O. Fisher, 81, Test Pilot and Official." The New York Times, August 3, 1990. Retrieved: June 14, 2013.


  • Browm Eric. Testing for Combat: Testing Experimental and Prototype Aircraft, 1930-45. London: Airlife Publishing Ltd., 1994. ISBN 978-1-85310-319-3.
  • Hallion, Richard P. Test Pilots: The Frontiersmen of Flight. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1981.ISBN 0-385-15469-0.
  • Hammel, Eric. Aces Against Germany. Novato, California: Presidio Press, 1993. ISBN 0-89141-441-X.

External links[edit]

Category:Aviation history of the United States Category:Recipients of the Air Medal Category:People from Lincoln County, West Virginia Category:1909 births Category:1990 deaths Category:American test pilots