Thursday, May 17, 2007

William 'Bill' Barton Bridgeman 1916-1968

Bridgeman grew up in southern California - photographs document him clowning around at Point Mugu in 1942. He flew B-24 bombers for the US Navy during World War II in Squadron VB-109 under Buzz Miller. His crew sunk the Japanese submarine RO-117, with 55 men aboard, on 17 June 1944. After the war he stayed in the Pacific, flying for several airlines. He obtained a bachelor of science degree from the University of California and became a test pilot for Douglas Aircraft in 1949. This led to pioneering flights on the D-558-2 rocketplane and X-3 Stiletto in the 1950's. He was listed as an astronaut candidate for the US Air Force's Man In Space Soonest program in 1958 (NASA was created instead and given responsibility for putting the first man into space).

Bridgeman was briefly famous, setting altitude records, and appeared on a cover of Life magazine in 1951 as the latest "The Fastest Man Alive". He later left Douglas and flew flying boats on the run from Long Beach to Catalina Island off Los Angeles. Alone on one of these flights, he crashed into the ocean, on 29 September 1968, and was killed instantly.