Monday, April 04, 2011

Jack W Thornburg 1901-1972

All the above pictures courtesy of the Thornburg Family

Jack W Thornburg was born in Long Beach in 1901. His father was a rancher. By the time Jack was 9, the family had moved to Pasadena, where Thornburg's father was managing a water company. Jack was the youngest of five brothers. In 1920, at the age of 18, he was working as a machinist on a stock ranch managed by his brother Wayne in Prescott, Arizona.

While living in Berkeley, Jack Thornburg learned to fly. In June 1928, he was listed as having received his pilot’s license. He moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where Jack went into the aviation business, establishing Arizona Air Service Inc., a flying school. Thornburg’s most illustrious flying student was the 21-year-old future Senator Barry Goldwater, who used to sneak out of the house before dawn for his flying lessons.
Arizona Air Service was forced out of business by the depression. Thornburg worked nine years as a pilot for TWA. It was whilst with TWA that on Jan 15th 1937, Jack Thornburg took the first Beech Model 18 on its maiden flight.

He enlisted in the Navy in 1940. His new assignment was as Naval Air Transport Service operations officer for the Caribbean and South America. According to his obituary, published in the Oakland Tribune on Feb. 26, 1972, Commander Thornburg won the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1945, when he flew the first Douglas C-54 Skymaster transport plane into Iwo Jima and Okinawa in the evacuation of more than 9,000 wartime casualties, despite extremely unfavorable weather conditions. His outfit, the Naval Air Transport Service evacuation squadron, (VRE-1), received the Navy Unit Commendation for outstanding heroism in support of the Okinawa campaign operations.

Out of the Navy in 1946, Thornburg joined Waterman Airlines as vice-president and general manager. The company’s six-plane fleet consisted of two DC-4s and four DC-3s, with which he operated a non-scheduled service to Puerto Rico, Central America, England, Germany, and South Africa, and an intrastate line between six Alabama cities. In early 1947, at the age of 45, he was picked by Waterman to run TACA Airways, S.A., a struggling Central American airline acquired by his parent company, Waterman Steamship Corp. Waterman controlled TACA until 1961, but Jack Thornburg was gone by then, having formed Thornburg Engineering and bought ranchland in San Diego County. He died in Santa Ysabel, CA, in 1972.