Brigadier General Robert L. Scott, Jr., world renowned World War II "ace" pilot and author of the 1943 book "God Is My Co-Pilot," has gone to see his co-pilot. The spirited adventurer who flew fighter missions with the "Flying Tigers" in China, passed away this morning at the age of 97. Known to his friends and family as "Scotty," the retired general lived his final two decades as the champion and cheerleader of the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins. His legacy is portrayed at the Museum in a large exhibit featuring his photos, books, personal items, and memorabilia. He worked tirelessly to promote the educational value of the Museum and was responsible for raising millions of dollars for Museum development.
Scott's lifetime story and flying career is legendary. A West Point graduate, he amassed over 33,000 flying hours in sixty years of flying. Official Army Air Force records credit him with 13 aerial victories, but according to Scott it was really 22, making him one of the top Air Force "aces" of World War II. Never shot down and never losing an aircraft, Scott's feats in the early years of the war inspired an entire generation of young pilots. His book "God Is My Co-Pilot" was a best seller and thousands of copies are cherished today - especially those autographed by Scott.
Born on April 12, 1908, Scott grew up in Macon, Georgia. He graduated from Lanier High School in 1928. The summer between his junior and senior years of high school, he took a job as deck boy aboard a Black Diamond Line freighter and sailed half-way around the world. It was the beginning of a lifetime of adventure.
General Scott's like-long ambition was to fly. At age 12, he flew a home-built glider off the roof of a three story house in Macon, and crashed landed amid the spikes of a Cherokee rose bush - the state flower of Georgia. As Scott tells the story, "Gliders were built out of spruce, but I didn't have enough money, so I made mine out of knotty pine. I cleared the first Magnolia, but then the main wing strut broke and I came down in Mrs. Napier's rose bushes. It's the only plane I ever crashed."
Scott enlisted in the Georgia National Guard and finally received an appointment to West Point by President Hoover in 1928. Upon graduation from West Point, he used the summer to sail to Europe. He bought a motorcycle in France, and motored across Europe and Asia-turning around at Mt Ararat. After returning from leave, he was assigned to the U.S. Army Flying Center at Randolph AFB, Texas. He won his wings on October 17, 1933 and went off to his first assignment to Mitchell Field, New York.
In 1934, President Roosevelt cancelled commercial air mail contracts and gave the duty to the Air Corps. Scott immediately volunteered and flew airmail in an open cockpit plane through the "Hell Stretch" -- as it was know then -- from Newark, New Jersey to Cleveland, Ohio. He then served a tour of duty at Albrook Field Panama. He became a flying instructor after that and advanced from lieutenant to lieutenant colonel during the expansion program prior to World War II.
When World War II broke out, Scott - at age 33 - was running the largest flight training academy in the country - Cal Aero Academy in California. To his dismay, he did not receive orders to go fight and wrote numerous letters begging to be assigned to a combat flying unit. He was told he was too old to be a fighter pilot and he needed to stay in his job training younger pilots.
Finally one night, he received a call from the Pentagon. An intelligence officer asked him if he had ever flown a B-17. "Scotty" immediately said yes even though he had never flown the four-engine bomber. His reply got him assigned to a secret Task Force Aquila to fly B-17s to China to bomb Japan. Flying days across the Atlantic, Africa, the Middle East and finally to China, he received the news upon landing that the mission was scrubbed, because the Japanese had captured their planned take-off bases in the Philippines.
He was assigned instead to fly Gooney Birds (C-47 transports) over the Himalayas bringing fuel and supplies from India to combat bases in China. Soon, Scott, then a Colonel, met General Claire Chennault, commander of the American Volunteer Group in China known as the "Flying Tigers." Scott convinced him to let him use a P-40 to fly escort missions for the transports and soon was flying daily combat missions in addition to escort duty. In his first month of combat, he logged 215 hours of flight time and soon became a double "ace" with 13 confirmed aerial victories (Scott says it was really 22).
On July 4, 1942, at the request of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, Scott was given command of the 23 Fighter Group of the China Air Task Force, the Army Air Force unit activated with remnants of the Flying Tigers, later to become the 14th Air Force.
In January 1943, he was ordered back to the United States to make public relations speeches to war plant personnel. He wrote the best seller, "God Is My Co-Pilot," and served as technical advisor to Warner Brothers in making a movie based on the book. The World Premiere was at the Grand Theater in Macon, Georgia in 1945.
After the war, Scott served in the Pentagon on a task force to win autonomy for the Air Force from the Army which occurred in September of 1947. In that year he was given command of the Air Force's first jet fighter school at Williams Field, Arizona. He then moved to Europe in 1950 to command the 36th Fighter Wing at Furstenfieldbruck Germany. In 1954, after graduating from the National War College he was promoted to brigadier general and assigned as Director of Information for the U.S. Air Force, retiring in 1957.
After retirement, he pursued his life-long dream to walk the Great Wall of China. Writing over 300 letters in two years to ask for official permission, Scott signed on for a package tour to just get inside China. While there, he managed to get a visa and travel permit and in 93 days, with a 70 pound backpack including 1200 oatmeal cookies he baked himself, he walked the 2,000 miles of the Great Wall to complete Marco Polo's trip that had fascinated him for 57 years. On a 9,000 foot mountain overlooking Kunming, China - General Chennault's home base in World War II - he left an engraved stone memorial to his former boss: GENERAL CLAIRE LEE CHENNAULT. WE, YOUR MEN, HONOR YOU FOREVER.
In 1976, with special permission from General Gabriel, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, he flew an F-16 "Falcon" fighter. Ironically, his first military airplane had also been Falcon, a Curtiss O-1G fabric covered biplane.
In 1986, Scott came to Warner Robins for the unveiling of an exhibit of his memorabilia at the Museum of Aviation. He was asked to stay and the next year moved to Warner Robins to become the head of the Heritage of Eagle Campaign with ultimately raised $2.5 million to build a 3-story Eagle Building at the Museum.
In 1988, Scott released his autobiography entitled "The Day I Owned the Sky." That year, at age 82, he was cleared to fly in an Air National Guard F-15 Eagle out of Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta Georgia. Two years later, he again flew the Eagle - this time at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia. On April 2, 1997, in celebration of his 89th Birthday, Scott flew his last flight in a B-1 bomber assigned to the 116th Bomb Wing at Robins Air Force Base. His flight log closed with over 33,000 hours in the air - a record which few pilots have ever reached.
In the last two decades of his life, Scott worked tirelessly at the Museum of Aviation, helping to raise millions of dollars to develop the heritage and education center. His legacy was "teach the younger generation that if we are strong, we will never have to endure another tragedy like World War II." He stressed to children the value of education and loved to greet groups touring the Museum.
Scott leaves a daughter, Robin Fraser who lives in Bakersfield, California, a grand son, three grand daughters and several great-grandchildren. Memorial Services are being arranged at McCullough Funereal Home in Warner Robins. Burial will be at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C.
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