Major Gilbert H. Eckerson
Born in Spring Valley, New York, Gilbert Eckerson headed west as a young man to seek adventure. Enlisting in the United States Army in 1912, Eckerson served in the Artillery and Quartermasters Corps before being accepted to OCS and commissioned a Captain in 1917. Eckerson then developed an interest in flying and went to flight school, where he received his wings in March 1918. He was assigned to stateside duty and did not see combat, but he remained part of the Air Service Officer Reserve Corps after World War I. After leaving the Army, Eckerson settled in Eugene, Oregon, and flew as a pilot for Hobi Airways. He participated in many pioneering efforts, including the first agricultural use of an airplane in Oregon, spreading grass seed from a Traverlaire biplane. In April 1928, Eckerson opened a flying school in Springfield, Oregon, with a branch in Medford, Oregon, and became a Waco Aircraft dealer. He participated in the 1929 National Air Races in Cleveland and placed fifth in a race from Portland to Cleveland. At the races, he performed an aerobatic routine that wowed the crowds and garnered many employment offers. Eckerson went to work as Chief Test Pilot for Breese Aircraft, who were designing and building aircraft in Beaverton, Oregon. On July 22, 1930, he took off on a flight in a Breese monoplane, intending to fly cross-country to New York with just one fuel stop. The aircraft, named “On To Oregon,” was to demonstrate the viability of an air route from coast to coast. Unfortunately, a new engine cowling installed before the flight funneled carbon monoxide into the cockpit. Eckerson attempted to land but was overcome by the fumes and crashed near Butte, Montana. Due to the injuries suffered in the crash, Major Gilbert Eckerson passed away in 1933. His ashes were placed in an aircraft-shaped urn.