Craigie, Laurence Carbee
Military Jet PilotEnshrined 2000 1902-1994
Laurence Carbee ”Bill” Craigie was born in Concord, New Hampshire on January 26, 1902, to John and Florence Craigie and grew up in Stoneham Massachusetts. Craigie graduated from West Point in 1923 and soon thereafter earned his wings. Two years later he married Victoria Morrison of Yonkers, New York.
Following his marriage, Craigie served four years as a flight instructor at Brooks and Kelly Fields in Texas. While there he became the 44th member of the “Caterpillar Club” – a select group of airmen who have parachuted from a disabled aircraft.
From 1929 to 1931, Craigie was stationed a France Field, Panama Canal Zone, with the 7th Observation Squadron, flying more than 100 hours per month. He then returned to a post in Texas before attending the Air Corps Engineering School at Wright Field in Ohio. In 1935 he began as a project Officer, Training and Transport Aircraft in the Engineering Section, Air Corps Materiel Division. In four years he advanced from Project Officer to Chief. During this first stay at Wright Field, Craigie had the opportunity to make some real contributions to aircraft design and to do some serious test flying in a number of developmental aircraft.
Craigie briefly departed Wright Field in 1939 to attend the Army Industrial College. He soon returned and once again engaged in aircraft development work, including the XP-43 and XP-47 programs. It was through his work with the secret XP-59A project that Craigie received one of the most exciting opportunities of his career. After witnessing a test flight of the XP-59A, America’s first jet aircraft, Craigie was asked if he wanted to try flying it. He immediately jumped at the offer. On 2 October 1942, Bill Craigie became America’s first military jet pilot.
As a new Brigadier General, in 1943 he sailed from Newport News, Virginia, for the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations as Commander of the 87th Fighter Wing, 12th Air Force. In 1944, under the Mediterranean Coastal Command, he was named Allied Air Commander of Corsica and, in August of that year, participated in the invasion of southern France. The 63rd Fighter Wing, commanded by Craigie, played an important role, providing air cover for naval convoys northbound off Sardinia and Corsica and protecting them from submarines.
Craigie returned to the United States and, at Niagara Falls Airport in 1945, experienced another first when he became the first Army Air Force officer to be flown remotely in a radio controlled P-59. Later that year, on October 12th, 1945, at the Wright Field Air Fair, he stood by his friend Orville Wright on the flight line. He was there when the surviving Wright brother first witnessed a flight by a jet propelled aircraft, a Lockheed YP-80. In 1946 Major General Craigie became Chief, Engineering Division, Air Materiel Command, Wright Field and later, Director of Research and Development, Headquarters USAF.
During the Korean War, Craigie served as Vice Commander and Chief of Staff of the Far East Air Forces and was the United States Air Force delegate on the five-member Korean War Truce Team at Kaesong and Panmunjom. But his primary calling, research and development, beckoned again. In late 1951 the Pentagon ordered him to Washington, D.C., to assume the position of the Air Force’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Research and Development. In that assignment, he earned his third star.
Three years later, Lieutenant General Craigie returned to Europe as Commander of NATO’s Allied Air Forces of Southern Europe. Following a heart attack in June of 1954, Lt. General Craigie retired from active duty and settled at Telucca Lake, California.
Lt. General Craigie spent the next 25 years working in industry. Especially important to him were his professional associations with the Flying Tigers Air Transport and with Lockheed. His last retirement came in 1982, at the age of eighty! On February 25, 1994, not feeling well, Craigie drove himself to the hospital. He died two days later.
With his exceptional contributions to American airpower, and to the establishment of an independent Air Force, as well as his skills as a pilot and problem solver, Lt. General Laurence Carbee “Bill” Craigie is enshrined with highest honor into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.