Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.


Morning Star, November 28, 1993, pg. 12

Albion has had a handful of notable persons in its history who have entered national prominence. Some of these this author has written about before in this column, including food writer Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, Rev. George Bennard, the author of "The Old Rugged Cross," Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Hon. Washington Gardner; and journalist Gwen Dew. This week we’re going to learn about another Albion individual: Colonel Joseph B. Duckworth (1903-1964).

Duckworth was a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force, and was regarded as the "father" of modern day Air Force instrument flying. He was the first person to purposely fly through the eye of a hurricane, a feat which put him in the record books.

Originally from Georgia, Duckworth graduated as a U.S. Army Flying Cadet in 1928, and served as a pilot for Eastern Air Lines during the 1930s. He also obtained a law degree from Miami Law School.

In 1940, he was recalled by the Army Air Corps for active duty as a major, and worked to develop the instrument flying program at the Bryan Field School in Texas. His manuals were used for many years by the Air Force. Duckworth was promoted to the rank of Colonel, and was placed in command of Hickman Air Force Base in Hawaii, and retired from active duty in 1955. He moved to Albion and taught physics at Albion College, while his second wife, Mildred Beilfuss, taught elementary school at Dalrymple. How many remember "Mrs. Duckworth" as their teacher? Mrs. Duckworth was my 5th grade teacher on that fateful day of November 22, 1963 when she announced to us that President Kennedy had been shot. But that is another story.

Colonel Duckworth is remembered in the records for two particular feats. It was his instrument training methods which were credited with being the major contribution to the World War II aviation effort and the Berlin airlift in 1948. Duckworth was particularly concerned about safety, and served as the head of the safety bureau of the Civil Aeronautics Board in Washington, D.C. The system of the Army Air Force’s instrument flying training was evolved, tested, and personally written by Colonel Duckworth. He wrote many regulations relating to safety of flight and military operations.

Duckworth’s most memorable feat of course, was flying through the center of the hurricane. That occurred on July 27, 1943 during the height of World War II. Duckworth flew into the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston Texas, where a small but intense hurricane was churning. His description was the first describing the structure of this particular type of storm as viewed from an airplane, which in this case was an AT-6 single engine trainer.

In his later years Colonel Duckworth devoted his time to writing, and as a consultant for the Aircraft Owners’ and Pilot’s Association. His "hobby" was bridge, and in 1963 he opened a bridge studio in Albion. The Duckworth’s lived at 504 S. Superior St. That home was later converted into the Century 21 real estate office which operates there today. Colonel Joseph B. Duckworth died at Battle Creek Community Hospital on July 26, 1964, and was buried in Riverside Cemetery. He was a member of St. Jame’s Episcopal Church here.

From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of Colonel Joseph B. Duckworth.

Colonel Joseph B. Duckworth


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