Mormon trek commemorated

Thursday , July 29, 2010 - 4:03 PM

Amy Kemp Butler - Ogden Air Logistics Center History Office

To commemorate a century of extraordinary achievement since the historic arrival of Mormon pioneers in Utah in 1847, in 1947 a United States Army Air Forces' jet aircraft flew from Omaha, Neb., to Hill Field in a relatively uneventful 123 minutes. In July a hundred years earlier, or some 163 years ago today, courageous American trailblazers completed the journey in an entirely arduous, very eventful 110 days, at times losing and burying some of their loved ones along the way.

To salute 1847's intrepid team of individuals and families, and to show a kindred spirit in teamwork and accomplishment, 1947's Airmen planned to trace the Mormon route, but pass in a minute the same ground and distance the pioneers traveled each day. Despite climbing to and flying at 30,000 feet for a time, the pilot, 1st Lt. John R. Rawson, missed that goal by 13 minutes due to some very strong, unexpected head wind. Nonetheless, the mission was considered a success.

Army Air Forces' headquarters had selected Rawson to make the flight for two reasons. First, because he was the great-grandson of William C. Rawson, who had migrated to Utah in 1850. Second, because the lieutenant was one of a relatively few people who could; that is, he was one of the nation's first and best jet pilots. Prior to the quick flight, Rawson had served four and a half years with the service, including World War II duty overseas and a year and a half stateside P-80 qualified.

The commemorative flight occurred as the Sons of Utah Pioneers were on the ground reenacting the feat in wagon-covered cars. While of a different sort, they too faced delays, such as overwhelming hospitality of some of Iowa's citizens. Wendell J. Ashton, president of the Sons of Utah Pioneers, said, "These people in Iowa are just too kind to us, we go into a town and they won't let us get out." Also, there were complications arising from the materiel used to replicate the original equipment -- 19th century horse-power covered wagons. The material provoked engines to overheat, lengthening travel time.

On the banks of the Mississippi, just prior to their departure, the Sons of the Utah Pioneers had handed Rawson copies of the Centennial Commission's official program, which the pilot delivered to the base, including to the commanding officer and Governor of Utah. Gov. Herbert B. Maw was one of many distinguished visitors attending and honored by the tribute. The flight, flight line and subsequent commemorative activities reflected the exemplary civil-military relations that had originated with the base and would go on to thrive with patriotism, hard work and a common sense of what quality is for an individual, a family, and an effort.

While the commemorative flight also occurred in the mist of rapid demobilization following the Allied victory, just two months later the base and state again had cause for celebration as the installation became part of the newly established United States Air Force, on September 18, 1947.

The Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star was the service's first operational jet fighter and saw extensive combat over Korea as the F-80. It flew in the first jet-versus-jet dogfight in history, which occurred during the Korean War on Nov. 8, 1950. From 1955 to 1957, the F-80's jet trainer variant, the T-33, was assigned and flew routinely from and to this base.

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