In the halcyon days of Air Racing, when the sport was front page news and at the forefront of aviation development, the public built an image of the pylon dusting speed flyer that was part myth and part reality. This image was based, for the most part, on a dashing individual, Colonel Roscoe Turner. His flashing smile, affable personality and eye catching uniforms as well as his penchant for self publicity, his sleek aircraft and top notch sponsors all went toward the creation of the image. However, in the case of Roscoe Turner, it was not all show and publicity. The man lived up to the image.
Born in to humble circumstances near Corinth, Mississippi on September 29, 1895, Roscoe Turner was destined from the beginning for the fast lane. He was always attracted to things mechanical and had an obvious love for speed. In 1917, he joined the Army Ambulance Service but quickly transferred to the Air Service. In the immediate postwar period he became a member of the fraternity of barnstormers in the ever present Curtiss Jenny. After a stint of movie flying and airline operation, Turner began to make his mark in the world of aerial motorsports, a mark that was never equaled by any other in that colorful era.
Among his many accomplishments were numerous transcontinental records, from west to east and east to west. In 1933 he won the Shell Speed Dashes and the famous Bendix Trophy. He had also been first to cross the finish line in the Closed Course Pylon competition known as the Thompson Trophy Race but was technically disqualified for a pylon infraction.
In 1934 he won the Thompson Trophy Race, was second in the Shell Speed Dashes and finished second in the Speed Division of the MacRobertson International Air Race from London to Melbourne. In 1935 he finished an agonizing 23.5 seconds behind the winner in the Bendix Trophy Race, flying from Los Angeles, California to Cleveland, Ohio, and led the Thompson Trophy Race until the last half lap when his engine began trailing a column of black smoke.
In 1938 Roscoe was back with a brand new mount in which he placed second in the Golden Gate Trophy Race and won the Thompson Trophy Race for the second time. At the close of the 1939 Cleveland National Air Races at which he had won the Thompson Trophy for an unprecedented third time, Roscoe Turner announced his retirement from active competition.
As America's premier speed flyer, Turner was a multiple winner of the Harmon and Henderson Trophies, and received a special Distinguished Flying Cross by Act of Congress in 1952.
Beyond his tremendous contributions to the sport and advancement of aviation technology, Roscoe Turner personified a golden era in American history.