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Your copy of the "Davis-Monthan Airfield Register" with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available at the link. Or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-0-1.

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"Military Aircraft of the Davis Monthan Register, 1925-1936" is available at the link. This book describes and illustrates with black & white photographs the majority of military aircraft that landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield between 1925 and 1936. The book includes biographies of some of the pilots who flew the aircraft to Tucson as well as extensive listings of all the pilots and airplanes. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-2-5.

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Yarsinske, Amy W. 2001. Mud Flats to Master Jet Base: Fifty Years at NAS Oceana. Hallmark Publishing Company, Inc. Gloucester Point, VA. ISBN 1-893276-02-3

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APOLLO "SOCKEM" SOUCEK

Apollo Soucek was born in 1897. After joining the Navy in 1918 and learning to fly in 1924, he established his fame in the Navy, and with the general public, by performing high-altitude test flights in 1930. He set several records for such flights, which were soon broken. This was a period of great advance in aircraft performance.

Soucek landed once at Tucson, Friday July 20, 1928 at 9:15 AM. He carried a single passenger, H.A. Sorrell, in a Vought Corsair, A-7814. Based at the Naval Air Station (NAS), San Diego, CA, they were westbound from El Paso, TX to the NAS. No purpose was stated for this trip. He noted simply in the Remarks column of the Register, "Navy". They remained on the ground for a half-hour before continuing westward.

We are fortunate to have images and information shared with us by pilot Soucek's nephew, Don McCann (cited, right sidebar). Soucek had a prodigious Navy career, which is summarized in the following table provided by Mr. McCann. He had been in the Navy for ten years, and a pilot for four years, before we find him at Tucson.

Apollo Soucek, Navy Assignments, Inclusive (Source: McCann)
Apollo Soucek, Navy Assignments, Inclusive

Specific to his duty aboard the USS Hornet in 1942, site visitor Bob Fish clarifies the chronology, "Apollo was the Air Operations Officer of Hornet from the day it was commissioned until June 15, 1942, immediately following the Battle of Midway. At that time, Hornet's Commanding Officer Capt. Marc Mitscher was replaced by Capt. Charles P. Mason. Also, Executive Officer Cmdr. George R. Henderson was replaced by Cmdr. Soucek, who was "fleeted up" (i.e., spot promoted) within the Hornet organization. Apollo was the ship's XO [Executive Officer] from then until Oct 26, when Hornet was severely damaged by several massive Japanese air attacks and finally sank the next day."

About two years after his landing at Tucson, we find him, below, in an image after setting his first high-altitude record (see details below). Soucek is second from right.

First Altitude Record, May 8, 1930 (Source: Yarsinske via McCann)
First Altitude Record, May 8, 1930 (Source: McCann)

The people in the photo above include (L to R) Lt. Cdr. DeWitt C. Watson, Naval Aviator #2932, Secretary of the Navy David Sinton Ingalls, Naval Aviator #85, Soucek, and Rear Admiral William Adger Moffett, first chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics. The altitude reached this day was 39,140 feet. That Soucek would be greeted and photographed with these luminaries suggests that his work was a big deal at the time.

Below, another image of Soucek ca. 1930. From the flight suit, it looks like this photograph was taken the same day as the one above.

Apollo Soucek, Ca. 1930 (Source: Yarsinske via McCann)
Apollo Soucek, Ca. 1930

The caption reads, "With all good wishes to Margaret and Dick -- my brand new 'brother and sister'". It is signed "Soakum". I have seen "Soakum" and "Sockem" used for his nickname.

The context of the citation is his marriage on May 27, 1930. Mr. McCann says about the image, " I found this copy in a book given to me by the XO at Oceana NAS. The book is titled 'Mud Flats to Master Jet Base: Fifty Years at NAS Oceana' [by A.W. Yarsinske, cited, left sidebar]. ... There are several good pictures and a great biography story of family and career. It is out of print but you might get one from Oceana." The Wright Apache written on the side identifies this aircraft as the one he used to set altitude records in 1930 (see below).

Below, an image of him in 1932. The Navy aircraft he stands in front of is not a Register airplane.

Apollo Soucek, 1932 (Source: Yarsinske via McCann)
Apollo Soucek, 1932

WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO FLY TO RECORD ALTITUDES?

On May 8, 1929 he set his first world altitude record for landplanes by flying to the height of 39,140 feet. Below, from the BuAeroNews, is a brief article citing this record.

Bureau of Aeronautics Newsletter, May 15, 1929 (Source: Webmaster)
Bureau of Aeronautics Newsletter, May 15, 1929 (Source: Webmaster)

On June 4, 1929, he set the altitude record for seaplanes, also in an Apache, reaching the height of 38,560.The NASA Web site describes a later record, "In 1929 navy pilot Apollo Soucek set a world altitude record of 40,866 feet in the same type of planer [sic]". Regardless, the point was made in the article that his most recent record to 43,166 feet was mid-1930, and reaching those altitudes then was almost the technical equivalent of going to the moon today.

From the Jet Observer (the internal newsletter of the Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia Beach, VA) published on June 4, 1957, we find an anniversary story about the record altitude flight flown on June 4, 1930 by Soucek to 43,166 feet. Soucek had been interviewed by NBC radio in 1930 and this article was transcribed from that interview.

When he performed his flights in the Apache, he reported outside temperatures reaching 89 degrees F. below zero. Fortunately, warmed by the engine and shielded from the wind, the temperatures inside his cockpit never went lower than 35 below. His head was "... out in the free air, and may have been in the low temperature zone ...." Below, courtesy of Mr. McCann (cited, right sidebar), a photograph of a pilot in front of the Wright Apache. We are not sure if this is Soucek in the suit, but the clothing is similar to what he wore.

The Well-Dressed, High-Altitude Pilot, ca. 1930 (Source: McCann)
The Well-Dressed, High-Altitude Pilot, ca. 1930

From the article, Soucek states, "Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to put on many clothes to withstand cold weather. The clothing must be of excellent quality though, and designed to give comfort. In every flight, I wore only one single fur lined suit, fur lined boots, combined helmet and face mask, and mittens. No underwear is required with this fur suit; the fur is next to ones skin and is warm enough."

Apollo Soucek's Leather Helmet, 1930 (Source: NASM_A19350035000a001)
Apollo Soucek's Leather Helmet, 1930 (NASM_A19350035000a001)

 

 

Another factor he had to consider was moisture condensing inside his goggles. Until he had an electrically heated pair designed for him, he stated, "... my first record flight came near to being a failure because of frost on my goggles." Ice would form inside his goggles, "... and it was painful to remove them." He had an electrically-heated pair fabricated for him, thus eliminating the frost problem (though liquid water continued to form inside his goggles).

Although we don't know if Soucek is in the suit above, at right is the actual helmet he wore while setting his 1930 record. You can learn more about these altitude flights at this link, which is from an unidentified source on Naval history. There is an excellent photograph of Soucek at the link wearing this helmet. This link to Time Magazine of May 20, 1929 tells of one of his flights.

 

 

 

 

 

WWII RESPONSIBILITIES

Soucek was the Air Operations Officer on board the carrier USS Hornet when it launched the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in 1942.

Apollo Soucek, Birthday Aboard the FDR, Exact Date Unknown (Source: McCann)
Apollo Soucek, Birthday Aboard the FDR, Exact Date Unknown

His other assignments are tabulated in the list above. He had mostly executive responsibilities, including Chief of Staff, Air Intermediate Training and Assistant Chief of Naval Operations.

In 1945, he became the first commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was based at NAS Patuxent River later in the War, and is pictured at the link with fellow Register pilot Frederick Trapnell. Scroll down at the link, as there are three photographs of Soucek.

At left, another photo shared with us by Mr. McCann showing Soucek being féted on his birthday aboard the aircraft carrier USS Franklin Delano Roosevelt sometime in 1945. That would make him 48 years old. He appears to have a microphone at his mouth, probably expressing gratitude for the event.

Post-war, he continued in executive positions, including Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics from 1953 until his retirement in 1955.

 

 

 

Soucek died of a heart attack on July 25, 1955, at age 58. His accomplishments and career as Vice Admiral, world altitude record holder, test pilot, task force commander and Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics led, on June 4, 1957, to the naming of NAS Oceana as Apollo Soucek Field in his honor. His papers are archived at the University of Texas, Dallas in the The Fred E. Anderson Collection. Below, the welcome mat and main gate signage proclaiming the name of the airfield.

Apollo Soucek Field, Welcome Mat (Source: McCann)
Apollo Soucek Field, Welcome Mat (Source: McCann)
Apollo Soucek Field, Main Gate (Source: McCann)
Apollo Soucek Field, Main Gate (Source: McCann)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dossier 2.2.194

THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 11/09/09 REVISED: 03/09/11, 04/01/11

 
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Thanks to pilot Soucek's nephew Don McCann for sharing the photos and information on this page.

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http://www.cafepress.com/content/global/img/spacer.gifThe Congress of Ghosts is an anniversary celebration for 2010.  It is an historical biography, that celebrates the 5th year online of www.dmairfield.org and the 10th year of effort on a project dedicated to analyze and exhibit the history embodied in the Register of the Davis-Monthan Airfield, Tucson, AZ. This book includes over thirty people, aircraft and events that swirled through Tucson between 1925 and 1936. It includes across 277 pages previously unpublished photographs and texts, and facsimiles of personal letters, diaries and military orders. Order your copy at the link, or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author.  ISBN 978-0-9843074-4-9.

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