Dick Johnson

When word flashed over the air in 1948 that a North Dakota army pilot, one Richard L. Johnson, had broken the world's speed record there was probably not one person in Cooperstown whose chest did not swell with pride as Dick's flying experiences here before he joined the army were recounted.

Major Johnson established the record at Muroc Air Force Base in California when he flew an army jet fighter, the F86, at a speed of 670.98 miles per hour. The jet was a production model fighter mounting guns and carrying ammunition. This record tended to serve subtle notice that the U. S. Air Force was a power to be reckoned with should any nation harbor doubts as to our capabilities.

Cooperstown immediately laid plans, following Dick's accomplishment, to honor the young man at a "Dick Johnson Day" here on October 30, 1948. Sponsored by the Commercial Club and assisted by local flyers, his home town went all-out in honoring this outstanding flyer. With Lt. Governor C. P. Dahl in charge of arrangements, such other dignitaries as Gov. Fred G. Aandahl, Senator Milton Young and Senator William Langer joined Cooperstownites in feting Johnson.

An overflow crowd greeted the illustrious flyer at the gymnasium when Gov. Aandahl presented Dick with diamond studded pilot's wings in tribute to his accomplishment. Mayor Sayer welcomed the crowd and recalled Dick's early flying experiences.

It must have given Oswald Tufte, former American Legion baseball coach and present Superintendent of Schools at Mott, North Dakota, no small measure of justifiable pride when Dick credited Tufte with instilling in him that indomitable spirit to win. In a brief talk before the large group assembled to honor him he related his training experiences under Tufte. Dick was a member of the Legion's State Championship Baseball Team of the early thirties.

Dick Johnson early became interested in flying and spent much of his spare time building model airplanes. He received his actual flying training from Bruce Wright, one of the most colorful early day flyers. Flying came as natural to Dick as walking. He never lacked nerve and local people recall his flying in "a crate powered by a Model T engine.€

As a member of the army air force Dick distinguished himself as an army combat pilot. In a letter dated May 27, 1944, to his sister, Mrs. Clarence Njaa of Cooperstown, it stated that he had, at that time, made 46 combat missions. Not long after his entrance in the air core he was offered a position with the F. B. I. but turned it down as he did an offer to play profession baseball in order that he might continue flying. He is still in aviation and at present is test pilot for Convoir Air Corporation at Edwards Air Base, Lancaster, California.

Source:  Cooperstown Diamond Jubilee 1882-1957 Page 48

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