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Archives at The Museum of Flight

Fornasero, John B., 1904-1967



  • Existence: 1904-1967

Biographical Note

John Bernard Fornasero (1904-1967) was a flight instructor, aviation inspector, and test pilot who had a long career working for the Ryan School of Aeronautics, the Civil Aeronautics Administration, Fairchild Aircraft Company, Boeing Aircraft Company, and Rheem Manufacturing.

Fornasero was born on March 5, 1904 in Tulare, California to John Fornasero and Marguerite Cometto Fornasero. He graduated from Tulare Joint Union High School in 1922. During high school, Fornasero was a member of the California High School Cadets (now the California Cadet Corps), first as a Corporal in 1919 and then as a Sergeant in 1920. After graduation, he attended the National Automotive Engineering School in Los Angeles until 1923. From 1924-1927, Fornasero worked for the California Edison Company laying electric cables. In November of 1928 he enrolled in the Ryan Flying School and graduated just seven months later in June of 1929 with a commercial pilot’s license.

In 1930, he began working for Ryan as a flight instructor and by 1931 he had been promoted to the position of Chief Pilot. He also worked as a mechanic and Ryan’s Director of Maintenance. Fornasero received another promotion in 1932, this time to Director of Training. In his role as an instructor, Fornasero taught both in the classroom and in flight, and his notable students include Jacqueline Cochran, Douglas Corrigan, and his brother James Fornasero. In his role as test pilot, Fornasero was responsible for testing the Ryan Company’s premier design, the Ryan ST in 1934. In 1937, Fornasero resigned from Ryan to join the Bureau of Air Commerce as a Flight Engineering Inspector for the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA).

His new job as an inspector required Fornasero to work out of Roosevelt Filed on Long Island, near Minneola, New York. His job responsibilities included accident investigation, pilot examination, inspection and supervision of manufacturing facilities, and certification of new aircraft. After a brief reassignment to Kansas City, Kansas in 1940, Fornasero was promoted to Director of the Branch in New York City in 1941. In 1943, he resigned from the CAA to join the Fairchild Aircraft Company.

Fornasero was hired as the Chief of Test Flight with the Fairchild Aircraft Company in Burlington, South Carolina to test their military training plane, the AT-21 Gunner. While in Burlington, Fornasero also helped manage the local airport. When the AT-21 was deemed unsuitable for use in 1944, he decided to leave the company and accepted a position as the Functional and Engineering Test Pilot for the B-17G models with the Boeing Aircraft Company in Seattle, Washington.

While working for Boeing, he was the co-pilot for a record breaking flight in the C-97 Stratofreighter which flew coast-to-coast in six hours, three minutes, and fifty seconds. As a result, he was chosen as the project pilot for the 377 Stratocruiser. In 1948, Fornasero was promoted to Chief of Flight Test Section and formally put in charge of the B-47 testing program. In 1949, the program was moved to Wichita, Kansas. When the project was concluded he returned to Seattle and was assigned to lead testing on the B-52 and later the 707. After about six years as Chief of Flight Test, Fornasero stepped down and returned to test piloting. In 1955 he resigned from Boeing.

In July 1955, Fornasero started as the Director of Flight Test with Rheem Manufacturing in Downey, California. He was hired to develop a flight test program for the company’s surveillance drone project. In 1956 he was transferred to Dayton, Ohio and then in 1957 he was reassigned to Tucson, Arizona to work on an unidentified United States Army project. In 1958 he resigned from Rheem and began a short career in real estate. Fornasero focused two years on his career in real estate investment. After his brother James’ death in 1960 due to a plane crash, Fornasero officially retired.

Fornasero and his wife Elouise, who he married in 1929, sold their home after his retirement. They devoted the next seven years to traveling around the country in an Airstream travel trailer visiting old friends and family, and enjoying outdoor activities such as fishing. They ultimately settled down in a retirement park in San Diego where they were able to spend time with their two daughters and grandchildren. John B. Fornasero died in his home of heart failure on July 6, 1967.

Found in 4 Collections and/or Records:

Elsie Anderson Collection

Identifier: 1997-04-17A
Abstract Elsie Anderson worked at Boeing Company as a Public Relations representative, circa 1940s-1950s. The collection includes negatives, films, photographic prints, and a small amount of textual materials related to Boeing aircraft and test flights occurring during the 1940s-1950s.

John Fornasero Papers

Identifier: 2011-06-24
Abstract: The John Fornasero Papers are comprised of documents, photographs, newspaper clippings, and ephemera pertaining to the life and work of flight instructor, aviation inspector, and test pilot John B. Fornasero. A significant portion of this collection is made up of photographs. Major topics include the Ryan School of Aeronautics, the Civil Aeronautics Administration, Fairchild Aircraft Company, and Boeing Aircraft Company.

Tandy C. Hennings Collection of E. Scott Osler Materials

Identifier: 2015-07-08
Abstract: The Tandy C. Hennings Collection of E. Scott Osler Materials are comprised of photographs, newspaper clippings, and correspondence collected by Hennings concerning commercial pilot, flight engineer, and test pilot E. Scott Osler. Also included is the biography of Osler that Hennings wrote using these materials.

Kenneth B. Luplow Collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: 2015-05-20
Content Description The Kenneth B. Luplow Collection is a small collection consisting of a logbook and notebook dating to Luplow's time working for Boeing in the 1940s. The logbook spans 1941-1946, and documents Luplow's role as flight engineer on many first flights, including the XB-29 and XC-97 and XPBB-1. Other test flights documented include ones for B-17 variants. Test pilots documented in the log include J.B. Fornasero, Elliott Merrill, A.C. Reed, Edmund T. Allen, Robert Lamson, J.A. Fraser, R.M....

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