Salute to Service: Beverly E. “Bevo” Howard
Salute to Service: Beverly E. “Bevo” Howard
After a trip that took us from one side of the world to the other last week, Salute to Service stays much closer to home this time around, bringing you the story of a local aviation prodigy who (curiously for this series) seemingly never actually joined the armed forces. Nevertheless, through humble application and hard work he found ways to serve his country, his state, and the inhabitants of both through times of war and peace, and you’re invited to come along as we explore the life and times of Beverly E. Howard.
He was born on August 11, 1914 in Bath, SC, and while we can’t say much about his formative years it’s clear that young Beverly – or ‘Bevo’, as he was also known – was something of a go-getter. He found work as a line boy for Hawthorne Aviation in Augusta and learned to fly before he was 16, and as an initial demonstration of his immense flying skill, Howard became the youngest pilot ever to receive an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate just three years later. The minimum age requirement for this rating was raised to 21 not long after he passed the examination and currently stands at 23, which means Howard’s record is at present unbeatable, and that he was qualified to fly the largest passenger airliners of the day before he was legally able to buy a beer to celebrate the achievement!
His career in aviation assured thanks to his ATP certificate, Howard soon took the next step by buying Hawthorne Aviation outright, supplementing his new business by flying DC-2’s for Delta and Eastern Airlines. Bevo also started flying aerobatics shows around this time in a Piper J-3 Cub – and here again stood out against the competition. Always walking to his aircraft in full dress suit before neatly folding and stowing his jacket to protect it from any oil spray, and flying in the clean white shirt, this routine became Howard’s signature entrance and his attempt to ‘professionalize’ the aviation industry’s image. As you might expect by now though, he brought a healthy dose of skill to go along with the showmanship, becoming the first pilot to perform an outside loop in a light plane and gaining recognition as one of the best aerobatics pilots in the country – which is only backed up by his three consecutive victories in the National Lightplane Aerobatic Championships from 1939 to 1941.
When WW2 came to America in December of 1941 Howard was one of those brave souls ready and willing to take the fight to the enemy, his intention being to join the USAAF as a fighter pilot. However, the USAAF found him to be too highly skilled and too valuable to risk in combat, and – in a move that likely made most sense for the war effort, but that would be a source of embarrassment for Bevo himself – they sent one of the nation’s best flyers back home to South Carolina, with orders to pass his knowledge and skill on to others by operating a USAAF flight school just south of Orangeburg. Over the course of the war, while under contract to the USAAF (which meant that Bevo and hiss employees weren’t officially military personnel), Hawthorne School of Aeronautics trained almost 6,000 airmen. This number included some 2,000 free French, which saw Howard awarded the Legion d’Honneur and other accolades by their home country. Besides the airmen he prepared for military service, Howard also made another huge contribution to the war effort by demonstrating the use of the Piper Cub as an observation and transport plane. The USAAF was sold on the idea and an almost-identical military variant of the Cub – the Piper L-4 Grasshopper – was put into production. Their presence was a particular bonus as the Allies advanced through the treacherous hedgerows of the ‘bocage’ in northern France, as Grasshoppers provided an ‘eye in the sky’ and thereby helped stop Allied forces from being taken by surprise in the vast green maze. As time went on Grasshoppers were also fitted with rack-mounted infantry bazookas, which enabled them to take on any armored targets that they spotted. One such example, the six-shot Rosie the Rocketer along with her pilot Charles ‘Bazooka Charlie’ Carpenter gained much notoriety in the pages of America’s wartime newspapers – with the pair being credited with knocking out six enemy tanks and ‘several’ armored cars by the time the war ended.
Howard continued to train military pilots after the war, and during most of the 50’s this was done at Spence AFB in Moultrie, GA. Under Bevo and Hawthorne Aviation’s tutelage the pilots of the 3302nd Flying Training Squadron and other airmen from all over the world were readied for service in Korea and beyond, training in aircraft such as the North American T-6 Texan and T-28 Trojan, the Piper PA-18 Super Cub and Beechcraft’s T-34 Mentor. He also made a triumphant return to aerobatics around this time, capped by winning the International Aerobatic Championship three out of 4 years in the late 40’s using his trusty Cub. By now he was also flying a plane with a history that could match his own – a German Bücker Bu Jungmeister. The plane that many WW2 Luftwaffe veterans had been trained in earlier in their careers, Bevo’s Bücker in particular was rather special – not only had it already seen a successful aerobatic career in the hands of Alex Papana and Mike Murphy before coming into Howard’s possession, the plane arrived in the U.S. on an early flight of the fated airship Hindenburg.
The Spence AFB operation ceased in 1961 and so Howard and Hawthorne Aviation returned to regular civilian activities. For Bevo, of course that meant aerobatics, and thanks to the success of Hawthorne he no longer needed to make money from his displays, so he often performed for charity. At one such show near Greenville, NC in 1971 the Bücker’s engine failed as he was executing a signature low-level inverted pass – this was something of an occupational hazard and an occurrence that Bevo had been through before, so he initiated a low altitude turn to head back towards the airfield’s runway. Unfortunately, one of his wings clipped a tree during the maneuver and sadly, Howard was killed in the crash that resulted. We can, however take consolation from knowing that he died doing what he did best for the benefit of others, just as he had done throughout his life. In his memory a Jungmeister bearing his name is on display at the Virginia Aviation Museum, and furthermore, ‘Bevo’s Bücker’ itself was restored to non-flying condition by Hawthorne Aviation after the crash, and now sits resplendent in his distinctive red and white livery, on display at the Smithsonian in Washington.