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Issue date: January 03, 2001

Gen. Homer Boushey dies; he was a pioneer in rocket-powered aircraft Gen. Homer Boushey dies; he was a pioneer in rocket-powered aircraft (January 03, 2001)

A memorial service for Brig. Gen. (U.S. Air Force, retired) Homer A. Boushey, the first to pilot a rocket-powered aircraft, will be held Saturday, January 6, in Portola Valley.

Gen. Boushey died Christmas morning at the age of 91 in Portola Valley where he and his wife, Eleanor, the town's first councilwoman, have lived for almost 40 years.

His memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday in Christ Church, 815 Portola Road, Portola Valley.

After his retirement in 1961, Gen. Boushey was far more interested in his domestic life than in his decorations and awards from his years of distinguished service, said his son Dr. Homer A. Boushey Jr. He supported his wife Eleanor's new career as the first councilwoman and later mayor of newly incorporated Portola Valley. He played tennis often, enjoyed his children and grandchildren, and tinkered in his garage on projects such as his idea for a novel electrical transfomer.

Friends and family will remember the original cartoons he always drew for the Bousheys' Christmas card and his unfailing sense of humor and love of puns, said his daughter Annette.

A native San Franciscan, "Hab's" education in engineering at Stanford University was interrupted by the Great Depression. He enlisted as a flying cadet at Randolph Field, Texas, where he became interested in a Smithsonian Institution report on "A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes," written by Robert H. Goddard, then obscure but now remembered as the father of American rocketry.

This interest was not shared by his Army superiors, and Mr. Boushey was ordered to "fly the mail" in 1934, after President Franklin Roosevelt canceled airline postal contracts. He flew his route in an open-cockpit biplane between Cleveland and Newark from January to March.

He returned to San Francisco, where he flew Boeing 0-45 biplanes from Crissy Field, dodging the pillars under construction for the Golden Gate Bridge. He showed that he had the "right stuff" when he brought in a Douglas 0-46, with both ailerons "blown away" and the main wing spar buckled. Lt. Boushey stayed with the crippled plane and perilously landed it because he thought study of the plane could provide clues to a string of unexplained fatal crashes.

Pilot Boushey was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and allowed to complete his advanced studies in aeronautical engineering at Stanford University.

He joined the research Aircraft Laboratory at Wright Field in Dayton and initiated a long-continued correspondence with Dr. Goddard.

He traveled often to Roswell, New Mexico, where Dr. Goddard's knowledge of theory, Theodore von Karman's development of solid fuel rockets, and Mr. Boushey's practical experience as an engineer and pilot were put to the test on August 23, 1941 in a modified, propeller-less Ercoupe, equipped with 12 small rockets. Both the ascent and return to earth were short and steep, but the flight was successful.

It led directly to the use of jet- and rocket-assisted flight and is depicted in the permanent collection of the National Aerospace Museum in Washington, D.C.

With the outbreak of World War II, Mr. Boushey was assigned to a P-40 Pursuit Group, but was soon transferred to research and development when word trickled in about secret German work on jet engines. Disappointed in the U.S.'s first effort, the Bell P-59, Mr. Boushey pushed for development of Lockheed's brilliant P-80, or "Shooting Star."

He commanded the first U.S. jet fighter group, holding briefly the "over-water" air speed record. He continued to advocate the importance and feasibility of space exploration, and was listed in the Aerospace Museum's 1959 Laureate's Hall of Fame for "his persistent, articulate, and courageous exposition of a military space program."

He completed his service in the Air Force at the Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tullahoma, Tennessee, before retiring to Portola Valley in 1961.

The Bousheys lived on Golden Oaks Drive and later on Stonegate Road before moving to the Sequoias, the retirement community in Portola Valley, in 1985.

As a retired general, he delighted in his invitation to join President Nixon's "Astronauts' Dinner" after the successful conquest of the moon. He also delighted, ironically, in flying non-powered sailplanes.

While always committed to a strong national defense, he opposed the increase of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict, at first on military grounds and later on moral ones. He also became deeply concerned about the course of the arms race, taking an active part in the effort to reduce the threat of nuclear war.

He gave many speeches, working with the Center for Defense Information, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Peacework. In 1982, he was a sponsor of California's Nuclear Freeze Initiative (Proposition 12), which passed with a margin of four million votes.

Gen. Boushey later joined with retired Soviet Air Force officers to campaign for mutual U.S.-U.S.S.R. renunciation of the use of nuclear weapons. In 1985, he traveled to the U.S.S.R. with other retired American officers to draft a seven-point agenda to reduce nuclear weapons and promote security.

He had flown over Hiroshima, and often said that political leaders "have no concept of how destructive these weapons actually are." As recently as last June, he joined other military and religious leaders as a signatory to the Global Security Institute's Joint Nuclear Reduction/Disarmament Statement.

Gen. Boushey is survived by his wife Eleanor; sons Boyd of Salt Lake City and Homer Jr. of San Francisco; daughters Annette of Arcata and Helen, Dr. Goddard's god-daughter; and 15 grandchildren.

The family suggests memorial gifts be sent to the Peninsula Open Space Trust, 3000 Sand Hill Road, Building 4-135, Menlo Park, CA 94025.


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