General Scott, “God Is My Co-Pilot” author, dead at 97

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Brig. Gen. Robert L. Scott Jr., World War II fighter ace and author of the 1943 book “God Is My Co-Pilot” has died.

The general passed away Feb. 27 in Warner Robins after a stroke. He was 97.
Though the general retired from the Air Force in 1957, for the following decades he continued to serve the Air Force.

Known to his friends and family as “Scotty,” the general lived his final two decades as the “champion and cheerleader” of the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins, officials there said.

The general was born in Waynesboro, Ga., April 12, 1908, the son of a traveling salesman. He was raised in Macon. From an early age he showed interest in air travel.

His legacy is portrayed at the museum in a large exhibit featuring his photos, books, personal items and memorabilia.

General Scott’s lifetime story and flying career are legendary. A West Point graduate, he amassed more than 33,000 flying hours in 60 years of flying. During World War II, official Army Air Force records credit him with 13 aerial victories while flying the P-40 Warhawk over China. But the general said he actually shot down nine more, though they were listed as “probable.”

But he once said, “You had to have two witnesses in the formation, or you needed a gun camera to take a picture. Only we didn't have gun cameras in China. I actually had 22 aerial victims.” That made him one of the top American aces of the war.

Never shot down, the general never lost an aircraft and his feats in the early years of the war inspired an entire generation of young pilots. God Is My Co-Pilot, inspired by his wartime experiences, was a best seller and turned into a movie.

The general graduated from Lanier High School in 1928. The summer between his junior and senior years of high school, he took a job as deck boy aboard a Black Diamond Line freighter and sailed halfway around the world. It was the beginning of a lifetime of adventure.

But General Scott’s life-long ambition was to fly. At age 12, he flew a home-made glider off the roof of a three story house in Macon and crashed landed into a Cherokee rose bush -- the state flower of Georgia.

As Scott recalled later, “Gliders were built out of spruce, but I didn’t have enough money, so I made mine out of knotty pine. I cleared the first magnolia, but then the main wing strut broke and I came down in Mrs. Napier’s rose bushes.

“It’s the only plane I ever crashed,” he said.

He enlisted in the Georgia National Guard and President Hoover appointed him to West Point in 1928. When he graduated in 1932, he used the summer to sail to Europe. He bought a motorcycle in France and motored across Europe and Asia -- turning around at Mount Ararat. After returning, he joined the Army Flying Center at Randolph Air Base, Texas. He earned his wings Oct. 17, 1933, and went to his first assignment at Mitchell Field, N.Y.

In 1934, President Roosevelt cancelled commercial air mail contracts and gave the duty to the Air Corps. General Scott immediately volunteered and flew airmail in an open cockpit plane through the “Hell Stretch” -- as it was know then -- from Newark, N.J., to Cleveland. Then he served a tour at Albrook Field, Panama. He became a flying instructor after that and was promoted to lieutenant colonel during the expansion program before World War II.

When the war broke out, General Scott -- then 33 -- was running the largest flight training academy in the country, the Cal Aero Academy in California. To his dismay, he did not receive orders to go fight. So he wrote numerous letters begging for an assignment to a combat flying unit. He was told he was too old to be a fighter pilot and he needed to keep training younger pilots.

But one night, he received a call from the Pentagon. An intelligence officer asked him if he had ever flown a B-17 Flying Fortress. The general -- who had never flown the plane -- said yes. That’s how he got orders to the secret Task Force Aquila -- to fly B-17s to China to bomb Japan.

After days of flying across the Atlantic, Africa, Middle East and China, he landed to receive the news that the mission was scrubbed because the Japanese had captured their planned take-off bases in the Philippines.

So he flew C-47 Gooney Birds over the Himalayas instead, flying fuel and supplies from India to combat bases in China. Soon General Scott, by then a colonel, met Brig. Gen. Claire Chennault, the tough commander of the American Volunteer Group in China -- the Flying Tigers. General Scott convinced the commander to let him use a P-40 to fly escort missions for the transports and he was soon flying daily combat missions -- in addition to escort duty.

In his first month of combat, he logged 215 hours of flight time and quickly became a double “ace” with 13 confirmed aerial victories.

On July 4, 1942, at the request of Chiang Kai-shek, General Scott was given command of the 23 Fighter Group of the China Air Task Force -- the Army Air Force unit activated with remnants of the Flying Tigers. It later became the 14th Air Force.

In January 1943, the general was ordered back to the United States to make public relations speeches to war plant workers. He wrote “God Is My Co-Pilot,” and served as technical advisor to Warner Brothers in making a movie.

After the war, the general served at the Pentagon on a task force to win autonomy for the Air Force from the Army, which occurred in September 1947. That year he took command of the Air Force’s first jet fighter school at Williams Field, Ariz. He then moved to Europe in 1950 to command the 36th Fighter Wing at Furstenfieldbruck, Germany.

In 1954, after graduating from the National War College, he was promoted to brigadier general and assigned as Air Force director of information. He retired in 1957.

Then he pursued his life-long dream to walk the Great Wall of China. After writing more than 300 letters in two years to ask for official permission, General Scott finally signed on for a package tour to just get inside China.

While there, he managed to get a visa and travel permit and in 93 days -- with a 70 pound backpack including 1,200 oatmeal cookies he baked himself -- he walked the 2,000 miles of the Great Wall to complete Marco Polo’s trip that had fascinated him for 57 years. On a 9,000 foot mountain overlooking Kunming -- General Chennault’s home base in World War II -- he left an engraved stone memorial to his former boss that read: General Claire Lee Chennault. We, your men, honor you forever.

In 1976, with special permission from Gen. Charles Gabriel, Air Force chief of staff, he flew an F-16 Fighting Falcon. Ironically, his first military airplane had also been a Falcon, a Curtiss O-1G fabric-covered biplane.

In 1986, General Scott arrived at Warner Robins for the unveiling of an exhibit of his memorabilia at the Museum of Aviation. He was asked to stay and the next year moved to Warner Robins to become the head of the Heritage of Eagles Campaign -- which ultimately raised $2.5 million to build the museum’s three- story Eagle Building.

In 1988, the general released his autobiography, “The Day I Owned the Sky.” That year, at age 82, he was flown in an F-15 Eagle out of Dobbins Air Force Base, Ga. In May 1995, the general joined 19 veterans of the China-Burma-China campaign on a 50th anniversary return to meet Chinese veterans they flew with during World War II.

On April 2, 1997, in celebration of his 89th birthday, General Scott flew his last flight -- in a B-1 Lancer bomber from Robins’ 116th Bomb Wing. His flight log closed with over 33,000 hours in the air -- a total few pilots have reached.

In the last two decades of his life, General Scott continued to work tirelessly at the museum, helping to raise millions of dollars to develop the heritage and education center. His legacy, he said, was to “teach the younger generation that if we are strong, we will never have to endure another tragedy like World War II.”

General Scott is survived by daughter Robin Fraser of Bakersfield, Calif., a grandson, three granddaughters and several great-grandchildren.

The general will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.