Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Leslie 'Cowboy' Ralph Tower 1902-1935

The first flight of the Model 299 was on 28 July 1935, with Boeing chief test-pilot Leslie Tower at the controls.

Leslie Ralph Tower, moved to Polson in 1910, the son of original homesteader Ralph Tower. After graduating from Polson High School, he eventually began work at Boeing. He became the company's chief test pilot. When the company rolled out their prototype Model 299 aircraft in 1935, Les flew what would become known as "the flying fortress," or B-17, from Seattle to Dayton, Ohio, averaging 232 miles per hour during the 2,100 mile route.
"Upon arrival in Dayton, he was surprised that no Army Air Corps officials greeted him," Tom said. "The reason? They expected him to arrive several hours later."
On Oct. 30, 1935, Tower made the ill-fated, last minute decision to accompany an Army test pilot on a flight as a passenger in the B-17 in Dayton, where he had remained to test the aircraft. The plane took off at an awkward angle and reached 300 feet of altitude before crashing and burning. The pilot died on impact but Tower and other occupants survived the crash. Tower was badly burned and died 10 days later from his injuries.