Aviation pioneer Col. Joe F. Cotton “takes his last flight” at age 94
Aviation pioneer Col. Joe F. Cotton died peacefully at his Atherton home on May 5. Burial was private; the family plans to hold a celebration of his life in July.
“My father has always been a legend in my eyes,” his daughter, Connie Jo Cotton, told Living Legends. “Colonel Joe F. Cotton started his flying career in the Bell RP-63A, the ‘flying pinball machine,’ which was developed as a flying target for bomber crew gunnery practice.
“In 1966, my dad was named Pilot of the Year, among other awards such as the Legion of Merit, Air Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal and the Aerospace Walk of Honor.
“Above all, he was a loving husband to my mother, Rema Cotton, and a wonderful father. He is a true living legend.”
Col. Cotton was born in Rushville, Indiana, on January 21, 1922. While helping out on the family farm, he became fascinated with early aviators and what he called “excitement in the air.”
In September, 1942, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, receiving his second lieutenant’s commission and wings in June, 1943. Co-piloting a B-17 bomber during World War II, the plane was shot down and crash landed on the island of Corfu, then under German control. Four months later, with the help of Greek guerrillas, the crew got to Italy and were sent back to America.
It was there he began his flight test career flying the Bell RP-63A as well as performing cold weather and systems tests on various aircraft at Eglin and Ladd Fields. In 1952, he headed to Farnborough, England, to attend the Empire Test Pilot School. He became chief of bomber tests at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and later pilot and test director of the B-58 “Hustler” flight research and development program at Carswell Air Force Base in Texas.
By 1962, Col. Cotton was chief test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base in California where he flew the first flight of the XB-70, a high altitude, Mach 3 capable bomber set to replace the B-52. In April, 1966, he, along with Al White, flew the XB-70A No. 2 at Mach 3.08 at 72,800 feet.
Col. Cotton is survived by his wife of 71 years, Rema, and three children — Chris Lance Cotton, Connie Jo Cotton and Candy Kayne Cotton Farbstein (husband Michael) along with five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Photos of Col. Cotton top and right courtesy of Cotton family; black & white with plane courtesy of Steve Zarelli; color photo by Chris Gulker (c) 2010