Lieutenant General Laurence C. Craigie was the first American military pilot to fly a jet aircraft, the Bell XP-59A. Craigie was born in 1902 and grew up in Concord, New Hampshire. After high school, he was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. When commissioned, he entered the Army Air Service, earning his wings in 1924 at Brooks Field, Texas. After flight instructor school, he was posted to nearby Kelly Field, but soon returned to Brooks. In 1929, he headed south to the Canal Zone, flying with the 7th Observation Squadron.
He returned to Brooks in 1931, but after four months moved to the Air Corps' new showplace, Randolph Field. In 1934, he attended the Air Corps Engineering School, Wright Field, Ohio, and upon graduation in 1935, served as Chief, Training and Transport Engineering, Materiel Division and then Assistant Chief, Experimental Engineering. While at Wright Field, he was project officer for the Stearman PT-17 trainer, a classic still flying today. Craigie graduated from Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, Alabama in 1941, and returned to Wright to take over the Aircraft Projects Branch. In October 1942, he became the first military pilot to fly the XP-59 jet. He took command of the Boston Air Defense Wing in April 1943, then moved to the New York City Fighter Wing in July. In November, he became Commanding General, 87th Fighter Wing, Mitchel Field, New York.
In early 1944 he was sent to Twelfth Air Force in North Africa to command the 63rd Fighter Wing. In the fall, he was assigned to Army Air Forces (AAF) Headquarters in Washington, D.C., but soon returned to Wright Field, becoming Chief of Air Technical Service Command's Engineering Division in 1945. Called back to AAF Headquarters in 1947, Craigie held several key positions to become Director, Research and Development. Next he became the Commandant, USAF Institute of Technology, and then Vice Commander, Far East Air Forces, during the first year of the Korean War. He returned to HQ USAF in late 1951 as Deputy Chief of Staff for Development. Lieutenant General Craigie retired in 1955, after commanding NATO's Allied Air Forces, Southern Europe, and then worked for several aviation companies.
He remains active in aviation; in 1988, he flew around the world with astronaut Neil Armstrong and air showman Bob Hoover. He recently flew a North American B-25 and joined Chuck Yeager at Edwards AFB to commemorate 50 years of jet-powered flight. In December 1992, the First Flight Society honored Craigie at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where he became the oldest person to fly a hang glider. He has over 13,000 hours in 37 different aircraft from gliders to corporate jets.
Bob Stanley, Bell Aircraft's chief test pilot, made the initial flight tests of America's first jet, the XP-59 Airacomet. Engineers wanted to disassemble the British-designed Whittle engines after three hours of operation. Twenty minutes before tear down, Stanley invited Colonel Craigie to fly the XP-59. On 20 October 1942, when Craigie took off from Muroc Dry Lake, California, using over two miles of ground run, he became the Army Air Forces' first jet pilot.