Eagle Profile

Lieutenant General Elwood R. “Pete” Quesada was a primary pilot of the famed Question Mark. Completion of the 6-day, non-stop flight in 1929 pioneered development of modern aerial refueling operations vital to the defense capability of the United States. General Quesada was born in Washington, D.C., in 1904. He enlisted in the Air Service’s aviation cadet program in 1924 and earned his pilot wings and commission the following year. After the successful flight of the Question Mark, “Pete ” Quesada was appointed assistant air attaché to Cuba. Prior to the outbreak of World War II, he served as aide to General “Hap” Arnold and also directed Army Air Corps participation in the Lend-Lease Program.

He assumed command of the 33rd Pursuit Group flying the P-40 in July 1941 and later commanded the 1st Air Defense Wing, which he took to Africa in 1943. He next became commanding general of the 12th Fighter Command and later served as deputy commander of the Northwest African Coastal Air Force. General Quesada directed the American participation in the successful interdiction campaign against Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s lines of communication between Italy and North Africa. In October 1943, he was assigned to England where he participated in planning the Allied invasion of Europe.

He assumed command of the 9th Fighter Command and directed deployment of the P-51 Mustang in its initial combat role of escorting Eighth Air Force bombers into Germany. On D-Day plus one, he established an advanced headquarters on the Normandy beachhead and directed men and planes in support of the invasion and the American First Army until the surrender of Germany. Following World War II, he established the Tactical Air Command and became its first commander. In 1955, General Quesada was appointed Special Assistant to President Eisenhower. During the next 6 years, he not only wrote the legislation establishing the Federal Aviation Agency but also served as its first administrator. He retired to private life in 1961.

Years Honored:


1983 Lithograph

Lithograph Setting(s):

On 1 January 1929, Major Carl Spaatz, Captain Ira Eaker, and Lieutenant "Pete" Quesada took off from Mines Field in Los Angeles, California, in the famed Fokker tri-motor Question Mark. The plane and crew remained aloft more than 6 days and demonstrated the feasibility of in-flight refueling and sustained flying operations for both military and commercial aviation. During their record-setting flight from 1-7 January 1929, the crew covered more than 11,000 miles at an average speed of 70 miles per hour--an astounding feat in those early days of aviation.