Grandfather of the Preflight Checklist

Maj. Ployer P. Hill, Founder #891


On. Oct. 30, 1935, an experimental military aircraft taxied down the runway at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. The Boeing Model 299 — the most technologically sophisticated airplane of its time — took off with Maj. Ployer P. Hill as pilot. Hill was the Chief of the Flying Branch, Material Division, at Wright Field and the U.S. Army Air Corps’ top test pilot, having test flown nearly every Air Corps aircraft between 1918 and 1935. This was his first flight in the B-299.

The takeoff roll was uneventful, as was the takeoff. However, on ascending, the B-299 suddenly pitched up, stalled and crashed, then caught fire. Hill and Boeing’s Chief Test Pilot Leslie R. Tower, died due to injuries. The other three on board (Lt. Donald Leander Putt, co-pilot and Air Corps’ project pilot; C.W. Benton, company mechanic; and Henry Igo of the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company) escaped. 1st Lt. Robert K. Giovannoli, a test pilot, saw the crash and immediately went to help. He made two trips into the burning wreck to rescue Hill and Tower.

The wreck shocked the aviation industry and prompted questions about the future of flight.

Investigators found the B-299 to be in perfect mechanical condition, and pilot error was ruled out of the question since it was such a routine takeoff. Eventually, it was determined that the crew forgot to check the wind-gust locks on the elevators and rudder on its preflight. These devices that control surfaces from moving when a plane is on the ground, were disengaged, making them uncontrollable in flight.

As a direct result of this deadly crash, a checklist to prevent such oversights in the future was created to ensure all flight control components are fully usable. This checklist was designed to be read so all items would be accounted for prior, during and after every flight. It was adopted by the Air Corps and airlines, essentially establishing the first safety management system in aviation history. Today, no one can take off or land without using the checklist.

More about Hill

Born in 1894 near Boston, Hill, a scholar-athlete, attended Brown University graduating in 1916 with high honors in engineering.
He enlisted in the Army’s Aviation Section in 1917, received commission and trained as a bomber pilot. However, the Great War ended before he made it to Europe.

Hill remained in uniform and became an expert in aerial photography, leading to him commanding air photo units in the U.S. and abroad. He worked his way to be a highly regarded test pilot. In 1932, Hill was named a full-time test pilot at Wright Field, Ohio. He went on to become a major and chief of the Flying Branch of Material Division.

After his death, the Ogden Air Depot in Utah would be renamed Hill Field in his honor. In 1948, it was renamed Hill Air Force Base.