Help find relative of aviation pioneer, Gorton descendant


The Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame (RIAHF) usually has no trouble locating people to accept awards at their annual induction ceremonies. This year, contacting a nearby relative of Warwick aviation pioneer Adolphus W. Gorton has posed a problem.

Obviously, a pilot who was born in 1897 isn't available to pick up his prize. Frank Lennon of the RIAHF says it has been the organization's practice to notify the nearest available relative and have them accept for the honoree.

"Our problem is that we have found only one descendant, his son, retired USAF Major General Bill Gorton, who is 84 years old, lives in Utah and is unable to travel due to a knee replacement operation," wrote Lennon. Bill Gorton, who was a fighter pilot, Vietnam Forward Air Controller and Commander, 16th Air Force, is also being inducted into the hall of fame on Nov. 18.

"We have been unable to locate any Gorton descendants in Rhode Island who might be able to accept the honor...Do you think the power of your local press might be able to help?"

Adolphus is a descendant of Samuel Gorton, the founding father of Warwick, and one would imagine that Warwick would be forest-thick with his kith and kin. That was not the case.

Inquiries of acquaintances knowledge of Warwick history were equally fallow.

"I met a woman who said her mother was a Gorton, but that was many years ago," said Warwick historian Henry Brown. "I think she lived in Barrington but I don't remember her [last] name."

"I did a deep Internet search for Adolphus and that's how I located his son," said Lennon. "There was a 'split' in the family and he [Bill Gorton] told me he hasn't heard from anyone in Rhode Island for over 50 years."

Regardless of any family feud, Adolphus has done credit to the Gorton heritage by adding his biography to the legend of the clan. He was born in Pawtuxet, graduated from the Moses Brown School and entered Dartmouth in 1916. At that time, the United States had not entered World War I, but Gorton volunteered for the Motor Ambulance Corps and sailed for France in 1917 in time for the Second Battle of Verdun. However, a problem with his appendix necessitated an operation. He survived the tricky procedure and was sent home to recover. He then enlisted in the Navy at Newport and earned his wings in 1918. But the war was soon over and so the pioneering pilot volunteered for the Air Mail service.

Missing the better part of the air war did not mean he would send the rest of his career as an unchallenged bureaucrat. All aviation was experimental in those days, and most pilots were adventurers whether they liked it or not. Gorton once spent two hours stretched out on the wing of a mail plane holding the throttle open on a crippled aircraft while the assistant pilot steered the plane between Washington and Hampton Roads.

By 1922, he was a member of the Navy's Aviation Racing Team, and won the Curtiss Marine Trophy Race for the then-innovative seaplanes. In 1923, he broke two aviation speed records in one day. He was also a part of the crew that set seven endurance and speed records for seaplanes in 1928 and became the first pilot to ever dock with an airship in 1929.

That same year, he retired from the Navy and became the chief pilot for the Curtis Publishing Company, flying their Ford Tri-Motor, one of the first commercial passenger planes. (In case you are curious, the Trimotor was made by the Curtiss-Wright aircraft company and was not the same Curtis that own and published The Saturday Evening Post).

As the United States began to ready itself for another possible war, he was called back into the Navy as a squadron leader at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, and then later as commander of the Banana River Naval Air Station, which later became Patrick Air Force Base. He then took command of the Naval Air Station at Puunene in Hawaii. He retired from the Navy in 1949. In 1989, he died at Merritt Island in Florida.

Relatives of Adolphus and those who know of one are urged to call Frank Lennon at (401)-831-8696.

In the meantime, Lennon hopes he can find a local relative in time for the fifteenth annual ceremony, Saturday, Nov. 18 at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center, 1 Rhodes Place, Cranston, RI 02905 (building on left at the entrance to the Rhodes on the Pawtuxet complex) Cocktail Hour is at 5:30 p.m. with dinner at 6:30 p.m. Gourmet catering and cash bar. There will also be a raffle and silent auction to benefit Hall of Fame. Semi-formal or black tie optional. Military or Mess dress is also optional. For more information about the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame, or how to buy tickets for the event, visit

In addition to Gorton, the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame will induct seven new members and recognize the contributions of five other individuals. The event will also commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Cadet Programs of the Civil Air Patrol.

This is the largest number of honors presented in the organization’s fifteen-year history.

Honorees are selected by an ad hoc committee representing a number of aviation groups. The committee includes all previous inductees, such as Robert Crandall, former chairman of American Airlines; Jennifer Murray, the first woman to fly a helicopter around the world; and Apollo 8 Astronaut Bill Anders.

In addition to Gorton the honorees are:

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Raymond Blake, USAF, (Ret) 1897-1958

World War I Ambulance Volunteer; World War I Bomber Pilot, Lafayette Flying Corps; RI State Police Officer; World War II Counterintelligence Officer Born in Westerly, graduated from Westerly High School, and his son,

Captain Roger Holland Blake, USAF (1921-1952)

World War II Transport Pilot; Berlin Airlift Pilot; Cold War test pilot who lived in Warwick; graduated from Aldrich High School.

Lieutenant Colonel Horace LeRoy Borden, USAF (1892-1951)

World War I Aerial Observer; WWII Training Squadron Commander; Cold War Support Squadron Commander

Born in Portsmouth; attended Moses Brown School, and his son,

Lieutenant Horace LeRoy Borden, Jr. USAAF (1922-1944)

World War II Fighter Pilot, KIA Phillipines 1944.

Richmond Viall (1896-1973)

World War I Pilot, Royal Flying Corps; RI National Guard Artillery Officer; Manufacturing Executive and Civic Leader. Born, raised and lived in Providence most of his life; second home in Saunderstown.

John B. Chevalier (1887-1955)

World War I Army Pursuit Pilot; Asiatic Affairs Expert; Proponent of Aviation Causes who was born in Providence.

Lieutenant Colonel John M. Lepry (1917-2003)

World War II Fighter Pilot; RI Air National Guard Transport Pilot, born in West Warwick; graduated from Warwick High School, Providence College, RI College; Warwick school teacher.

Clifton Badlam Thompson (1892-1928)

World War I Ambulance Volunteer; World War I Pursuit Pilot, Lafayette Flying Corps; General Aviation Pioneer Chief Pilot for first Providence Airport; killed in Buttonwoods (Warwick) crash in 1928.

Edward Albert Johnson (1885?-1949)

Aviation Pioneer, World War I Instructor, Air Mail Pilot, Test Pilot, General Aviation Leader, born in Newport.

Albert F. Schmid (1929 - )

Naval Aviator, General Aviation Pilot who lives in Exeter and worked at Newport and Quonset State Airports.

Lieutenant Colonel Warren H. Smith, Jr. USAF (Ret ) (1920 - )

World War II Bomber Pilot, China; Cold War Reconnaissance Pilot; Strategic Air Command Bomber Pilot Born and raised in Lincoln; attended Moses Brown School, Slater Junior High School and Pawtucket High School.

Everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend. Tickets are $60 each ($110 per couple) and can be obtained by emailing, or logging in to our website at For further information, call 401-398-1000 or 401-831-8696.

1) Gorton in the early 1920s

2) With the Curtiss Marine Flying Trophy he won in 1922

3) During WWII


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