David McCallister was a veteran combat pilot of World War II, and a civilian test pilot, with more than 4000 flying hours to his credit. He was a writer of aviation fiction, and a proponent of aerial progress and safety. He set a cross country speed record, and won a national jet air race. McCallister chased hurricanes to collect data for the US Weather Service, and flew a humanitarian mission to get a nurse to her dying mother. He invented an ingenious flight plotter that was commercially sold and later copied by the U.S. Air Force for military use. McCallister was a leader who rebuilt the Delaware Air National Guard after the Korean War, and was nationally known in Air Force circles as a strong voice for military airpower advancement as well as flying safety. Almost any one of the accomplishments above would put him in the forefront of Delaware aviation history, but collectively they sum up a truly extraordinary contribution to Delaware aviation.
David McCallister began his aviation career as a Sergeant pilot during World War II. His enlisted career was spent training aerial gunners in the AT-6 at Apalachicola Florida. He was later commissioned and trained as a fighter pilot.
Lt. David F McCallister. Upper Darby, PA. 77th Fighter Squadron. P-51D 44-13670 LC-I "Cindee Lind". Crew chief seen with Lt. McAllister is S/Sgt. Sam McRee. Photo: Lt. King
He served with distinction in combat as a P-51 pilot with the 20th Fighter Group, Eighth Air Force based at Kings Cliffe UK. He flew 131 combat missions. 2/Lt David F McCallister is credited with a FW-190 damaged on March 2, 1945; while flying with the 77th Fighter Squadron. His mount was named “Cindee Lind” after his two eldest daughters, Cindee and Linda. He flew fighter escort on the very first USAAF daylight bomber raid on Berlin. David successfully talked his way into test flying the Allies only operational jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor while based in the UK. He also met the cartoonist, Milton Caniff, the creator of “Terry and the Pirates” and Steve Canyon. McCallister’s colorful personality served as the model for “Hot Shot Charlie” in Caniff’s syndicated comic strip.
Lt. Col. McCallister joined the Delaware Air National Guard in 1948, where he served with distinction until his untimely death in an aircraft accident in 1961. During that time Lt. Col. McCallister flew a variety of military aircraft including P-47s, F-51s, F-84s, F-94s, F-86s and T- 33s. When the Delaware Air Guard was called to active service in February 1951 for the Korean War, McCallister was assigned to fly F-94s in the Air Defense Command at New Castle Air Base.
When the unit returned from federal service in late 1952, then Major McCallister was appointed the commander of the 142nd Fighter Squadron. The Squadron had been decimated by the Korean War, as some airmen chose to separate after the war, and others remained on active duty, particularly in the pilot ranks, a critical skill. With determination and perseverance, he re- built the organization. Under his leadership, the unit was reconstituted and revitalized into one of the top ranked fighter units in the United States. It took about five years to reach its full strength and capability under his command. This effort was rewarded when the United States Air Force converted the unit aircraft to the latest and most capable “H” model of the Sabre in the fall of 1957.
A notable aerial achievement was his victory in a national cross country race for the Earl T. Ricks Memorial Trophy. McCallister first entered the race in 1955 and gaining from the experience, he flew it a second time in Cindee Lind 7th in 1956 claiming the trophy in a field of fast jet fighters. He modified his airplane by fairing over the gun ports, polishing the aluminum skin, and configuring it for only one drop tank instead of the standard two. He had an expert “pit crew” at his refueling stops to complete the winning combination.
McCallister’s contribution to the advancement of aviation in Delaware is not limited to his military career. His civilian post was as the Chief, Engineering Flight Test for All American Engineering at DuPont Airport. All American pioneered crash barriers and arresting gear for land based military aircraft. McCallister flew most of the flight tests that were performed at their Georgetown Delaware test facility as AAE developed various systems.
David McCallister was a man of letters as well as a man of deeds. He authored numerous articles and writings for “Flying”, “Air Force” and “National Guardsman” periodicals on flying safety, operations and maintenance. He co-authored a work of fiction titled “Sabres over Brandywine” with a cover illustration by his old friend Milton Caniff. It was loosely based on his experiences in the Delaware Air National Guard. An advance copy of the work was buried with him in 1961.
Lt. Col. David F. McCallister died at age 41, piloting a stricken jet into an unpopulated area. His legacy is visible today in the sterling record of accomplishment the Delaware Air Guard has built upon his foundation, and in his engineering testing for All-American which was the foundation for systems still in use. He is memorialized at New Castle Airport where his personal F-86H “Cindee Lind 9th” is on permanent display. He was a pilot’s pilot, a gentleman, a patriot, and a genuine “character”, who led by example.
A partial catalog of McCallister writings:
“Farewell in Blue” – a poem celebrating his Meteor jet test flight, 1945 “The Last Show”, a short story fiction feature for Air Force Magazine, 1954 “Lt. Col. Edwin L. Heller”, Air Force magazine July 1955 “A Fighting Chance”, National Guardsman, October 1956 “It’s the Bloomin’ Teamwork”, Flying Magazine November 1956 “Flying to the Moon on a Broom, Airman Debunks Theory” Chester Times Sept 12, 1957 “Sabres Over Brandywine”, (originally “Death of a Jet Jockey”) a book of fiction, written with Linda Boyes, 1960 “Soupersonically Yours”, an unpublished autobiography “Jet Race”, an unproduced teleplay “The Love I’ve Met”, poem about his love of his country Editor/writer for “The All American Word” company periodical Editor/writer for the “DANG Truth” DE ANG newsletter.
A very fine posthumous portrait of Colonel McCallister hangs in the McCallister Dining Hall at the Delaware Air National Guard facility at New Castle Airport. It was painted in the exacting egg tempura technique over a period of some nine months by A2C George (Frolic) Weymouth, the Brandywine Valley artist for the 166th Air Transport Group (H) in 1962.