Test pilot Chalmers H. “Slick” Goodlin flew military planes for three countries.

Test pilot Chalmers H. “Slick” Goodlin flew military planes for three countries. (

(Tribune News Service) — Greensburg, Pa., native and X-1 test pilot Chalmers H. “Slick” Goodlin was on the verge of making history as the pilot who broke the sound barrier. After a contract dispute, Goodlin, who flew military planes for three countries, lost his seat in the cockpit and faded into the ranks of aviation history.

Despite Goodlin not breaking the sound barrier, he remains remembered as an accomplished pilot at the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport. He is being honored with a display case of memorabilia in the Unity airport’s terminal.

The display includes photos depicting a small portion of Goodlin’s aviation career. In one photo, Goodlin appears at 18 having just received his Royal Canadian Air Force Wings. In another, he is 73 and standing in front of artwork depicting a successful flight of an aircraft he tested. The memorabilia was donated by Goodlin’s wife, Aila, and includes a letter addressed to her husband in which Lawrence D. Bell thanked Goodlin for the P-63 demonstration that he put on for then Vice President Harry Truman.

“I think that the whole thing started because the airport is in his hometown,” said Aila Goodlin. “It’s an honor. It’s wonderful. He comes from their part of the world, and I’m happy they remember.”

The search for Goodlin’s memorabilia began in the summer of 2022 when Westmoreland County Airport Authority board member Paul Whittaker reached out to Goodlin’s widow for artifacts.

Whittaker had formed a fast friendship with Chalmers Goodlin’s brother, E. Alton “Al” Goodlin years ago while visiting the Corner Restaurant in New Alexandria. Whittaker listened to Al Goodlin’s stories about Chalmers and started to wonder why he wasn’t well known.

“Slick’s a local guy, and he was so instrumental in aviation, but he was just hidden by the military,” Whittaker said. “I wanted to procure some of his artifacts but no one knew where to start. It started with contacting a friend of the family, then a distant family member, and I ended up in touch with Aila Goodlin. She requested that whatever she sent would be displayed through his birthday on January second.”

Aila Goodlin said that representatives of the airport requested photos for the display, but she possesses more memorabilia that span Chalmers Goodlin’s career. She has been working to preserve these artifacts including almost 160 postcards from around the world. During his travels, Chalmers Goodlin sent his parents postcards from whichever country he was working in at the time. Aila Goodlin has dated them and scanned them into a computer.

“It’s hard to summarize or capture (Chalmers Goodlin’s) career,” Aila Goodlin said. “He did so much.”

Chalmers Goodlin’s career

Chalmers Goodlin began learning to fly when he was 15 at the New Alexandria Airport in the late 1930s. Goodlin’s sister Myla Shestik previously told the Tribune-Review that he left home at 16 to join the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he earned the nickname Slick. In 1942, he was recruited by the United States Navy to test pilot military planes. He was released from active duty in 1943 and in December of that year, began working as a test pilot for Bell Aircraft, where he tested the aircraft that would break the sound barrier.

As the primary test pilot of the X-1, Goodlin took 26 test flights in the plane. He was close to making the first supersonic flight in the aircraft when he resigned over a contract dispute. Bell Aircraft Corp., the plane’s manufacturer, rejected his request for a $150,000 bonus for taking the flight.

Edwards Air Force Base historian Raymond Puffer previously assessed that Goodlin demanded the bonus at the wrong time.

“When this flap over money came up, it was a perfect occasion to suggest to Bell that the Air Force take it over,” Puffer previously told Los Angeles Times.

Pilots throughout the Arnold Palmer Airport agree with the sentiment.

“I don’t even think that Bell wasn’t willing to pay it,” said retired pilot and KLBE Air Museum volunteer Nick Zello, “It just looked good if the government did it so they passed the flight onto (Chuck) Yeager.”

According to a 1989 Air & Space Magazine story by David Noland, Goodlin denied ever demanding extra money. He claimed to have made a “handshake” deal with Bob Stanley of Bell to make the first supersonic flight before turning the plane over to the United States Air Force, but they wanted a man in uniform to make the flight for the sake of publicity.

“(Bell) basically told Slick to get it there for Yeager and to tell Yeager how to do it,” said Whittaker. “Yeager tumbled (the X-1) in the process of breaking the record and Slick knew exactly what happened.”

According to Whittaker, Goodlin had tried to assist Yeager with the flight just as he had with Bob Hoover, the military pilot originally assigned to take the supersonic flight. After the conflict, Goodlin left Bell, and in 1948, he served as a foreign volunteer in the newly formed Israeli Air Force and fought in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

He later became the chief test pilot for the Israeli Air Force and transported Jewish refugees to Israel from Aden, Arabia and Germany during humanitarian missions. After meeting aircraft engineer and inventor Vincent Burnelli, Goodlin went to London where he championed the designs of Burnelli aircraft. He later served as chairman and chief executive officer of Burnelli Co. Goodlin later moved from London to Florida and started his own aircraft leasing company called the Boreas Corp.

Goodlin was 82 when he died of cancer on Oct. 2, 2005, in West Palm Fla..

KLBE Air Museum

Goodlin’s memorabilia will eventually be moved to the KLBE Airport Museum. The museum was opened in a hangar on the airport’s property about 12 years ago by Westmoreland County Airport Authority member Donald Rossi said the museum’s coordinator Sam Schrecengost. Retired pilots Zello and Schrecengost host tours in the museum from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. every Saturday. They recount historical moments of aviation’s past, some of which took place in Latrobe.

The museum features a flight simulator and four

retired aircraft including a 1942 Stinson V-77 Reliant, an air-mail plane that flew for the U.S. air-mail service, a government organization that began in Latrobe in 1939. It later evolved into the major airline US Airways, also known as USAir. The museum has one of the first letters delivered by air mail on display.

“Don started this museum because of the air-mail pickup system,” Zello said. “It started here in Latrobe.”

KLBE Air Museum also houses an OX5 engine. According to Zello, the OX5 Club of America began in Latrobe in 1955 and grew to about 12,800 members by 1985. The club started when pilot and founder of Longview Flying Field in Latrobe, Charlie Carroll suggested a reunion for Pennsylvania aviators who flew behind an OX5 engine between the years 1918 and the outbreak of World War II. The club went national with the OX5 Club of Pennsylvania remaining the parent organization. The club still exists today and has about 1000 members.

There are more then 15 model planes placed around the museum and a small theater is located in the back corner of the hangar where guests can sit in refurbished airline seats to watch short informational videos. Most of the museum’s wallspace is dedicated to historical photos and plaques. Memorabilia sits in display cases placed throughout the museum. A small section of the museum is dedicated to the Women Air Force Service Pilots. Another section features every flier for the Westmoreland Air Show since the event’s creation in 1975.

“We have so much stuff in here,” Zello said. “I’m not even sure where we’ll put Goodlin’s stuff. We’ll find a home for it in here.”

The KLBE Air Museum is open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.. Admission is free.

(c)2023 The Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

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