Whether ferrying wild animals for the Museum of Natural History or checking on ground readiness at Normandy, aviation pioneer Gen. Elwood "Pete" Quesada epitomized the 20th-century fascination with flight.
Born in 1904 to an Irish-American mother and a Spanish father, Quesada grew up alongside aviation. World War I forced its participants to build new kinds of airplanes capable of dealing with new kinds of warfare. Quesada went through flight training soon after that war, in 1920s Jenny biplanes. He also absorbed the idea that new technology and equipment could be used to tactical advantage.
In January 1929, Quesada flew aboard Cpts. Spaatz and Eaker’s famous "Question Mark," the Fokker C-2A whose nonstop five-day, 11,000-mile journey included 37 mid-air fuel and supply transfers. This voyage strengthened Quesada’s conviction that cooperation between air and ground operations was key to military success. The young officer refined his ideas in a variety of staff positions, then put them into practice in World War II. Promoted to brigadier general in Dec. 1942, Quesada took the First Air Defense Wing to Africa to participate in several campaigns.
Transferred to England to take over the IX Fighter Command, Quesada used new communications technologies to gain control over aircraft in combat. He took Gen. Eisenhower on a battlefield tour in a modified fighter plane to show Ike how radios and radar could affect air-to-ground operations. On D-Day plus one, Quesada established an headquarters on the Normandy beachhead, and directed aerial cover and support for the Allied invasion.
After several subsequent assignments and two more stars, Lt. Gen. Quesada retired from active duty on Oct. 31, 1951. He drafted policy and served as first head of the Federal Aviation Agency from 1958-1961. He died in 1993 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.