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Captain ROBERT M ‘Bob’ ELDER US Navy, a highly decorated Douglas SBD DAUNTLESS (“Slow But Deadly”) combat pilot in most of the Pacific’s naval aircraft carrier engagements including the Battles of the CORAL SEA and MIDWAY, GUADALCANAL, the SOLOMON and MARSHALL ISLANDS campaigns, represents the success of US Naval air power against the Japanese Fleet.
Born in Saskatchewan, Canada in December 1918, Robert attended the University of Washington in Seattle as a Naval ROTC aviation cadet, studying Aero Engineering. Elder began his flying training at Pensacola, before being commissioned as an USNR Ensign in May, 1941.
In June, Elder was assigned to Bombing Squadron 3, the “Black Panthers” equipped with Douglas Dauntless dive bombers, on carrier CV-3, the USS SARATOGA based in San Diego. For almost two years after Pearl Harbor, he flew numerous bombing missions firstly during the Battle of the CORAL SEA and later, during the Battle of MIDWAY with V13-3 flying off CV-5 the USS YORKTOWN and along with bombers from CV-6 the USS ENTERPRISE, where three Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk in quick succession,. a key turning point in the whole Pacific War.
Bob Elder also flew later in the Guadalcanal, Marshalls and Solomons campaigns. With two Navy Crosses, the Distinguished Flying Cross and two Presidential Unit Citations, he stayed in the post-war Navy, becoming. an early Navy test pilot graduate in 1950. Among the first US Navy pilots to fly jet aircraft, he helped develop the F-8F Bearcat and the F-7F Tigercat for carrier operation. In 1953 Elder returned to combat duty with VF-191 flying off the USS Oriskany and later commanded Carrier Air Group 12, the USS Waccamaw, and the USS Coral Sea. After the Korean War, Elder continued flying and in 1957 became Director of the Flight Test Division at the Navy’s Air Test Center at Patuxent River, Maryland, where he flew initial test flights on many of the Navy’s new supersonic fighter aircraft including the F-3 Demon, F-1 1 Tiger, the F-4 Phantom, the A-5 Vigilante and the F-8U-3 Crusader.
After Bob retired from the Navy in 1963, he worked for 23 years within the Northrop Corporation in various capacities as Chief Test Pilot, Director of Flight Operations, and Head of Flight Test and Evaluation, heavily involved in concept development of the F/A- 18 Hornet. A founder of the Tailhook Association, he received its Lifetime Achievement Award in 1964 and, during his lengthy and varied flying career, Bob Elder flew over 8,000 flying hours in 142 aircraft types and had been carrier qualified in 34 aircraft types on 28 different aircraft carriers.