Tony Riccio, a P-47 Test Pilot

Tony Riccio wearing a leather flight jacket with his Republic photo identification pin.
Tony Riccio wearing a leather flight jacket with his Republic photo identification pin.

Tony had heard that Republic was hiring for test pilots to fly their newly developed P-47 in the summer of 1942, and he knew that he couldn’t let this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity pass by. Two years have gone by since he first opened his Gardenville airport, and he felt this could be financially beneficial to expand his business. Could the airport survive without him, Tony thought to himself. It must, he later concluded, and began to make arrangements so the airport would remain operational while he was away.

Tony found out that he needed to complete a flight check before submitting an employment application to Republic. On December 9, 1942, he met the requirements through a test flight in a North American AT-6 trainer at the Romulus Army Air Field in Detroit, Michigan. Tony flew for 1 hour and 45 minutes with an instructor, and upon landing, he receives his certificate to fly a P-47!

Tony's logbook.
Tony’s logbook.

Tony’s last flight at his Gardenville Airport is on February 7, 1943, in a Taylorcraft model D airplane with a 65 hp Franklin engine. He finished a long dual-time lesson with one of his students for a total of 3 hours and 30 minutes under the Civilian Pilot Training program.

Tony standing in front of a P-47 in full flight gear!
Tony standing in front of a P-47 in full flight gear!
Tony would accumulate many flight hours from this cockpit!
Tony would accumulate many flight hours from this cockpit!
Tony's logbook.
Tony’s logbook.

Tony’s first test flight for Republic is on February 23, 1943, in a P-47-C warplane with a 2000 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800-21 “Double Wasp” twin-row 18 cylinder radial engine. The plane’s registration number is 16650, and he flew for 55 minutes from Republic’s base in Farmingdale, Long Island, New York.

On March 1, 1943, Tony test piloted his first P-47-D, ship number 16864, for 55 minutes.

Tony ready to start the engine of a P-47. Clear!
Tony ready to start the engine of a P-47. Clear!

Let’s stop for a minute and think about how Tony must have felt on this day. At the beginning of February, he last flew a Taylorcraft airplane and is now test piloting a P-47 warbird, all 8 tons of her glory, pushing it to its structural limits with speeds above 400 mph at 30,000 ft. I consider this a life-changing event, almost an enlightenment of one’s self-being, that I know Tony cherished throughout his life and was very proud to share his experiences. I remember him telling me stories of flying the P-47, and I was the most popular kid during “show and tell” at grade school when he let me bring photos of him in his flight gear and the P-47. He even let me bring in his leather flight helmet and goggles one day, but I’m sure he was concerned about its safety because that opportunity never came up again.

One of Tony's many logbooks.
One of Tony’s many logbooks.

P-47 Racer 4 (photo courtesy usaaf-noseart.co.uk)
P-47 Racer 4 (photo courtesy usaaf-noseart.co.uk)

I found a fascinating entry in Tony’s logbooks while researching his flight time in the P-47. On April 6, 1943, he only flew two P-47’s that day, but the second one, he recorded ship number 28079 as “Racer #4.” I was intrigued by this. With a little research, I believe this to be a War Bond Plane used as a promotional airplane for Republic to generate civilian revenue to offset production costs and salaries. It seems to be a popular option used by other manufactures during the war, and I knew nothing of it.

A signed photo by Tony and the other test pilots in his squadron.
A signed photo by Tony and the other test pilots in his squadron.

1 Comment

  1. Bill, Another outstanding job and you have brought back to life a man who was difficult to understand. You, dear brother, have unearthed your heritage in doing this labor of love for aviation and the man who was your father. Doug

    Like

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