John F. “Jack” Porth, 1923-2013
Test pilot and naval aviator Jack Porth died following a heart attack at Atlantic City Hospital on January 24. He was 89.
He was born on Flag Day in North Philadelphia. In 1944 he married his high school sweetheart, Thelma Ferro -- also born on Flag Day, and was widowed in 2002.
During a 40-year career in aviation, Jack flew almost every American helicopter in operation between 1950 and 1975. He joined the Navy as an aviation cadet in 1943. He separated from the Navy in September 1946 and was recalled to active duty in January 1952.
During World War II, he flew anti-submarine patrols in TBM Avenger torpedo bombers from the USS Ranger aircraft carrier and the escort carrier, USS Fanshaw Bay. During the Korean War, he learned to fly helicopters, and was assigned to Helicopter Squadron One (HS-1), at Naval Air Station (NAS) Key West, Florida, where he participated in a series of pioneering experiments in the use of helicopters for minesweeping.
After sea duty aboard the USS Valley Forge (CVS-45), Jack was assigned to NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, as a helicopter test pilot. His fellow aviators included several future astronauts, including Scott Carpenter, who drew the unexpected duty of driving Thelma to the hospital when she was about to give birth to daughter Jacquelyn – soon-to-be-father Jack being absent on flight duty.
He retired from active duty in 1958, but served in the Navy Reserves until 1967, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He joined Sikorsky Aircraft as a test pilot, flying all of the new Sikorsky helicopters of the era, including the SH-3, the CH-53, and the CH-54 Skycrane. He served as an instructor pilot to the pilots of Marine Corps Helicopter Squadron One (HM-1) when they transitioned to the VH-3 as the new presidential helicopter for then-President John F. Kennedy, and flew the Sikorsky Skycrane on marketing missions across Europe and Latin America.
Leaving Sikorsky in 1967, Jack undertook a series of challenging flight duties around the world, including participating in the development of an Air Force missile test range in the South Pacific. He flew the length of the Aleutian Island chain, visiting most of the islands, as part of a minerals survey.
He lived for a time in St. Thomas as a commercial pilot for Caribbean Helicopter Airways, and flew the Persian Gulf as an instructor pilot for the Iranian Navy, flying Agusta-built Sea Kings. In the later 1970s, he again served as a test pilot for Bell Helicopter International, flight-testing a range of helicopters assembled by Iranians in Tehran -- departing just prior to the revolution.
His last flying job was as a corporate pilot for Warner Communications, based in New York, transporting the late chairman Steve Ross and a wide variety of entertainment figures throughout New England. Jack and the company helicopter made a cameo appearance in a Warner movie and he subsequently joined the Screen Actors Guild. After hanging up his wings, Jack left his long-time residence Monroe, Connecticut to retire to Brigantine, New Jersey where he had been a home owner since 1957. He went on to work as an extra in more than 30 television projects and films including Forest Gump, Fatal Attraction, and Crocodile Dundee.
Jack was an avid photographer throughout his life. He had a great spirit of adventure. And, apart from flying, he loved traveling the world.
He was a long term supporter of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. and Native American causes including Running Strong for American Indian Youth, the American Indian Relief Council, and in Montana the Soaring Eagle Charity and the St. Labre Catholic Indian High School, as well as the St. Joseph’s Indian Mission in South Dakota.
He was a life member of the Retired Officers Association and the Association of Naval Aviation as well as a founding supporter of the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. He also belonged to the Tailhook Association.
In addition, he supported the Carter Center in Georgia, the National Resources Defense Council, the Wilderness Society, the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Parks and Conservation Association, the Brigantine Historical Museum and the Diocese of Camden.
Jack is the brother of the late Richard and Charles Porth, and is survived by his daughter Jacquelyn Porth, grand-daughter Tatiana Rypinski, and son-in-law Arthur Rypinski of Rockville, Maryland. He is also survived by his sister-in-law Elizabeth Porth and her children: Richard, Elizabeth, Stephen, Thomas and Maria of Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Delaware. He is also the uncle of Michael, Patricia, Scott and Marc Lamond of Florida and New Jersey.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Atlantic City Rescue Mission.