WWII ace became test pilot

From a Times Staff Writer

Robert M. DeHaven, a World War II fighter ace who downed 14 enemy planes in the Pacific and later became a test pilot and executive with Hughes Aircraft, died July 10 at a hospital near his home in Encino after a long illness. He was 86.

DeHaven was born Jan. 13, 1922, in San Diego. He graduated from North Hollywood High School and attended Washington and Lee University in Virginia until he joined the Army Air Forces in early 1942.

In 1943 he was assigned to the 7th Fighter Squadron of the 49th Fighter Group stationed at Dobodura, New Guinea. According to the Seattle-based American Fighter Aces Assn., on Dec. 10, 1943, DeHaven shot down 10 Japanese aircraft in offensives over Buna, Lae, Markham Valley, Hollandia and Biak islands and officially became an ace, the term used in military aviation circles to designate a pilot who destroys or disables several enemy planes during combat.

During seven days beginning in late October 1944, DeHaven downed four more enemy planes in the Philippines, bringing his total tally to 14.


He received several medals, including the Silver Star with one Oak Leaf Cluster, which was awarded after he saved a fellow pilot whose plane was surrounded by Japanese fighters.

After the war, the handsome aviator was spotted by a talent agent and signed a contract with Columbia Pictures. He made minor appearances in three movies before giving up on acting. He met Howard Hughes, who offered DeHaven a job as his personal pilot and as a test pilot for his aircraft company. DeHaven later rose to director of the flight test division. He retired in the 1980s.

He is survived by his wife of 40 years, Diane DeHaven; their son, Chappie; two children from a previous marriage, Kimberly and Robert Jr.; a sister, Betty Stewart; and a granddaughter.

Burial will be private. Memorial donations may be sent to the Society of Experimental Test Pilots Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 986, Lancaster, CA 93584.