Life Story / Obituary
Jack Wynn Cotton was born on December 11, 1927 in Manhattan, New York. He was the only child of Winfred George Cotton and Hazel Rita Kavanagh.
Jack’s father ran many businesses over the years. In the mid-twenties he was a dealer for Gardner Motor Cars. During World War II he ran a tire re-capping business in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania where Jack worked during his high school years which sparked his interest in mechanical engineering.
Jack attended the University of Maryland and earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. After graduation he joined the United States Air Force as an officer. His first post was at the motor pool for NORAD at Peterson Air Force Station near Cheyenne Mountain. There he learned from the officer in charge of the motor pool who had the best vehicle availability in the Air Force… The secret was an agreement with the local Ford dealer who would put any part that was needed on the bus from town to the base in exchange for replacement parts when they arrived and seafood from the coast when a “training” flight happened to go to an Air Force base along the coast. His next assignment was running the motor pool at Clark Air Force base in Manilla, Philippines. While there he had many interesting adventures managing wayward enlisted men.
After his time in the Air Force he went to work for Piasecki Helicopter as a flight test engineer. He had many stories from that time at Philadelphia International Airport. During the winter the pilots would push rolls of snow down the runway while conducting hover tests. The instrumentation was incorrectly calibrated while they were dive testing and trying to reach a certain “G” value. The HUP was one of the first helicopters to fly a loop during these tests with the mis-calibrated instrumentation. The next day the pilot pulled up so hard that the twin rotors struck the airframe splitting it in half. One piece landed in the front yard, and another in the swimming pool behind a house. The pilot managed to crawl out the window and was not struck by the rotors. His parachute opened in time for him to land on the roof of the same house. My father and a test pilot were testing a newly over-hauled engine when they heard a loud noise. The pilot said, “I don’t like this” and autorotated the helicopter, landing in a swamp. The only reason they survived was that the helicopter had an instrumentation ring on the shaft that was not on production aircraft, they rode down on the instrumentation ring and pickup collar. The rotor shaft had cracked clean thru. This incident prompted Jack’s mother to have a flight surgeon write an unfavorable letter ending his flight status.
Jack moved to South Bend, Indiana and went to work for the Bendix Corporation. One of his projects was testing the C5A landing gear. A huge concrete base and tower were constructed for the test stand. A five-horse power motor was used to spin the tires up to one hundred thirty miles per hour, then the landing gear was dropped two stories down the tower, shaking the entire Bendix plant during each test. Fifteen years ago, the base of the stand was still there. Jack also worked on some of the first anti-skid braking systems using analog feedback.
Jack met Audrey Adair Lindroth while volunteering at the South Bend Civic Theatre as a stage hand. They soon wed in November 1960, and their son James Craig Cotton was born at South Bend Memorial Hospital. They lived at 4003 St. Johns Way.
Jack Cotton moved from South Bend, Indiana to 428 Landsdowne Avenue, Portage, Michigan in 1978 to work for National Water Lift, a division of Pneumo Corporation. In 1980, “Lady Lisa Cotton” a Yorkshire terrier joined the family. At National Water Lift Jack worked on the design and testing of actuators for the AV-8B Harrier, F-15 and F-16. Jack retired in 1989. Jack’s wife Audrey passed away on March 4, 2002.
Jack’s son James Craig Cotton married Jingcai Chen in October 2002. They have two sons, Allen James Cotton and Andrew Jing Cotton. The boys enjoy swimming and music and are active members of the Kalamazoo Chinese Christian Church. Grandpa Jack enjoyed his time with the grandchildren.