Dorman Cannon

United States of America



Dorman Cannon, USMC, Bell Chief Test Pilot

Dorman Arthur Cannon, 87, passed away on July 4. Cannon was born on Aug. 19, 1933, and graduated from Texas Christian University (TCU). He joined the US Marine Corps and became a helicopter pilot and flight Instructor. After his service, he joined Bell Helicopter and eventually became the Bell Chief Test Pilot.

He was admired for his accomplishments developing and flying the XV-15 and V-22 tiltrotor aircraft. Cannon and Ronald G. Erhart made the first flight on the XV-15 Tilt Rotor Research Aircraft (TRRA) on May 3, 1977. VFS presented the two with the 1980 Frederick L. Feinberg award, given to pilots who demonstrated outstanding skills or achievement. The citation read:

  • In recognition of their outstanding achievements as project pilots on the NASA/Army/Navy/Bell XV-15 Tilt Rotor Program. In 1979, Erhart and Cannon piloted the XV-15 Ship Number Two throughout a series of flight tests starting on April 23rd and culminating on July 24th with a full conversion from helicopter to airplane mode.
  • Prior to 1979, the two “flew” the NASA Simulator at Ames Research Center, piloted the XV-15 Ship Number One during its exploratory flights in helicopter mode, and remotely controlled that ship during its wind tunnel testing in the NASA 40’ x 80’ wind tunnel.

According to former Bell test pilot (and Cannon mentee) Roy Hopkins:

  • Dorman flew all the early guest pilot demos after giving each his excellent briefing on the aircraft’s capability. The guest pilot demos were for numerous high-ranking members of all the Armed Services and certain members of Congress including Barry Goldwater, who after his flight, became a fierce advocate. These demo flights eventually led to the V-22, largely because of strong Marine Corps advocates. Most believe the V-22 would not exist without the technology being demonstrated by the XV-15 through Dorman’s Demos…
  • He and Ron Erhart made history with the daily Paris Airshow demonstrations when the XV-15 was first exhibited there in 1981. Dorman’s many contributions and capabilities were recognized when he made the inaugural V-22 flight in March 1989…
  • Dorman was very self-effacing and rarely took credit for his outstanding work and accomplishments. He did not want to stand out and didn’t enjoy people bragging about him or putting him above his fellow pilots. Humble, tenacious, role model, good ole boy, salt of the earth are words best used to describe him by his many friends.

Cannon and Erhart received the Ivan Kincheloe Award for Outstanding Contribution by the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP) in 1980 for flights in the XV-15. Dorman also received the Harmon International Trophy for the most outstanding achievement in 1982, presented by President Ronald Reagan in the White House Oval Office.

According to his obituary, “He had a passion for dove hunting and competitive skeet shooting. He was known for his ‘golden hands’ while flying, high intellect, quick wit, and strong willed spirit. He was a great American Patriot.”

Society Update: In MemoriamVertiflite, September/October 2021